Alexandra Tolstoy’s Russian Christmas Traditions


Alexandra Tolstoy has had quite a year. As well as a pandemic to contend with, she was evicted from her home by the Russian government in July. Adversity does not seem to have dampened her creative spirit, and her new business The Tolstoy Edit goes from strength to strength, as her beautiful new collaboration with Bell Hutley attests. Here we found out a bit about how she’ll be spending Christmas:

How does your family celebrate Christmas?

We celebrate English Christmas at my parents, who live in a lovely old farmhouse in Oxfordshire. It’s the same every year – stockings in the morning, then breakfast of croissants (a special treat!) followed by church. A walk and the Queen’s speech after a light lunch and then tea in the drawing room and present opening – my children find it tortuous to wait all day to open their presents but I love this tradition – it stretches out the day. Then we dress up – often black tie – and sit down to a full Christmas dinner. My mother makes everything from the stuffing to the Christmas pudding and brandy butter and we eat off the beautiful green Georgian china my father inherited from his grandmother. We pull crackers, play charades and for the children it’s the most memorable of days.

Are you religious and how does that impact the way you celebrate?

Yes, we are Russian Orthodox and celebrate Christmas in the religious sense on 7th January – we go to the midnight liturgy the night before. It is the most beautiful and spiritual service – all sung by the choir with lots of incense and candles.

Do you have any family traditions that you hope to pass down to your own children?

My mother makes the most delicious mince pies but sadly my children don’t like them – I’m going to have to convert them!

What are your most precious Christmas decorations?

Some old Soviet glass baubles in the shapes of toadstools, Aladdin and little birds  – they’re so quirky and original. I don’t like themed Christmas trees but more of a Victorian riot of colour. We also light our Christmas tree with real candles – it’s so much more romantic and atmospheric.

Could you share one easy Christmas craft that our readers could try making at home?

As a child I always made paper chains but then people stopped seeming to make them. I’ve found some wonderful ones from Cambridge Imprint that my children have made this year – they’re so colourful and cheering.

Do you like to cook? What are you most looking forward to making over the festive season?

I love cooking. Before Christmas I always make a Bûche de Noël with a sprig of holly in it – it has a chestnut filling with lots whipped cream and the children adore it. On Russian Christmas I buy a goose from my aunt and cook that – it’s a bit complicated but so delicious. My ten year old son has learned to make the most moreish gingerbread men that we will decorate and give to people as little presents.

Fleurie Tablecloth above, £115 from Cressida Bell

What’s on your Christmas present wish list this year?

I only really get handmade presents from my children so not much hope in that department! But I would love a Miu Miu velvet coat and white peter pan collar…but I’ll have to carry on dreaming.

We are great fans of The Tolstoy Edit – your curated shop for old and new treasures. What is the aesthetic? And how do you go about sourcing your beautiful antique pieces etc?

It’s an aesthetic that I’ve built up over many years of travelling in Central Asia and Russia, combined with my English heritage. I love colour and I love any folk traditions so I’m always seeking out small brands that incorporate these elements. The antiques I source through a specialist in Central European painted furniture – they’re very special pieces that work in traditional and modern homes.

Painted Gustavian Dresser available via The Tolstoy Edit

What have been your learnings from 2020?

I was evicted with my children in July from our house by the Russian government and it was extremely tough – I have no help in supporting my children and at the time it seemed an insurmountable problem. But I have worked hard, taken risks and thrown myself into redecorating a rental property that I found in terrible condition. I learned that we perform in our tightest corners in life and that without adversity nothing is achieved or learned – hackneyed but oh so true!

What are your hopes for 2021?

I can’t wait to start travelling again – I have missed my riding trips to Kyrgyzstan so much. In June I already have two trips booked and I can’t wait. I also miss my time in Moscow – I visit the city three or four times a year and it’s always an opportunity to reenergise and find creative inspiration. I’m also looking forward to new projects that I’m embarking on; I have a book contract in Russia and am doing various creative collaborations.

Alexandra Tolstoy x Bell Hutley is available online now including these dawn blossom placemats, coasters, embroidered tablecloths, napkins, tumblers and hand-painted toadstools. 

Alexandra Tolstoy's Russian Christmas Traditions
— Daisy Allsup
9th December 2020