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.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Old New Year

The old New Year

January the 13th is yet another the New Year’s Eve. It’s another chance to finish last year’s unfinished business, to set goals and make promises, and to start afresh. Lucky Russians get to celebrate the New Year not once, but twice.

Russia was 300-odd years late switching to Gregorian calendar. The country moved to the new style calendar only in 1918. Before then it was using two calendars. For all matters external, such as diplomatic relations and international trade, Gregorian calendar had to be used since that’s what the rest of Europe was using. Internally, however, Julian calendar was used.

The Russian Orthodox Church still uses Julian calendar. That is why Russian Christmas is celebrated on January 7th aka December 25th according to the old style calendar.

The old New Year is celebrated, but in a muted way. It is not an official holiday and, unless it falls on weekend, it remains a work day. It is not a holiday for raucous parties, fireworks or Presidential addresses to the masses. Instead, it is celebrated with the family and close friends.

For TV stations this is another chance to air good old movies, such as Carnival Night, Wizards, no English, Irony of Fate and Old New Year.

Besides Russia, the Old New Year is celebrated in Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Abkhazia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Romania and a number of German cantons in the northeast of Switzerland.


  1. Although the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918, the Russian Orthodox Church continued to use the Julian calendar. The New Year became a holiday which is celebrated by both calendars.

    As in most countries which use the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Day in Russia is a public holiday celebrated on January 1. On that day, joyous entertainment, fireworks, elaborate and often large meals and other festivities are common. The holiday is interesting as it combines secular traditions of bringing in the New Year with the Christian Orthodox Christmastide customs, such as koleda.

    The New Year by the Julian calendar is still informally observed, and the tradition of celebrating the coming of the New Year twice is widely enjoyed: January 1 (New New Year) and January 14 (Old New Year).

    Usually not as festive as the New New Year, for many this is a nostalgic family holiday ending the New Year holiday cycle (which includes Eastern Orthodox Christmas on January 7) with traditional large meals, singing and celebratory drinking

    1. A number of areas following the Eastern Orthodox faith are still using the Julian calendar, now so far off that New Year's Eve, Old style, takes place on January 13th this year. As well, the Berbers in North Africa use the Julian calendar, and still call the months a close approximation of the original Latin names. The liturgical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox has all the church's holy days according to the Julian Calendar. The calendars will continue to be 13 days apart until 2100, when they will shift to 14 days difference.

    2. This change is because in 2100, the Julian calendar will celebrate a leap year, while the Gregorian calendar will not. In 2101, New Year's eve, Old style, will be January 14th on the 2101 Gregorian calendar, and New Year's day will be January 15th.

      2100 will still celebrate the Julian New Year on January 14, Gregorian calendar, since leap year's day will not be added into the calendar until February 2100.

      In 2013, the Old New Year's day is Monday the 14th. On the evening of the 13th, you may want to think of some new New Year's resolutions to make on the Old New Year's day morning. And Christmas, old date, is January 7th. I hope you enjoy these additional opportunities to celebrate.

  2. The holiday in Macedonia is known as "Old New Year" (Стара Нова година). The night of January 13th, people gather outside their houses, in the center of their neighborhoods where they start a huge fire and drink and eat together. Traditional Macedonian music is sung. For those who stay at home, it is tradition to eat home made pita with a coin inside. Whoever finds the coin in his part is said to have luck during the year.

    Macedonians around the world also celebrate the holiday, especially in Australia, Canada and USA where the Macedonian Orthodox Church has adherents.

  3. The tradition of the Old New Year has been kept in Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Ukraine (Malanka), Wales and Switzerland (as alter Silvester). In the first half of the 20th century, segments of the Scottish Gaelic community still observed the feast and today, groups such as Edinburgh's Am Bothan see this as a convenient date for Gaelic events.

