Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, be plenteous in mercy is to have the real spirit of Christmas. Calvin Coolidge.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

History of Russian New Year celebration

In Russia, after adoption of Christianity people, following traditions of forefathers, who believed that new year began in spring, when all nature was resuscitating, celebrated New Year in March or at Eastertide. In 1492  Ioann III approved a decision to consider 1st September as the beginning of new  ecclesiastical and civil year. At this day people rendered tributes, duties and other taxes to the power. To make this  more ceremonial and pompeous, the tzar came to Kremlin where everyone, a simple peasant or a decent boyar could come to him and beg for his mercy. Tzar gave an apple to every man and called him "brother". 
The last time when New Year, celebrated with tzar pomp, was in 1698. 

    From 1700, when Peter the Great, looking at Europe, issued an edict by which New Year was moved to Christmas. It was forbidden to celebrate New Year in September and on 15 December 1969 drum-roll announced the beginning of the new century to people on the Red Square. The priest said that having thanked God and listened to service choral, it was ordered to rich people to decorate the streets with fir-, pine- and juniper- trees and to poor people to put some branches over the house gates. New Year Trees must be ready by 1 Jan and kept until 7 Jan. On the first day people must congratulate each other with New Year and  go to the Red Square where fireworks and shooting would begin. It was recommended to shoot from little canons or guns in yards three times and make little fires outside  every night. 
   It was Peter the Great who fired first salute announcing the beginning of the new year. Every toast of Peter the Great was accompanied by 25 canon shots. The sky was illuminated and painted in all colors, people congratulated each other, had fun, danced and made presents to each other. Peter the 1st watched steadily that our holiday was not worse or poorer than in European countries. 

  For the first time the celebration of New Year wasn't religious. Henceforward, this holiday has been the most favorite and popular one in Russia. 
So New Year has come to us with New Year Tree decorations, fires and lights, snow scratching under feet, children games and entertainments - sledge, ski, skate, snowmen, Father Frost and gifts.... 
It was easy to absorb new traditions, as Slavic people had another holiday "Svyatki" at this winter time, when there were sledge driving, fortune telling, jokes of masked youth and round dancing. 
Although it was very cold and frosty, people were not afraid of cold. The dancing around fires could warm anyone. 
    In the time of Peter, the Trees were not put in the houses, just decorated with branches. But what was before the New Year Tree?  There was a beautiful tradition to grow a cherry tree in the house by the beginning of new year in March. Blossoming tree and candles of "peace" round, isn't it marvelous picture? White cherry with tender petals like an elegant bride exhaled fragrance in houses. 
You know, the tradition to decorate  New Year Tree is more 2 000 years old. Why have people began tree decorating? Because of great magic of tree. In Druid horoscope the destiny of every man is connected with his tree. Different spirits live in your tree, so you need to please them by fruits, sweets and other gifts and evil will go away. It was considered fir branches drew away evil spirit and that's why they were hung near the door. 
    The firs came into our homes much later, only in 1830-s. At first firs were only in houses of rich Germans in Saint Petersburg (it was the capital of Russia at this time). By the end of the century the fir became the principal home attribute of New Year holiday. But after Revolution in 1918 the decoration of the fir was forbidden as "it belonged to Christmas holiday, so to religion as well". 
And only in 1949 1 January became a day off for all people again. 


  1. The New Year season, followed by Orthodox Christmas, is one of the most exuberant times of the year in Russia. Here you can learn more about the history of the New Year and Christmas celebrations in Russia, find some useful holiday greetings and their pronunciation in Russian, and enjoy festive holiday songs and toasts for a New Year party.

