Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on 7 January in the Julian calendar. 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.'
During the past year, the former Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk has been undergoing extensive restoration, and a new memorial museum dedicated to Russia’s last Imperial family is scheduled to open in October or November.
Built in the late 18th century for the merchant Ivan Kuklin, the building became the residence of the Tobolsk governor in the 19th century. The Imperial family arrived in Tobolsk on 6th August, 1917 and housed in the former Governor’s residence until 13th April, 1918 when they were transferred to Ekaterinburg, and subsequently murdered in the Ipatiev House on the night of 16/17 July 1918.
Up until last year, the former Study of Emperor Nicholas II was opened as a museum. The new memorial museum will offer visitors additional rooms, reflecting on the Imperial family's residence in exile. The former rooms of the Imperial family will be recreated from historic photographs, including Nicholas II’s study, the living room, Alexandra’s Red Boudoir, the bedrooms of the grand duchesses and tsesarevich.
A view of the original staircase leading up to the second floor of the house
Great efforts have been made to preserve many of the original elements of the historic interiors dating from tsarist times. These include the staircase leading to the second floor, where the bedrooms of the Imperial family were located. The original stairs and larch wood floors, as well as the patterned parquet flooring - which the tsar and his family walked upon - have been miraculously preserved, cleaned and restored.
Other projects include the restoration of the original marble windowsills in Nicholas II’s study, and the restoration of the original cast-iron furnace, which provided the house with heating during the cold Siberian winter months. In addition, original tiles, mouldings, and other ornaments were discovered under several layers of paint - which took 2 months to remove - as well as wooden doors with their original bronze doorknobs have all been restored.
The restored rooms will be furnished with original pieces and personal belongings of the Imperial family, preserved in the vaults of the Tobolsk museum for nearly a century. Special contractors have been hired to recreate original furniture, carpets and wallpaper. The mansions interiors will be restored, based on photographs from the museum archives, which depict the interiors of the house during the time when the Imperial family were in residence.
Many of the original elements of the interiors have been preserved and restored in the house
The living room of the mansion - where the Imperial family spent much of their time - is also being restored. Once complete, it will include a grand piano, and an iconostasis. It was in this room which the family said their morning prayers, and played the piano and recited short plays in the evenings.
The director of the Tobolsk Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve Natalia Vertyankin, said that “the aim of the project - is to perpetuate the memory of the stay of the family of the last Russian Emperor in Tobolsk. The former house of the Governor-General in the spiritual capital of Siberia - is the only surviving building in which Nicholas II's family stayed and spent in spiritual unity. Therefore special value for Russia's cultural heritage is not only a part of the future exposition of the museum, but also the place itself, one which we believe will become a centre of Orthodox pilgrimage.”
The memorial museum is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2017. There are also plans to erect a monument to the Imperial family in the square in front of the house-museum.
Click here for more articles and photographs of the Imperial family in Tobolsk.
The Tobolsk Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve have announced that the Museum of the Imperial Family will open in Tobolsk in August 2017. The date marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II and his family in Tobolsk.
In 1996, the former Study of Emperor Nicholas II was opened as a museum. The new museum will offer visitors additional rooms, and exhibits based on the life of Nicholas II and his family during their stay and held under house arrest for 8 months between August 1917 to April 1918.
The museum which is housed in the former residence of the Governor of Siberia, is currently undergoing restoration and construction work. The restored memorial rooms will be recreated from surviving documents, and photographs. According to the museum director Svetlana Sidorova, the museum is dedicated to "preserving the authenticity of the building’s façade, and the historical ambience of the interiors". Visitors to the museum will get a sense of how the imperial family lived during their captivity in Siberia. Sidorov noted that restorers “had spent a great deal of time and effort to remove all the original elements and to refurbish them, and not substitute any of them for modern elements.”
The Study of Emperor Nicholas II was opened as a museum in 1996
Visitors to the Museum will be able to walk on the original floorboards, which had been walked on by Emperor Nicholas II and his family, to touch the marble window sills, on which sat the Grand Duchesses, and to gain a sense of the spiritual atmosphere which sustained them during their stay in Tobolsk. The historic building has preserved many unique interior elements of the house: including the red painted ceiling in the living room, the original wooden staircase, including its balusters and railings, doors, furnaces and other elements.
