Carusel Tours
14 December 2020

New Year Celebrations in Russia.
Holiday with Old Christmas Traditions

Christmas decorations St. Petersburg Hamlet and Jack
No matter where we come from, we all love holidays and Russia is no exception!

We have 14 state holidays, but the most popular is probably the New Year. It unites the entire country, regardless of age, religion, political opinion and economic situation.

On that day, we are expecting better life and miracles in the year to come, and it cannot be otherwise! Every Russian knows a saying "The way you will spend the New Year will depend on how you will celebrate it". So, imagine how we are getting ready for this celebration ...

Read about the traditions of the most anticipated holiday in Russia, learn why instead of Christmas we now put all the efforts on celebrating the New Year and find out the recipes of some typical New Year dishes!
Russian Christmas Angels
How New Year Celebrations Came to Russia

Our belief in a miracle is even more surprising since we have been celebrating New Year only since the time of emperor Peter the Great. Upon returning from one of his foreign trips, he ordered to celebrate the New Year starting from the first night of January 1700, thus marking the new century.

Peter I also commanded to decorate the fir trees with fruits and paper flowers, as they did in Holland and Germany, his favourite countries. All the owners had to put the decorated trees in front of their houses. And for the poor he ordered to decorate their dwelling with at least a few branches of fir trees. There were parties, balls, and fireworks. They celebrated the New Year for as much as 7 days!

New Year in Russia before Peter I

Old Russia counted with its own chronology system. New Year was first celebrated in March and since 1492 – in September. The celebrations reminded more of a religious service that was held in the morning in front of the main cathedrals of Moscow Kremlin. Tsar and patriarch participated in it, and they were dressed up for that occasion. The procession was accompanied by the bell of Ivan the Great ringing.

The Cathedral Square was filled with people of all classes and foreign ambassadors. During the service the tsar venerated the gospel and icons and the patriarch blessed him. In a special speech, the patriarch asked for the health of the tsar. And the tsar ended his speech and ceremony with the words "... and God willing, I will be alive." After that the representatives of all classes congratulated the tsar one after another.

Christmas in Old Russia

On the contrary, Christmas had been celebrated in ancient Russia since the 10th century, but without the typical European attributes that we have now.

Due to the difference between the calendars used in Russia before the revolution and other countries, the date of December 25 in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century coincided with January 7 in the world. When the Bolsheviks equalized the dates with the rest of the world and eliminated the 12-day difference, Orthodox Christmas moved on to January 7 and now we celebrate it that way, after Catholic and Lutheran Christmas.
Christmas Tree Hermitage Museum
Christmas Tree in the Hermitage Museum

Difference between Christmas and New Year in Russia before the Revolution

If Christmas was considered the religious holiday that was celebrated at home in a family circle, the New Year's Eve was more about going out and meeting friends. It was the holiday with balls, masquerades and public celebrations.

Between the 18-19th centuries, the New Year was a holiday for the nobility and wealthy people in general. The majority of the country's population, the peasants, celebrated only Christmas.

What did Bolsheviks do with Christmas and New Year Celebrations?

After the Revolution, when Bolsheviks seized the power, New Year's Eve and Christmas were labeled bourgeois holidays, not suitable for the people of the new proletarian state, and banned in 1918.

These days became ordinary working days like all the others. However, many families continued to celebrate them secretly.

In 1935/36, the New Year's Eve celebration was officially permitted again. It was the only winter holiday, so with the New Year the Soviet government replaced the Christmas, forbidden in the atheist country.

Before 1947, January 1 was still a working day, but since then it has been a public holiday. In recent years, on the contrary, we have very long Christmas holidays - from December 31 to January 10! And we continue to celebrate New Year's Eve as the main winter holiday. Christmas, which is no longer forbidden, still cannot return to its former greatness.

Russian Christmas ornaments
How we decorate Christmas Trees

It does not matter where and how we usually celebrate New Year, this year most of us will be gathering at our homes, and so the decorated Christmas Tree will be an important part of the holiday. Now many artificial Christmas trees are on sale, but in order to feel the real spirit of the holiday we prefer to choose the real fir trees and decorate them with beautiful toys.

First Christmas trees in Russia were decorated with sweets, nuts, and dried fruits. In the middle of the 19th century, artisan Christmas tree ornaments were introduced. These symbols of the holiday are still so valuable to us that we pass them from generation to generation.

