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 Post subject: New Year and Christmas traditions in Russia
Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 12 Dec 2011 08:27 
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New Year and Christmas traditions in Russia

Late family dinners, sparkling wine and fireworks at midnight are some of the traditional ways of celebrating New Year’s Day in Russia. Children’s festivities may include a decorated fir tree and a visit by the Ded Moroz, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus.

New Year is the main holiday of the year in Russia– the most welcome and the most beautiful one, rich in history, fascinating traditions and amusing customs.

New Year is important to the Russians as Christmas is to the British, or Thanksgiving is to the Americans. It’s the most popular public holiday in Russia by far. After New Year all offices, many shops and all schools close for around two weeks to give people a chance to celebrate and spend time with their family.

Most Russians don’t celebrate Christmas at all on the 25th December, except for those who have lived abroad or have western husbands and family.

Russians take great care in preparing for the New Year. Most Russian families cannot imagine Christmas/New Year season without a Christmas tree in the house. If a family can afford a tree it will most likely buy one. Decorating such tree it is a good fun for the children and, perhaps, some adults too. Gift giving it’s also very popular, although many people cannot afford expensive gifts. The value of gifts varies from family to family and it is widely recognized that it is the full-heartedness of the gifts and not the money spent that matters. Such notion does not apply to the New Rich (so called New Russians, common characters of Russia's most favourite jokes). They can spend thousands of dollars on gifts... and they do!

Both New Year night and Christmas usually are marked by festive dinners. If you were to visit a family for New Year dinner, you would be surprised to see that even the poorest of families would have a beautifully set table with a lot of good food. Most Russians believe that the way you meet the New Year sets the tone for the whole of the year lying ahead. The menu of New Year dinner varies from family to family, depending on income, size of family, etc. New Year is commonly perceived as a family holiday. It is mostly the young people who are likely to be at a party (rather than at home) on New Year’s night. Everybody else will be sitting at a nicely set table watching TV.

While sitting at the New Year table, it is customary to "bid farewell" to the previous year. People discuss how successful was the past year for them and expressly wish that the coming year treats them kindly. A toast is usually announced to such wish for the upcoming year. As the clock at the Spasskaya Tower of Moscow Kremlin strikes midnight people will raise their glasses and announce a toast to the New Year, after which the festive dinner continues.

Nowadays, Christmas is still only taking root as a major nationwide holiday. Until very recently most Russians were atheists, and those who were religious were not allowed to celebrate their holidays openly. Now, when all such bans are long lifted many people are in search for their spiritual identity. Although Christmas is widely celebrated in Russia and leaders of the nation attend televised church services, a substantial part of the nation still treats Christmas as just another holiday, somewhat inferior to the New Year Eve/Day.

For the religious Russians Christmas is full of spiritual meaning and is celebrated both at home and at church. Christmas service is one of the most beautiful and important services in the year. Nowadays, Christmas church services are shown on TV, so that you can be part of the big holiday even if you are far away from a nearest church. Christmas services are held on the night of January 6 and are among the most beautiful services of the year.

You are probably wonder why do Russians Orthodox people celebrate Christmas on the 7th January and not on the 25th December?

Well, the reason is that the Russian Orthodox Church still lives according to the old Julian Calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar, which is adopted by most countries in the world (and by the Russian government). When in the end of 1917 the Bolshevik government decided to adopt the Gregorian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Church decided not to follow the rules set by the increasingly oppressive civil authorities. Part of the reason was to protest against the Bolsheviks and their interference in church affairs. Another reason, perhaps, was to stick to the older rules and ways in which generations of Christians Russians were observing holidays.

It has to be said that Russia has been Christian country since the year 980 A.D. (for over 1000 years) and traditions mean a lot to every Russian Orthodox Christian. Nowadays, the Russian Orthodox still follows the old calendar and all Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January.


For the not-so-religious part of the society Christmas time is just a long holiday season. Many people start celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December, together with the Western World, then continue to observe New Year Eve with festive parties, enjoy New Year Day with their families and, finally, celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas on the 7th of January.

During the festive period, most city squares will turn into carnivals of ice sculptures, fairground rides, market stalls and sleigh rides with Dyed Maroz (Russian father Christmas) packed with hordes of drunken but mostly harmless Russians celebrating until they drop.

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