  4. In art

    The Old New Year tradition has received mention in Russian art; the playwright Mikhail Roshchin wrote a comedy drama called The Old New Year in 1973, which was on stage in the theaters for many years. He also made it a screenplay for the TV-film which was played by famous actors and featured music by Sergey Nikitin, with the poetry lyrics by Boris Pasternak; the film was released by Mosfilm studios in 1980.

  5. In Serbia

    The most common is called Serbian New Year (Српска Нова година/Srpska Nova godina), and sometimes the Orthodox New Year (Православна Нова година/Pravoslavna Nova godina) and Julian New Year (Јулијанска Нова година/Julijanska Nova godina).

    Serbian Orthodox Church continue to celebrate their feasts and holidays according to the Julian calendar. It is located primarily in Serbia (including Kosovo), Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

    A part of the population celebrates Serbian New Year in a similar way as the New Year on January 1. This time, usually one concert is organized in front of either City Hall or the National Parliament (in Belgrade), while fireworks are prepared by the Serbian Orthodox Church and fired from the Church Cathedral of Saint Sava, where people also gather. Other cities also organize such celebrations. Restaurants, clubs, cafe's and hotels are usually full-booked and organize New Year's celebrations with food and live music.

    A traditional folk name for this holiday as part of Twelve Days of Christmas is Little Christmas (Мали Божић/Mali Božić). Some families continue with the procedures of Serbian Christmas traditions.

  6. Once upon a time 14 January (1 January by the old-style calendar) was called St. Basil’s Day – in honour of St. Basil of Caesarea, and was crucial for the whole year. It was the custom to hold all sorts of fortune-telling and other ancient rites on that day. The evening of the previous day (now 13 January) was called St. Basil’s evening. It was especially popular among unmarried girls who enthusiastically embraced all sorts of fortune-telling rituals: the results were universally believed to be extremely reliable.

    In certain Russian regions there are unique local traditions for celebrating the Old New Year. E.g. in Yalga (a suburb of Saransk, Mordovia) people dance around a bonfire where they burn all last year’s troubles and sorrows together with old junk. Another custom is jokey fortune-telling rites involving old shoes or felt boots. People stand in a circle and pass round the “magic shoe” with good-wishing notes inside. The wishes on the note you pull out are certain to come true.

    1. Yes! In the old days, January 14 (January 1 in the Julian calendar) was known as St Basil’s day - the commemoration of Saint Basil the Great of Caesarea – and was crucial for the entire year.

      This was the day for performing all possible ancient rituals and fortune-telling. The eventide (currently falling on January 13) was called St Basil’s evening. It was particularly important to unmarried girls who were keen on fortune-telling. They believed that whatever you manage to see on St Basil’s Day will most certainly come true.

      St Basil was held in popular belief to be the protector and patron of breeders and pork products, and people believed that if pork is abundant on the festive table on the eve of St Basil’s Day, these animals would breed in abundance and will bring profit to their owners. That is why the main festive course on St Basil’s Day was a pig that was roasted whole. According to popular belief, a roasting pig was a guarantee of prosperity for the whole of the coming year. There was also a custom of going from house to house and share potluck dishes with the hosts. On the night before St Basil’s Day guests had to be offered pork pies, either boiled or baked trotters, and generally any dishes containing pork.

  7. New Year Eve instead of Christmas

    Few people in Russia remember, but when the communists took power in 1917 they banned the open expression of religion. While it was easy to pray at home, the Russian people were concerned about giving up their traditional Christmas celebration.

    But where there is a will, there is a way!

    They re-invented the New Year's holiday tradition to include a decorated tree, and introduced a character called "Grandfather Frost." Known as "Ded Moroz," Grandfather Frost looked very much like the western "Santa Claus" or "Pere Noel" - except he wore a blue suit.

    Actually, Ded Moroz was a character that existed in the pagan culture, centuries earlier. For a time, Christmas was all but forgotten. In fact, it was generally celebrated only in small villages, where the citizenry was far from the prying eyes of the Party.

    Today, Christmas is celebrated again, on January 7. But, to date, New Year's remains the bigger event.

