The following article was originally published in the January 7th, 2014 edition of the Siberian Times. The author Kate Baklitskaya owns the copyright presented below. Several corrections have been made to the original text - PG
During the winter of 1917-18 the Russian Imperial family were held in Tobolsk, in western Siberia, before being moved in the spring of 1918 to Yekaterinburg where they were murdered by Ural Soviets in July 1918. Their last Christmas - was celebrated on 6 and 7 January 1918, according to the Julian Calendar - was still full of joy and hopes for a better future, even though 1917 was the year that the Romanovs were overthrown bringing an end to the monarchy.
In exile the emperor and his family continued a relatively normal life even though they were forbidden to go into town, and could only leave the house to walk in the yard.
The abdicated Nikolai II was not afraid of simple manual work, and chopped wood with his son Alexey following his example. The former tsarevich, then 13, also took care of the poultry.
The children continued their studies and the man who had been emperor taught them a course of Russian history. Their mother Alexandra taught German to the children, perhaps surprisingly since World War One was still underway. As Christmas approached, the former tsarevich and his four sisters, the grand duchesses were given a break.
This is how Grand Duchess Olga described this period: 'Everything is peaceful and quiet, thank God. We are all healthy and not losing hope. Today my sisters' and brother's vacation begun. There is still not a lot of snow, the frost reaches -20C, and the sun shines almost all the time, it rises and sets bright and beautiful. ...It's so nice to go for walks. Mama works all day or draws and paints, keeps herself busy all the time and the time flies quickly.'
Their hope at the time was to be allowed to flee abroad to Britain, but this plan was vetoed in London amid fears their presence would stoke revolutionary sentiments. Ekaterina Schneider, their Russian language teacher, described Christmas Eve in her letters: 'In the evening today we will go for overnight prayer... Now come home after breakfast “at the emperor's house”. There I was decorating a Christmas tree with candles - had only them, no decorations, so tonight a small Christmas tree will be lit'.
'The trees here have a completely different smell, the tree smells of oranges ... Now it's 4 pm, I'll go into the yard to help to make a snow mountain - tonight there was a lot of snow . It's -7C degrees. By local standards it's hot'.
The deposed empress started preparations for Christmas well in advance. Despite their difficult financial situation she prepared the presents for all the family members and friends. Most of the presents were handmade.
Alexandra described their Siberian Christmas in her diary: 'December 24. Sunday. Tobolsk. Christmas Eve. Preparing gifts. Breakfast downstairs. Decorated Christmas tree, laid out the gifts. Tea. Then I went to the guards from the 4th Infantry Regiment, all together 20 people'.
'I brought them a small Christmas tree and some food, and a Bible each with a bookmark that I drew. Sat there with them. 7.30 pm. Had dinner downstairs with everyone. 9 pm Christmas celebration for our servants - for all our people.
'9.30 pm. Evening service at the church: a large choir sang. Soldiers came as well.'
Though seen by many as an architect of the Romanov downfall, the German-born empress did her best to support the family in the difficult times and bring the Christmas spirit into the family celebration. Perhaps thanks to her effort Romanov family enjoyed their last Christmas.
In a letter to her lady in waiting Sophia Karlovna Buxhoeveden, the former tsarina wrote that love, hope and patience were her guides through the difficulties.
'Gently kiss you and wish you all the best. May God send you health and peace of mind, which is the greatest gift. We should pray to God for patience, because it is so important for us in this world of suffering (and the greatest madness), for comfort, strength and happiness.
'Perhaps the word 'joyful Christmas' sounds like a joke now, but after all this joy of the birth of our Lord. .... He will manifest His mercy when the time comes, and before that we have to wait patiently. We cannot change what is happening - we can only believe , believe and pray and never lose love for Him.'
Restoration of Governors Mansion in Tobolsk Topic: Tobolsk
The Governor's Mansion at Tobolsk
The restoration of the former governor's mansion at Tobolsk will begin this summer, and will include a recreation of the historical interiors. Up until recently the only room open to the public was that of the study of the last Russian tsar.
The mansion housed Tsar Nicholas II and his family from August 1917 to February 1918 after being sent into exile. The Imperial family took eight rooms in the mansion for their personal use on their first floor. Rooms for the servants and a dining room were located on the ground floor.
The restored rooms of the mansion will house an extended museum dedicated to the Russian tsar and his family, and their months of exile at Tobolskbefore being exiled to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg.
Tsar Nicholas II and his children on the roof of the Governors Mansion at Tobolsk (1917)