Around the world, it’s the end of winter celebrations – Christmas is over and gifts have all been opened… but, in Russia, it’s just the beginning. Winter holidays are huge in Russia and do not end with a single Christmas and/or New Year’s Day celebration as there are 2 New Year’s Days in Russia – one on January 1st and another on January 14th. In the same way, Christmas day is also celebrated on January 7th, not just on December 25th. The other winter holiday is Svyatki, which is celebrated for 12 days – from January 7th through to Kreshenie on January 19th – and finally marks the end of Russian winter celebrations.
In Russian tradition, the most favourite (and biggest) holiday of the year is New Year’s Day on January 1st. This is celebrated more joyously and festively than any other holiday – usually in the company of friends and family. An important aspect is the evening meal, where lots of food is served along with champagne (or sparkling wine) and the ever-popular vodka. This is followed by fireworks at midnight, with dancing and singing around the Christmas tree (Yolka – Ёлка). Even though the Christmas tree is the symbol of Christmas, in Russia it’s more closely associated with New Year’s Day because, in Soviet times, Christmas was forbidden so the tradition of decorating Christmas trees was applied to the New Year’s Day celebration instead of Christmas day, and the tree remains in the house until January 14th – Old New Year’s Day.
New Year’s Day is also the favourite holiday of children, who believe that Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz – Дед Мороз, similar to Santa) and his granddaughter Snegyrochka (Снегурочка) will bring them lots of presents.
Russians also believe that the way in which they ring in the New Year determines how the whole year will turn out for them, so it’s very important for them to celebrate New Year’s Day properly. There are many customs – one is to wear their best or, if possible, new clothes on the day of celebration (which is believed to ensure more new clothes during the New Year), another is to prepare many dishes for the celebration (so ensure there will be no shortage of food in the New Year). Nowadays, some Chinese traditions have become quite popular in Russia and have a huge influence in some preparations – for example, what dishes to prepare for dinner, or what color clothes to choose. In China, each year is named after a particular animal and, in Russia, people believe that the New Year will have the traits of that animal. To appease the spirit of the New Year, they therefore try to prepare the perceived favourite dish of that animal. In the year of the Rabbit, for example, the main dish would be based on carrots, in the year of the Snake (2013), it can be any meat or fish dish.
Usually, people finish the preparations on December 31st and the celebration begins with a late dinner including many toasts: for the Old Year (so that all bad things stay in the previous year and do not carry over), for the New Year, for health, for wealth, etc.
Just a few minutes before midnight, the Russian president appears on the main Russian TV channels to give a small speech in which he greets everyone with “Happy New Year”, and the main celebrations start right after the Kremlin chimes ring out 12 times.
After eating and drinking, people usually go out to local squares (where Christmas trees have been erected) to continue the celebrations with their friends and join absolute strangers in dancing and singing, as cries of “Happy New Year! Happy New Year!” (С Новым Годом! С Новым Счастьем! – S Noviim Godom! S Noviim Schstiem!) can be heard everywhere.
Thank you for reading, I hope to see you again in the New Year! Happy New Year – 2013!