25 December 2009

New Year’s Comes First in Russia

Be careful what you wish for….

Sometimes in America when I got fed up with all the palaver of the holidays, I wished I could spend December 25 as a normal day.  Well my wish came true for the Christmases since 1999, as we now live in St Petersburg Russia.

Calendar melding  made things better.

Russians celebrate a secular New Year’s first, and then some of them have a church Christmas seven days later. They are lucky because they do not experience the babel  of a secular Christmas of Santa Claus and a religious one of Christ  wrapped together  in one day, as in America.  I believe this is healthier for Russian society, and helps enhance clear thinking.

Calendar abrakadabra!

The Russian regime since 1918 has at times followed the Gregorian calendar, the same one the West has used since the 1700’s.   New Year’s is on January 1.  Previous  New Year's long ago were March 1 and September 1.

The Orthodox [1.]  traditional Julian calendar  has Christmas on December 25, which translates in the modern Gregorian  to January 7. Those who have religious feeling can celebrate Christmas then.  We also have a largely unobserved  traditional New Year’s on January 14.

[1.] You will confuse a Russian if you ask about the Orthodox Church.  In Russian usage Orthodox means Jewish.  If you want  to be understood, you need to say Protoslav, with noun endings tacked on to fit.

New Year’s on January 1 is the biggest holiday in Russia

We have a New Year’s tree,  Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), and presents.   Ded Moroz and his little granddaughter Snegoruchka,  his snow girl granddaughter, arrive in a troika (that can fly through the sky), to give children presents.

It’s the gulag for red Santas!

Around 1937 Stalin ordered that all Ded Moroz at the Palace of Unions have blue fur coats so they could not be confused with a Western Santa.  Now it’s easy to spot ads made with American video or ideas because  they include a red-dressed Cocoa-Cola Santa and stockings hanging by an open fireplace.  Most people live in apartments without a fireplace so the images are a little strange.  

Festive color choices are a shock to Americans such as I!

Russians don’t  follow a red and white color pattern for the season… anything is appropriate, even orange and chartreuse. 

Nostalgic music?

I heard the music of a  carol that I sang in church  in America. When I looked at the television I realized it was the background  for an advertisement unrelated to  Christmas.
A much easier holiday than in America…

The roads and airports are not packed as they are in America. Most people have their families nearby.  

Russian have a mandated 10 day vacation from January 1 to the 10th.  Some continue drinking, others sleep and watch sports, others still have to go to work.


In 2000 I was impressed and startled by the din of fireworks from early December 31 through the 1st.  I thought maybe it was because of  Year 2000.  I now understand that some Russians are crazy about fireworks.  No one calls the militsia unless there is a violent crime… never because your neighbor is setting off fireworks at 3 AM.

People say to whomever they meet …  Praz d' neek!  Holiday!

Women spend many hours in the kitchen making a New Year’s feast of such items as cold salads, red caviar and smoked fish on bread, vegetables, boiled potatoes, and chicken.  The men help out as ordered,  and steal food off the table set early with cold Russian salads and buterbrod (one slice sandwiches…  butter bread). 

We offer toasts during the dinner.

   In America the host may ask if anyone wants a drink, and make each to order… and bring  filled glasses to the table.  Here vodka, cognac, and wine bottles are put on the table and stay throughout the meal.  The host, others near you, and you yourself  keep glasses topped off.

Many Russians drink a complete small glass after each toast… at least the first one.  I no longer drink but it’s bad form to say anything… just don’t drink what is poured in front of you. But raise your water or juice glass with each toast, clink glasses, and sip some of your boring liquid!

Russians take time to have fun.

It’s usual to spend hours at the table.   Later we may dance in the hall.  Then people sit down for  some  tea and cake.

The Russian answer to “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

See if you can find “Ironiya Sud’bi,  also called  Slorkeem Parom (the Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath),  a 1975 movie classic.  You will see the atmosphere of New Year’s in Moscow and Leningrad.  It gives a  good picture of  Soviet life.

Language students appreciate the excellent Russian in this movie.  The Polish star had her dialogue replaced with the faultless Russian accent  of another. 

Ironiya Sud'bi is a romantic comedy that leaves Russians and expats with a wonderful holiday spirit of happiness.  So, in the order that they occur here in Russia,  Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas to you, our  Valued Reader!

We appreciate comments!  Please click on the small date  way below.   It will say 23.12.09.  When clicked, this page goes to the top.  Then scroll back to the bottom and you will find the Comment box.

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