During the Soviet era, Christmas in Russia was erased from the calendar. However, the need for bright, magical winter holiday remained, and soon Christmas was replaced by New Year. Most Christmas attributes like New Year tree, festive dinner, lights, garlands, firecrackers and of course New Year gifts were transferred to the New Year holiday. Up to this day New Year in Russia is the biggest and most important holiday celebrated with big pomp and enthusiasm throughout the country.
New Year Tree
New Year tree is an integral part of winter holidays in Russia. People start buying and decorating New Year trees a week or two before December, 31 and keep it until Old New Year on January, 13.
There’s a traditions to place two figurines under the New Year tree in Russia, Father Frost (Russian Santa Claus) and his granddaughter Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden). It’s also under the New Year tree where kids find their New Year gifts on the morning of January 1.
Instead of Santa, Russian children believe in the no less mythical Father Frost (Ded Moroz) who wears a long blue or red fur coat, a matching hat, and felt boots. He carries around a large sack with sweets and gifts on his back and a magical stick that has the power to freeze everything around him. Unlike Santa, Father Frost doesn’t have reindeer to fly him around, but instead drives a sled with three horses. His young and beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden) usually helps Ded Moroz with bringing New Year Gifts for kids.
New Year is the biggest celebration of the year in Russia and like any other big holiday in the country it is celebrated with a large feast that starts around 9-10 pm on New Year’s Eve.
New Year in Russia is the time of plenty when tables are breaking under all the delicious traditional dishes including such famous Russian appetizers as meat dumplings (pelmenyi or pierogies), herring salad (Selyodka pod shuboi), meat salad (Olivier), meet and cheese plates, pickled mushrooms, caviar, tangerines and more. Alcohol also flows freely although champagne is usually reserved for the first toast of the New Year just as the chiming clock strikes midnight.
Just before midnight all TV channels show the Russian president who addresses the nation with the short speech in which he reflects on the past year and expresses his hopes for the following one. Right after the speech, the chiming clock on the Kremlin Tower in Moscow is shown counting down the last ten seconds of the year. Sharp at midnight, families and friends stand up, clink their glasses of champagne, wish each other a happy and prosperous new year and exchange gifts.
After raising the first toast people go outside to watch fireworks. Starting fireworks on New Year’s is a very popular activity among both children and adults.
Every family in Russia stays awake at least until 1 am on New Year’s Eve, watching TV, eating and drinking. Later at night many people visit their family and friends and continue celebrating until 5 or 6 in the morning.
If you think that after a celebration of this magnitude it would be hard to return to work, you’re right. Some Russians continue the party by observing Orthodox Christmas, which falls on January 7 , and then Old New Year on January 13. After that, alas, even the Russians have run out of holidays. It’s time to sober up and trudge back to the routine.