  2. For Russians, there is no holiday more important than the New Year. It is the first on the calendar and in popularity. People see the New Year in at midnight on the 31st of December. They greet the New Year with champagne and listen to the Kremlin chimes beating 12 o'clock.
    Russian Holiday tradition includes a decorated New Year's tree - ёлка* (fir tree). Children always wait for Дед Mopoз* (Grandfather Frost), to come and bring them a present. Grandfather Frost's residence is situated in Velikii Ustug, the town on the north of Russia. Grandfather Frost is always accompanied by his granddaughter Снегурочка* (Snowmaiden) who helps him distribute the gifts. For the Russians, the New Year is a family holiday; people think about friends and relatives. But young people prefer to have the New Year parties of their own.
    Don't be surprised, but at midnight on the 13d of January people in Russia celebrate Old New Year that corresponds to January 7th in the Julian calendar, used in Russia before 1918.
    After the Revolution that took place in 1917 year religion was called as "opium for people" and Christmas was banned throughout Russia, along with other religious celebrations. So celebrating New Year became a sort of "replacement" for it. Only after 75 years, in 1992, Christmas became openly observed. Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. A lot of people go to church services on that day. On the Eve of Christmas, it is traditional for all family members to gather. But, until now, Christmas is less popular in Russia in contrast to Britain or the USA, where it is the greatest holiday of the year.


  3. Svyatki - Russian Christmastide

    Svyatki, Russian Christmastide follows the celebration of Christmas and lasts until January 19, the day Epiphany is celebrated. This two-week period is closely associated with pagan traditions of fortune telling and caroling.
    Christmas Gifts from Russia

    If you're looking for Christmas gifts from Russia, consider gifts like nesting dolls and Russian lacquer boxes. These gifts can be found on your travels, but you can also purchase these, and other items, online.

  4. Christmas was not able to be publicly celebrated during much of the 20th century. In addition, many Russians identify themselves as atheists, so religious observance of Christmas has faded out of fashion. However, more and more Russians are returning to religion (Russian Orthodoxy), and therefore the number of people celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday continues to grow.
    Some Orthodox Christian Christmas traditions mimic those traditions in other parts of Eastern Europe. For example, a white tablecloth and hay remind Christmas Eve diners of Christ's manger. A meatless meal may be prepared for Christmas Eve, which is eaten only after the appearance of the first star in the sky.

    A Christmas church service, which happens the night of Christmas Eve, is attended by members of the Orthodox church. Even the President of Russia has begun attending these solemn, beuatiful services in Moscow.

  5. Celebrating Russian New Year

    If you're in Moscow, you can head to Red Square to experience the most popular public New Year celebrations, but you can just as easily avoid the crush of people drinking Russian vodka and champagne and watch the fireworks display from another vantage point in the city. Remember, Russian winter is bitterly cold, and getting in an out of Red Square to watch the fireworks display can take hours. Private parties will feature traditional Russian food, and the hostess may set up a zakuska table for her guests, so if you don't have any Russian friends, make some!

  6. Moscow's New Year's Eve party is huge and centers on Red Square. Celebrating the Russian New Year on Red Square, though, is not for the faint of heart. With the freezing temperatures of the Russian winter and the amount of time it can take to get in and out of Red Square, only the very dedicated - or very inebriated - will want to celebrate New Year's Eve out-of-doors.
    Tips for New Year's Eve in Moscow:

    Get tickets for a private party and listen to the chiming of the Kremlin clock on television instead of braving the cold weather on New Year's Eve. Better yet, spend New Year's Eve with friends and enjoy good food, champagne, and other drinks in an intimate atmosphere.

  7. Magical New Year’s Eve Celebration in Russian Culture

    New Year’s Eve is on December 31st. Since I was very little, every year my family would start this day by getting ready for the big celebration: my Mom would invent new recipes in the kitchen, and my Dad would put the New Year’s lights up, and I would run around stores looking for accidentally forgotten ingredients. This day always seemed so magical…

    During the last few days of December, every passer by will wish you “С Наступающим!” or “С Наступающим Новым Годом!”

    С Наступающим (Новым Годом)! [s nas-too-PA-yoo-sheem NO-veem GO-dam] Happy soon coming (New Year)!

    At around 10-11pm we set the table, sit down and give a firewell to the old year. Very often families turn their TV’s on to listen to the President’s speech on New Year’s Eve. You can view an example of last year’s President Medvedev’s New Year speech on YouTube.