    1. Russians love their holidays and wouldn’t dream of dispensing with them even if some consider them outdated. After celebrating New Year on December 31, Russians then celebrate it again on January 13. This is the day that New Year fell on according to the Julian calendar. Two New Years and two Christmases (Western and Orthodox) make December and January a very festive time to be in Russia.

    2. Before Communists took power, Russian Orthodox Christmas was a very important and sacred Russian holiday. However, Communists banned all religious holidays as they banned religion in the country, so Christmas became less and less popular with years passing by. New Year replaced Christmas in the hearts of people, thus the Christmas tree became the New Year tree.

  8. "Old New Year" Traditions in Russia and Ukraine

    In most countries of the Former Soviet Union, holiday revelers celebrate New Year’s Eve on both December 31st and January 13th, in accordance with the Gregorian and Julian calendars. While many Russian and Ukrainian women gather with family and friends to feast and drink champagne, while listening to the President's speech, followed by watching fireworks, some may practice these ancient traditions as well.

    One old custom was to keep a journal from New Year’s Day (January 1st) to the Old New Year (January 13th) and write down details about the weather, your mood, and any incidents that occurred each day. It was believed this practice predicted how the next 12 months of the year would turn out.

    Before the champagne toast at midnight, while the clock is counting down, Russians would write their wishes on small pieces of paper with pencil, stir them into their champagne glasses, and drink so their wishes would come true.

    Another New Year’s Eve custom was to freeze water in a spoon outside in the frigid weather. If the ice contained bubbles, it predicted good health and longevity for the coming year. If there were no bubbles, they believed someone would become sick or die.

    Russian women would often practice romantic rituals on New Year’s Eve, such as putting a piece of food from their festive dinner feast underneath their pillow before they went to sleep. The ladies would pray that their soul mates would come and try the treats and then they would see the gentlemen in their dreams.

    On the first day of the New Year, revelers continue to celebrate by visiting with friends and family. Another old tradition is that women would wear brand new outfits at the start of New Year’s Day, changing clothes every half hour, in order to bring new things all throughout the coming year. Men are advised not to pay any bills that day or they will have even more bills to pay in the following months!

  9. Old New Year’s Fortune-Telling and Carol-Singing

    The most popular customs of Christmastide, which coincides with the Old New Year, are fortune-telling and kolyadki (carol-singing). Divination is special on the Old New Year’s Eve. Almost everybody did it in olden days: the elderly people wanted to know about life, girls and boys about their intended, mothers about health and fortune of their children, and thrifty managers about business success.

    The most common divination about future life was the one with spoons: the spoons are left on the table when everyone goes to bed. Everyone remembers his spoon and in the morning finds out how it lies: if it is just the way you put it before, everything will be fine, but if the spoon has somehow turned upside down, you should take care of your health and guard yourself against troubles.

    One of the Old New Year’s divinations about getting married is to overhear conversations at somebody’s doors: if a girl hears “go” she will soon be married, and if it happens to be “sit”, she will have to wait longer for her intended to arrive.

    Actually, there were a great number of divination ways and methods, yet the majority of them have been forgotten.

    As for kolyadki (carol-singing) this tradition is just perfect for those who overspent during the New Year festivities and yet wants to have various dainties on the table for the Old New Year too! Put on a sheepskin coat turned inside out, put on a garish makeup or a terrifying mask, take a big sack, and - ahead! Do not forget to learn beforehand several verses about kolyada, something like: “Kolyada is at your door, open to me the door!”, “If you do not give a cake, you will catch it in the neck!” and so on - use your fancy. The verses must be sung loudly, merrily and vigorously at the doors of people you know and do not know until they put something tasty into your enormous sack. Just watch them not to throw salad there – it will be inconvenient to take it out. It goes without saying you’d better have your jolly crowd with you, to make the process funny and efficient! When singing and terrifying your neighbors is over, bring the sack home, lay everything out of it onto the table and eat it!

