History of the New Year Celebration in Russia is full of fascinating traditions and funny customs. Russians say: “The way you meet the New Year is the way you will spend it!”. That is why they do not wait for any other holiday like for the New Year. No one celebrates New Year like Russians do. In this article, we will tell you about the history of New Year celebrations in Russia and popular new year traditions.
Origin of the holiday.
The Byzantine calendar (identical to the Julian one) was an official calendar in Russia after the adoption of Christianity. The New Year was celebrated in March, and since the XV century – in September. The Cathedral square of the Moscow Kremlin hosted a solemn ceremony and a Church service with the participation of the Tsar, the Patriarch, representatives of the clergy, and nobles.
In 1699, Peter I issued two decrees on the introduction of a new system of chronology and on the celebration of the New Year on the first of January, following the example of European Christian States. At the same time, the king did not introduce the Gregorian calendar, which many European countries switched to. Until the 20th century, Russia continued to live according to the Julian calendar, celebrating the New year 11 days later than the European States.
Fir tree as a symbol of Christmas and New Year.
Peter I ordered to decorate the main streets of Moscow and the houses of the nobility with coniferous trees and branches, and other residents of the capital had to put “a tree or branch over the gate or over the entrance to the house.” The fir trees, installed in the Gostiny Dvor, served as a model. The Tsar adopted this custom from the Europeans who lived in the German settlement.
For the Germans, fir tree was a symbol of eternal life, but the Slavs correlate coniferous branches with funeral rites. So, it was difficult for many to accept new customs.
Citizens had to congratulate each other, burn bonfires at the streets, shoot guns and muskets. The main celebration took place on Red Square, where fireworks, cannon and rifle salutes were organized by the decree of the Tsar. The New Year’s holiday lasted seven days.
At the same time, there was a tradition to organize masquerades and folk festivals. Under Elizabeth I, court balls, modeled on European ones, became fashionable.
During the time of Catherine II, the New Year tradition included the exchange of gifts and a special festive table. There were other attributes of the holiday – champagne, Christmas ornaments, postcards. In 1852, the first public Christmas tree was installed in the building of the St. Petersburg Ekateringofsky railway station.
The first Christmas decorations were associated with Christian themes (figures of angels). As a jewelry also candles, sweets, fruit, and nuts were used. A star (the symbol of the star of Bethlehem) usually crowned the top of the tree. Later, glass Christmas ornaments were brought from Germany. At the end of the XIX century, the Russian production of glass balls and beads was established.
New Year in Russia after the October revolution.
After the revolution in 1918, the Bolsheviks switched to the Gregorian calendar. There was a difference between the old and new style of time calculation in 13 days — so there was an unofficial holiday in Russia Old New Year.
The government that replaced the monarchy canceled the New Year’s celebration, considering it “counter-revolutionary, imbued with the idea of bourgeois decadence” holiday. Propaganda posters called for the holiday to be abandoned, but people secretly put up Christmas trees and gave children gifts.
In 1935, the New Year returned to Russia. Ded Moroz (Grandpa Frost) and his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), tangerines and Olivier (Russian salad), New Year’s lights and striking clock at the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower, a solemn speech by the head of the country and festive songs gradually became companions of the fun.
Revival of the holiday in the Soviet years.
The first official New Year’s performance for children and youth with a Christmas tree in the USSR took place in 1936 in the House of the Unions. The festival was attended by the main fairy – tale hero – Ded Moroz (performed by pop artist Mikhail Garkavi). A year later, a new character appeared – Snegurochka, which was the the prototype of heroine of the play by Alexander Ostrovsky and the Opera of the same name by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Since 1954, performances for children and youth have been held in the Kremlin. Since then, the Christmas tree in the Kremlin is considered the main Christmas tree of the country.
In the seventies, there was a tradition to celebrate the New Year watching TV programs and New Year’s films. At this time, Brezhnev read the “New Year’s address to the people” for the first time in the USSR. In 1986, an interesting event occurred — Gorbachev wished the United States a happy New Year, and American President Reagan congratulated on the New Year the inhabitants of the USSR.
The attributes of the holiday have changed in the USSR. The star of Bethlehem was replaced by a five-pointed red star, and wax candles were replaced by electric garlands. Instead of gilded nuts, fruits and Christmas characters, there were Kremlin towers, airships, figures of cosmonauts, satellites, sheaves of wheat, ears of corn, etc on the Christmas tree.