    The President’s speech is usually followed by the chimes strike from Kremlin. Now, here is the most interesting and magic moment of the whole celebration – you can make a wish while chimes are striking New Year and will always come true!

  8. As you may already know, Christmas is celebrated slightly differently in Russian culture. A fir tree (Christmas tree) is not decorated for Christmas in Russian culture, it is decorated for New Year’s celebration. You can read about Russian Christmas celebration traditions in my article “Christmas Magic in Russian Culture”.

    Peter the Great brought the tradition of decorating a fir tree for the holidays, however, only after 1840 Western tradition to decorate a fir tree for Christmas started becoming more and more popular in Russian culture. Unfortunately, after the revolution in 1917 tradition to decorate a Christmas tree started slowly dying away. In 1929 due to the mass struggle with religion, Christmas celebration was abolished completely.

    Tradition to decorate a Christmas tree was revived in 1935, however, from now on it was dedicated to a completely different holiday – New Year’s celebration. Interestingly, other Christmas traditions were inherited for New Year’s celebration as well. Thus, Christmas tree became a New Year’s tree (Новогодняя ёлка [na-va-GOD-nya-ya YOL-ka]), Christmas gifts became New Year’s gifts ( Новогодние подарки [na-va-GOD-nee-ye pa-DAR-kee]) in Russia.

    Although, religion is no longer banned since 1991, New Year is still celebrated a la Western Christmas style in Russian culture.

  9. While it may sound like an oxymoron or a paradox, for many Russians the winter holidays aren’t finished until January 14, when they celebrate Stary Novy God: Old New Year.

    In fact, tradition dictates not to take down the Christmas tree until then. Old New Year marks the changing of the year according to the old Julian calendar, instead of the Gregorian calendar that the world officially uses today. According to recent polls, more than half of all Russians observe Old New Year in some way.

    Though the Gregorian calendar was established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, Russia did not adopt it for official purposes until after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918. The Russian Orthodox Church did not adopt it at all, and still adheres to the old Julian calendar. Russians, therefore, have separate dates for some holidays, including New New Year and Old New Year. In Russia, though, Old New Year is not an officially-recognized holiday and workers are not given the day off for observance or celebration. During the existence of the Soviet Union, and its suppression of religion, the holiday was almost entirely abandoned.

    New New Year is an official holiday, and the one that Russians celebrate most heartily. This leaves Old New Year as a more relaxed time when Russians celebrate as they please. Some see it as a nostalgic holiday and spend it at large family gatherings where they eat and sing carols. Others see it as simply another reason to go out and party with their friends and colleagues, especially if it falls during a weeknight. They often eat traditional holiday foods. They may bake dumplings with small objects inside, like a button or a thread; the diner who discovers the object is said to receive good fortune in the year ahead.

    While Old New Year has a special place in the modern Russian culture, it’s not the only country that recognizes the occasion in some way. Many of the former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Kazakhstan, as well as Eastern European countries where the Orthodox Church is the prevailing faith, observe the holiday – either formally or informally. Additionally, parts of the Scottish Gaelic community use the day as a way to celebrate and promote Gaelic culture. Some German-speaking areas of Switzerland also observe Old New Year under the name St. Sylvester’s Day.

  10. Russia's “New” New Year

    The most extensive New Year celebrations in Russia occur on December 31st/January 1st. Fireworks and concerts mark this holiday. It is on this day that the Russian Santa, or Ded Moroz, and his companion Sengurochka visit children to pass out gifts. What those in the West would call a Christmas Tree is considered a New Year's Tree in Russia. Because the first Russian New Year precedes Christmas in Russia on January 7, this tree is left up in honor of both holidays.
    This New Year is considered the “New” New Year because began to be recognized after Russia made the switch from the Julian calendar (still recognized by the Orthodox Church) to the Gregorian calendar followed by the West. During the Soviet period, the New Year was celebrated in place of Christmas, though Christmas has been regaining importance as a holiday once again.

    Russians welcome the New Year by saying “S Novim Godom!” (С Новым годом!)