Holidays are considered to be the most magical time of the year… a beautiful time to gather together and celebrate… celebrate happiness, love, prosperity, relationships. New Year’s is possibly the favorite holiday of all Russians, symbolizing the goodbye of the past year and the welcoming of a new one. In Russia we often say, “The way you spend New Year’s Eve is the way you will spend the rest of the year,” therefore, I wish each and every one of you to have a beautiful New Year’s Eve! May it be full of warmth, of laughs, of friendship, of remembrance, and of hopes.
In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated, so New Year was the big thing. Nowadays Christmas is celebrated thirteen days after Western Christmas, on January 7th, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. This is so, because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar for religious celebration days.
So what does this mean? When do Russian children receive their Christmas gifts?! Keep calm… gifts are distributed on New Year’s by a very nice old man, Grandpa Frost (Дед Мороз)… a sort of Russian Santa! Grandpa Frost is different from Santa Claus in several ways, of which clothing is the most notorious. He wears a long fur coat, traditionally of the color blue, decorated with colorful ornaments and embroidery. Also, he has three harnessed horses for transportation, instead of a team of reindeer!
What is yet more interesting for foreigners is the fact that our old man has a granddaughter, Snegurochka, translated as Snow Maiden. She is a beautiful blonde blue-eyed teenage girl, serving as her grandfather’s assistant in the holiday season. Adored by everyone, and together with Grandpa Frost, she is one of the most important figures associated with New Year’s.
Children’s shows are another common characteristic of the New Year’s season. Two years ago I took my 7-year-old cousin to watch a New Year children’s show called “Yelka”. I had no idea what it would be like, because I am used to spending my New Year’s abroad due to living overseas, but I didn’t hesitate to go! On stage there were Snegurochka and Grandpa Frost interacting with the children and keeping them entertained with catchy songs, dances, and activities! Although I was way older than the rest of the audience, I can say that I enjoyed it very much.
What you just saw is an excerpt from the Soviet animated series Nu Pogodi (Well, Just You Wait!) following the adventures of a big bad wolf trying to catch a rabbit (think Tom and Jerry). In this scene, the two characters are doing a New Year’s performance for the other animals… sort of like the show I went to with my cousin! The wolf is dressed as Snegurochka, while the rabbit is our Grandpa Frost… ain’t it cute?
Another thing we do, is decorate the New Year’s tree (known in the West as Christmas tree) a couple of days before the big day. It is widespread to decorate natural pine trees instead of artificial ones, giving away a pleasant natural scent. Toys are always a big deal, as in the rest of the world. However, they tend to have traditional Russian themes, and therefore they look a little different than the ones in the west.
All in all, New Year’s is the biggest party in Russia. An abundance of food, champagne, and guests… it is definitely something to look forward to.
See you in 2013! “С Новым годом! С новым счастьем!” (Happy New Year!)