    Speaking about the Old New Year, the feast must be not inferior to that of the “first” New Year. Naturally, there should be a variety of basins with salads, some bird or beast baked whole in the oven, and, obligatorily, a huge meat or fish pie. While cooking it, the hostess must put a clove of garlic inside: the one, who happens to eat it, will be lucky and happy in the coming year.

  10. Russia's Old New Year

    Russians have a second opportunity to celebrate the New Year, which falls on January 14th according to the old Orthodox calendar. This “Old New Year” (Старый Новый год) is spent with family and is generally quieter than the New Year celebrated on January 1st. Folk traditions, like the singing of carols and the telling of fortunes, may be observed during Russia's Old New Year, and a large meal will be served.

  11. Russia and a number of other countries celebrate the Old New Year on the night of January 13th .

    The Old New Year is an informal traditional Slavic Orthodox holiday, celebrated as the start of the New Year by the Julian calendar. It falls on January 14.

    Besides Russia, the Old New Year is celebrated in Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Abkhazia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Romania and a number of German cantons in the northeast of Switzerland.

    The Old New Year is also a festive occasion in a small Welsh community in the west of Britain.

  12. Unlike New Year and Orthodox Christmas, Old New Year is not an official holiday though it influences the whole schedule of Russian celebrations. For Russians, who do not usually celebrate western Christmas, the New Year (January 1st) is a festive day like Christmas in the western world. The president of Russia, widely broadcasted by national TV and radio, usually counts down the final seconds of the outgoing “Old Year”, and then a giant Kremlin tower clock chimes in the New Year. A New Year’s Tree (Christmas tree), called Novogodnaya Yolka, is present in each home, usually topped with a shining star and decorated with candies. Besides vodka and Russian salad, traditional foods include Champagne and Mandarin oranges.
    Old New Year is more family-like and less solemn than official New Year. It is usually spent in calm atmosphere with close and dear people and gives a good chance to specify New Year’s resolutions. Most families keep their New Year’s trees and full tables until after the Old New Year day. The Russian television usually broadcast a classical Soviet movie “Old New Year” and repeat its New Year holiday shows. Last New Year’s night Russia’s main TV channel has joked gently on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev in a funny Putin-Medvedev cartoon. The ruling duet, dancing and singing on Red Square, review the major “Old Year” events, including the US spy scandal, Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup, and the firing of Moscow mayor.

    1. Old New Year is more family-like and less solemn than official New Year. It is usually spent in calm atmosphere with close and dear people and gives a good chance to specify New Year’s resolutions. Most families keep their New Year’s trees and full tables until after the Old New Year day. The Russian television usually broadcast a classical Soviet movie “Old New Year” and repeat its New Year holiday shows. Last New Year’s night Russia’s main TV channel has joked gently on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev in a funny Putin-Medvedev cartoon. The ruling duet, dancing and singing on Red Square, review the major “Old Year” events, including the US spy scandal, Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup, and the firing of Moscow mayor.

  13. The whole period from January 1st till January 14th is a kind of winter vacations in Russia, when schools and most offices are closed. For many Russians Soviet-time May vacations were much more useful than long vodka-drinking winter vacations, because ordinary people used this opportunity to go to their dachas for gardening and preparing for summer season.
    But for new Russian elite, consisting of politicians, celebrities and oligarchs, the winter holidays give a good chance to spend extra money at the best world resorts.
    Traditionally, the new Russians prefer French fashionable ski resort of Courchevel, Cote d’Azur and Paris, where luxury hotels are busy adjusting prestigious Russian-themed parties with a special menu of beef Stroganoff, caviar, blinis and vodka to mark the Russian Old New Year. (Photo Credit: Amadeusz ‘alfanick’ Jasak/Flickr)
    Anyway, the Old New Year parties put a stop in long Russian winter celebrations. Due to time zones, the Russian New Year’s arrival is celebrated nine times in this world’s largest country, starting from Russian Far East and finishing in Baltic Kaliningrad.