New year’s table and deficit.
To create a New Year’s table, Soviet citizens began to prepare in advance: for several weeks, and even months. New Year’s products were scarce, and they had to buy them long before. Usually bought Bulgarian green peas, Baltic sprats, Eastern squid (later – crab sticks), smoked sausage, Abkhazian tangerines, necessarily mayonnaise and Soviet champagne.
Another rule of good taste was the presence of purchased cakes and pies — most often they were inferior in quality to home-made ones (they were prepared on margarine, were poured with a fat buttery cream and decorated with acid-colored roses). But the status of the item was valued rather than the quality — a purchased cake obtained in queues was considered an expensive and hard-to-reach treat.
A photographer took this shot in the queue for cakes – the tail of the queue is on the street, and in the background of the photo you can see how a happy customer comes out of the store, victoriously raising two hands to the top with honestly won cakes — so that they are not crushed when leaving.
There were also long queues for raw smoked sausage — this sausage was valued because it was almost impossible to stuff papers into it (like in boiled sausage or sausages), which made it quite a good meat product. Sausage was bought as a delicacy for a festive table, and as a gift – to come to visit with a stick of smoked sausage and a store cake was considered something like a rule of good taste.
What did the Soviet New Year’s table look like in the end?
If person managed to stand several queues for scarce sausage and cakes, and also took care of purchasing the necessary canned food in advance (back in the fall), then New Year’s table could look something like this:
Olivier salad, Shuba (salad with pickled herring and beets), Mimosa salad, sliced 2-3 types of sausage, sandwiches with sprats and red caviar, canned vegetables. For dessert – cake, tangerines, and sweets; alcohol – Soviet champagne, vodka and dry red wine (if person could get it). Optionally, it could be hot — most often baked in the oven chicken with potatoes or boiled pork.
Guests and gifts.
It was necessary to show the best side at a party – the man had to be in a suit or at least in a shirt, and it was customary for women to come with hairstyles — hairdressers worked in an enhanced mode on New Year’s days.
A good gift to the hosts who invited you to the New Year was considered a treat to the table – a purchased cake, a set of pies, fruit or some wine. Person could also bring a box of chocolates or just a bag of tangerines.
New Year in modern Russia.
New Year in Russia is celebrated noisy, fun and long! At the same time New Year’s night from December 31 to January 1 is usually spent with relatives. This holiday is considered family and home.
For many years, Russians have been legally entitled to New Year’s holidays, the duration of which is approximately ten days. During this time, they visit all relatives, friends, visit New Year’s performances and other festive events.
New Year decoration.
Traditional New Year decorations in Russia include, first of all, Christmas tree toys. Usually people decorate their beautiful Christmas tree with balloons, cones, animal figures, beads and garlands.
Handmade toys are becoming increasingly popular, and many craftsmen make truly unique jewelry that has its own charm. Look, for example at Gzhel porcelain ornaments.
It is customary to decorate the house with garlands, lanterns, candles, fir branches (both live and artificial). The tradition of hanging a beautiful wreath with balloons and bows at the entrance to the house is becoming increasingly popular in Russia.
There is no single concept to adhere to when decorating a home on the eve of the holiday. People choose what they like, and this makes every New Year’s interior unique.
New Year’s table must be special and luxurious! People are very responsible for its preparation: they make lists of products in advance, think through the menu to the smallest detail. The Russians try to prepare as many different dishes as possible and surprise their guests with this!
Why do the Russians pay so much attention to the festive New Year’s table? The key to success in the New Year is a beautiful table. It should be not only delicious, but also beautiful. That is why people put festive dishes on the table, take out beautiful appliances, tablecloths, candles, and so on.
There are the best traditional appetizers (such as salad “Olivier” and jelly), poultry meat, fish, and baked suckling pig. Potatoes and vegetables are often served as a side dish with meat.
The main drink of the New Year is champagne. The President’s address on TV is still an integral part of the festive table.
From the beginning of December, people start looking into stores to find something interesting for their family and friends. After selection of the gift, they beautifully package them and often put under the Christmas tree. The official unpacking of presents takes place on January 1.
Ded Moroz also does not forget to give gifts to adults and children! He comes at night, when everyone is already asleep, and leaves beautiful bundles under the tree.
The good tradition of exchanging gifts in the New Year makes this holiday even more magical and fabulous. Don’t be lazy to make really pleasant surprises for your loved ones, because it will give them unforgettable emotions for the whole next year!