A new photo exhibition "The World of the Romanov Family Children" opened on 6 August at the Dunina-Gorkavich Museum of the History of the Development and Study of Siberia in Tobolsk.
The exhibition is timed to the 99th anniversary of the arrival of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in Tobolsk on 6 August 1917, and the 115th anniversary of the birth of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna on 18 June [O.S. 5 June ] 1901, the youngest daughter of the last Emperor and Empress of Russia.
The exhibition is based on a collection of photographs which belonged to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s lady-in-waiting, friend and confidante Anna Vyrubova-Taneyeva.
The original collection consists of six albums, containing a total of 1,500 photographs. The albums were acquired by a Yale University student in 1937, who in 1951 presented them as a gift to his university, where they are stored to this day.
A total of 500 photographs from the Vyrubova collection were duplicated in 2012, and presented to at the Dunina-Gorkavich Museum of the History of the Development and Study of Siberia in Tobolsk.
The current exhibition features 250 of the photographs from Vyrubova collection, as well as additional photographs from the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) and the State Historical Museum in Moscow. All of the photos depict the children of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in happier times. Visitors to the exhibit will see images of their private world: playing games, family relations, in the classroom, on holidays, and more.
Nicholas II and his family were sent into exile to Tobolsk by the decision of the Provisional government in the summer of 1917. The Imperial family were held under house arrest in the former mansion of the governor of Tobolsk. In the spring of 1918 the Bolsheviks transferred the Imperial family and their retainers to Ekaterinburg, where they were murdered on 17 July 1918.
A joint project by the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library in St. Petersburg and the Tobolsk State National Park and Museum will result in thousands of unique photographs on the history of Tobolsk added to the first national electronic library stock.
Among them is a compilation of rare photographs that were taken during the house arrest of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in Tobolsk in 1917-1918. The Imperial family arrived in Tobolsk on 6th August, 1917 and housed in the former Governor’s residence until 13th April, 1918 when they were transferred to Ekaterinburg.
Visitors and library users will have an opportunity to see restored photographs of the interiors of the governor's house, where the Imperial family and some of their retainers lived during their stay in the Siberian town. Among the photographs is the study of the last Russian Emperor, a portrait of Nicholas II himself taken in the forest. However, most of the photographs are dedicated to the children of the Imperial couple. Unique photographs will tell about the lives of Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and their young brother Tsesarevich Alexei.
Earlier this year, the Presidential Library publicly presented the electronic copy of the photo album of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna. The album contains 294 photos of the Imperial family dated from the beginning of 20th century. The materials of the Tobolsk National Park and Museum will help to complete the history of the Romanov dynasty, which can be found on the Internet resource of the first national electronic library.
The Tobolsk Museum-Reserve have announced plans for the creation of the Museum of the Romanov family. The exposition will be located in the former home of the Governor General, where the Emperor Nicholas II and his family lived in exile for 9 months, from August 1917 to April 1918.
The exposition will be an extension of the memorial room to Nicholas II which was created in 1996.
The family of Nicholas II utilized 8 of the 18 available rooms in the former Governor-General’s house. Located on the first floor where the servant’s quarters, and dining room. An iconostasis was set up in the great hall of the house was set iconostasis, where a priest came to perform liturgies in which members of the Imperial family, and other members of the household attended. The room was also used for family amateur theatricals, games and other pastimes during their forced imprisonment.
The museum plans to recreate the historic interiors, and compliment the exhibits with displays of the personal items of Nicholas II and his family. The museum will host exhibitions which will include interactive areas for visitors.
The Tobolsk Museum-Reserve have launched an appeal to “the selfless people who love their land, their country and taking care of the preservation and augmentation of its cultural heritage.” The museum is appealing for support and assistance in the acquisition of personal items of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. It is also hoping to add other authentic items of other members of the Romanov dynasty dating from the 18th - early 20th centuries. These include furniture for interior rooms, sculpture, porcelain, paintings and graphic works, objects of worship for the home church, telephones, jewellery boxes, cigarette cases, jewellery, toiletries, kitchenware, household items, inkstands, paperweights, briefcases, shoes. The museum is also appealing to the descendants of families in the Tyumen region and surrounding areas of the Urals for historic photographs and documents related to the last tsar and his family during their time in Tobolsk in 1917/1918.
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)