New Year is one of the most important holidays in Russia. I bet every family in Russia stays awake at least until 1 am at night on New Year’s Eve, watching TV, eating delicious things and drinking champagne (and/or something else, but champagne is a must).
New Year vs Christmas
The Soviet Union was officially an atheistic country, where religious holidays were prohibited. In many families the tradition of celebrating Christmas was lost after the Revolution of 1917. However, the need for bright, magical winter holiday remained, and soon Christmas was replaced by New Year. Most Christmas attributes were transferred to the New Year holiday, like the decorated coniferous tree, gifts, heavy dinner, lights, garlands, and firecrackers. Until now the New Year’s holiday is more popular and widely celebrated than Christmas in Russia.
The New Year Tree
Families with kids normally decorate a New Year’s tree. Artificial trees are still not so popular in Russia (well, at least, in Siberia) because, first, many fir farms in Russia plant trees specially for the New Year, and second, artificial trees have no scent. The smell of fir for me is a symbol of the holiday since my early childhood, and without this magical scent the New Year is sort of defective. The most popular tree trimming decorations are baubles of various colors, tinsel, electric light garlands and a star on the top. When I was a kid, little toy bears, birds, glass icicles and snow-men toys were also widely used, but during last ten years, I cannot find such toys in supermarkets and stores. Maybe, this is because Russian industry stopped producing native glass New Year toys, and most toys are imported ones. By the way, we do not use ribbons in Russia for decoration.
Many cities and towns manage to decorate an open-air New Year’s Tree. In places like Siberia, where winters are cold enough, the entire snow towns rise at the main squares with the New Year’s tree in the center. Places that are not so lucky, put large inflatable dolls of Ded Moroz, Snegurochka and snowmen.
New Year’s Characters
The central character of the New Year holiday is Ded Moroz. His name could be literally translated as Grandfather Frost. He plays a role similar to that of Santa, i.e. brings presents to children, but he does it in person, during the new year’s parties for kids that are organized in every day-care center and school. However, these presents (mostly sweets) are not so important. A child finds his or her main present laying under the New Year’s tree early in the morning on January 1st. Ded Moroz wears a heel-long fur coat and a semi-round fur hat. Unlike Santa Claus, he walks with a long magical staff, does not say “Ho, ho, ho,” and drives troika. or just walks. Snegurochka or ‘Snow Maiden,’ is a granddaughter of Ded Moroz. She is kind and beautiful, with long blond hair. Often the New Year’s fairy-tales and shows have a plot developed around the same situation: naive Snegurochka has got into troubles and a protagonist rescue her with the help of spectators.
There are no traditional New Year dishes in modern Russia, however, since the Soviet times, the Russian salad is somewhat mandatory. In Russia and the CIS it is called Olivier in honor of Lucien Olivie, a chef who invented the recipe. However, the modern Olivier has nothing in common with the dish that was so popular in Moscow of the 1860s. Butterbrots with caviar, salmon fish, sausages are very common, I believe, for all Russia’s provinces. The main dish can be fried chicken (the whole chicken or parts), pork, beef – actually, everything. In the Soviet Unions the smell of tangerines was one of the things associated with New Year. The reason is that there were standard New Year gifts for kids that included chocolate (natural dark chocolate only, no substitutes), candies, one big apple and tangerines and/or oranges. Those gifts smelled like heaven and the dominant note was, of course, the tangerine.
As I said above, champagne is a special New Year’s beverage. That doesn’t mean that this is the only popular alcohol for the New Year party. Actually, people drink everything during the party, but right at midnight, families and friends gather around the table, stand up and clink glasses of champagne wishing each other a healthy, happy and prosperous new year.
Happy New Year!