  14. Why "Old New Year" ?

    The Romans began numbering years from the date when Rome was founded. After Rome was conquered by Egyptians, Julius Caesar introduced the solar year with an extra day every fourth year, based on a Babylonian model. russian icon

    But then at 527 A.D. a Roman abbot Dionysius Exiguus brought in the new years numbering as Anno Domini, starting from Jesus' birth. However, every 131 years the calendar would be off by one day since the distance the earth traveled around the sun grew shorter from 365.2422 to 365.2419 days.

    Pope Gregory XIII commissioned, a friend of Galileo, Christopher Clavius to reform the calendar. And Christopher did it by using mathematics and astronomy to calculate the new calendar year. Unfortunately, his Gregorian reform was not accepted by the Orthodox Church which considered it as a Roman intrusion, and Protestant countries were reluctant as well.

    England adopted the modern calendar only in 1751, and Orthodox Russia was forced to adopt the new changes when Bolsheviks came to power in 1917.

    So Russians still celebrate Christmas on January 7th, and second New Year on January 13th.

  15. The tradition to celebrate the Old New Year originates in mismatch between two calendars: the “old style” Julian and the “new style” Gregorian according to which the modern world lives. In the 20-21 centuries this mismatch amounts to 13 days, so according to the old-style calendar, the New Year comes on the night of 13/14 January.

    Practically all European Protestant countries switched to the Gregorian calendar in the 18 century, but Russia made the move as late as in 1918: according to the Council of People’s Commissars’ decree of 26 January, 1918, 31 January of that year was followed by 14 February.

    Russian Orthodox Church still celebrates all Christian holidays according to Julian calendar. The modern New Year’s day falls on the Advent fast – a 40-day period of fast members of Russian Orthodox church observe in honour of the Nativity of Christ. While the old calendar was in place, everything was just fine: the Advent fast was followed by Christmas and six days later people celebrated the New Year.


    1. Interesting facts

      The mismatch between Julian and Gregorian calendars increases by one day every century when the number of hundreds in the year Anno Domini is not a multiple of four. Accordingly, as of 1 March, 2100 the mismatch will be 14 days. From 2101 onwards, Christmas and the Old New Year will be celebrated one day later.

  16. The most popular Old New Year tradition in Russia is to make curd or fruit dumplings, some of them with surprises inside:

    Flour signifies torments,

    Beans – children,

    Button – new clothes,

    Sugar means your life in the New Year is going to be sweet,

    Salt – not so sweet,

    Pepper – spicy life,

    Thread – a journey awaits you,

    Coin brings more money.

  17. The Old New Year is also celebrated in some of the German-speaking cantons in north-eastern Switzerland. Residents of the Canton of Appenzell never accepted Pope Gregory’s reform of the 16 century, so they still celebrate the holiday on the night of 13/14 January. 13 January is also St. Sylvester’s Day there: according to the legend, in 314 AD he caught a horrible monster.

    In the year 1000 the monster was expected to break free and destroy the world, but it didn’t happen. Since then on this day the Swiss put on fancy dress and curious headgear which looks like doll houses or botanical gardens, pretending they’re “Silvestre-Claus”. They roam the streets making a lot of noise to scare the devils and invite the good spirits.

  18. Astronomers think the Old New Year’s date is not scientifically justified. However, according to the Russian Geodetic Astronomical Society, the current calendar isn’t perfect either. The Society experts believe the precise mechanics of planetary movement force people to adjust their calendar. Julian calendar by which Russia lived until 1918 is 13 days behind Gregorian, according to which Europe lives. The thing is, planet Earth takes a bit more than 24 hours to make a full turn around its axis. The extra seconds gradually add up to days. By the beginning of the 20 century the lag grew to 13 days – the mismatch between the old Julian and the new Gregorian systems. The new style is more in tune with astronomical laws

  19. Some experts think that the Old New Year is actually a protest holiday. The theory is that people in countries where governments moved the calendar back and forth were unhappy about it, and insisted to celebrate one of the key holidays according to the old traditions. E.g. abovementioned Switzerland switched to Gregorian calendar in the 17-18 centuries, and since then some of the country’s regions celebrate the New Year twice.

  20. There was one other custom adopted on St Basil’s Day – to cook porridge in compliance with a number of rituals. On the New Year’s Eve, at around 2 o’clock in the morning, the oldest of the women in a household would bring cereals (usually buckwheat) out of the barn, while the oldest of the men would draw water from a well or a river. No one was allowed to touch that cereal or water until the furnace becomes sufficiently hot, - they were just left on the table. After that, all went to the table and the oldest of the women began to stir the porridge in the pot while reciting certain ceremonial incantations. With this over, everyone would leave the table and the lady of the house would put the porridge into the oven with a ceremonial bow. Cooked porridge was taken out of the oven and examined carefully. If the pot was full and the porridge was thick and crisp, this meant that the coming year will be prosperous and the harvest will be abundant – that porridge was to be consumed in the morning. If the porridge would boil out of the pot, or was pale and meager, and the pot cracked, this boded no good to the masters of the house, and people awaited disasters, while the porridge was thrown away.

    On the contrary, the tradition to make dumplings containing a surprise inside for the old-style New Year only appeared recently – no one can really tell when and where it originated but it was gladly welcomed in many homes across Russia. In some places this tradition is observed in almost every household and the code is to spend time making dumplings altogether, with friends or relatives, and then a merry feast is held where these dumplings are consumed, with everyone hoping they happen to come across the surprise. This sportive fortune-telling is particularly loved by children. Some people even bring dumplings they have made at home to their workplace to have fun with their colleagues and fellow workers.

  21. While it may sound like 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.

  22. 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.

  23. Russia is one of the few countries in the world, where people celebrate the Old New Year - the holiday, which confuses many foreigners when they first hear about it. It’s not an official day-off, but many people take the celebration of the Old New Year rather seriously!
    Russia was one of the few countries that refused to change to the Gregorian calendar in 1582 and continued to celebrate all its holidays as before. The Old New Year is celebrated on January 14. According to the old, Julian calendar, it’s December 31, which means that the Old New Year is the actual New Year - just old style.

  24. Since all religious holidays were banned in the Soviet Union, the only big-deal winter holiday that Russians had left was the New Year’s. But Russians love holidays too much to give up a day of celebration! To compensate for the loss of Christmas, Russians started to celebrate the Old New Year.

    Although some very religious people nowadays try to celebrate January 14 as the real New Year, for most Russians the Old New Year is just a great a way to prolong the New Year’s celebrations and wish all the wishes they didn’t have time for on December 31!
    “So Starym Novym Godom!”—Happy Old New Year, is the way to congratulate your Russians friends and colleagues on this a bit strange, but still fun holiday!

  25. There are many celebratory ways to mark Old Russian New Year's Eve, which is traditionally observed on Jan. 13. Petrossian West Hollywood is honoring the occasion with a full menu of delights, starting with caviar with vodka.

    The caviar isn't just any caviar, of course; we're talking "30g Classic Transmontanus Caviar," served alongside "Flutes of Russian Standard Vodka." Pretty much every single one of those words has a celebratory flair built in.

  26. Also on the lengthy menu: Beef Stroganoff, made with short ribs. A Kasha of grecha, onions, and carrots. Borscht, of course; we find it almost impossible to write the word "borscht" and not follow it up with "of course," because of course you'll want the delicious, beet-beautiful concoction on such a big evening. And there will be the sweet Baba Romovaya to add a tasty finish to the evening.


  27. The Old New Year or the Orthodox New Year is an informal traditional Slavic holiday, celebrated as the start of the New Year by the Julian calendar. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the Old New Year falls on January 14, being 13 days adrift from New Year in the Gregorian calendar. And today as in the past, the Old New Year continues to be one of the most favorite holidays among citizens of Russia.