The first public Christmas tree was installed in Russia in 1854 in the Yekateringofski Park in St. Petersburg, it was decorated and illuminated. To this day, no New Year and Christmas can be imagined without the festive decorations of Russian cities and large Christmas trees on their central squares. And the largest tree in the country is usually installed on the Cathedral Square of Moscow Kremlin.
Soviet Christmas ornaments at Udelka Flea Market
Pre-revolutionary Christmas decorations made of papier-mâché and cotton and glass Soviet toys are now popular among collectors from all over the world. You can find them at Udelnaya flea market in St. Petersburg or online.

In the 1960-s, along with bowls, pineapples, animals, characters from stories and red stars made of glass, figurines of cosmonauts appeared. These ornaments are very popular and some are very expensive.

The Bethlehem star that once crowned the Christmas tree turned into the Soviet ruby star and became the symbol of the October Revolution and Kremlin stars.
Russian Santa Claus, Ded Moroz, and his granddaughter Snegurochka

Other key characters of the Russian New Year Holidays are the Grandfather Frost or "Ded Moroz" in Russian (Russian brother of Santa Claus) and his granddaughter, Snegurochka, her name comes from the Russian word "sneg" - the snow.

They bring gifts for children and when we were little we all wrote letters to them every year, asking for something that we really wanted. We found Ded Moroz's gifts on the first night of the New Year under the Christmas tree.

There is also another option to receive gifts from Father Frost and Snegurochka. Children can meet them in person during Christmas performances between the end of December and the first half of January in different theatres and palaces of culture throughout the country. The tradition of Christmas shows for children appeared in the Soviet era and continues to this day (except for this strange year).

Such performances consist of a show and activities for children with music and games in which they participate together with Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. Children receive their gifts, mostly sweets, while performing different tasks. They sing songs, recite verses or solve riddles.
We know about Ded Moroz since the second half of the 19th century, but his canonical image, that relates to the New Year Celebrations and not the Christmas, was created in 1936, when this holiday returned to the Soviet Union.

Ded Moroz's prototypes are the folklore characters from Slavic fairy tales and St. Nicholas. He is a good-natured old man with a long white beard in a blue or red coat and with a cane and a bag of gifts in his hands. He rides the horse sleigh.
Russian Christmas Tree and Presents
What wishes do adults ask for on New Year's Eve?

We adults also make wishes on New Year's Eve, but we no longer write letters. We have to perform another ritual.

If you want your dreams come true you must formulate your wish in your head and ask for it in your thoughts when the clock on the tower of the Moscow Kremlin strikes 12 chimes. Some write it down on paper and in that case, they have to burn it, spread the ashes in their champagne glass and drink it – all these while the clock is still striking 12 chimes.

So that anyone won't confuse the time, all TV and radio channels broadcast the 12 chimes of Russia's main clock, the clock on the Kremlin's Spasskaia tower, also known as the Kuranty.

How we celebrate New Year today

Normally we start celebrating around 11pm, by that time the whole family gathers at the party table.

Shortly before midnight we drink for the Old Year, saying farewell to the past, and at 5 minutes to midnight we listen to the congratulations from the President of Russia on TV. The heads of state have been congratulating us since 1970. Right afterwards we drink the glass of desire listening to the 12 chimes and the national anthem.

Soon after that we congratulate each other with the arrival of the New Year.

These are the most exciting minutes of the holiday and at this moment we believe in all the best!
New Year Treat. Grand Douches Olga Romanova
New Year Treat. Watercolour by Grand Duchess Olga Romanova

Typical Russian New Year Dishes

What are the most popular dishes on our New Year tables?

Each family has its secrets and favorite dishes, but it seems that there are some that can be found almost everywhere.

Without a doubt, in the centre of each table you will find a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine and now you know why.

New Year's champagne is a pre-revolutionary Russian tradition, most likely it came into use after the 1812 War against Napoleon, since then we have been throwing champagne corks into the air with great pleasure!
There are always tangerines on the table - the smell of tangerines for us is the aroma of New Year's Eve.

Now we would like to share with you the Recipe of Olivier Salad, a very popular salad, better known as the Russian salad abroad, even though it now has little in common with what they serve under this name in Europe.

Of course, we also make desserts for the main holiday of the year, but we do not have a mandatory dessert for everyone. For this year, we offer you to try our easy-to bake Honey Cake (Russian Medovik) with sour cream.

We hope that for this New Year's Eve there will be some typical Russian dish at your table or you make a wish in the Russian style!

Russian New Year Cartoons

Feel the festive magic now and watch a very popular Russian cartoon, where the characters celebrate the New Year. It is called Winter in Prostokvashino - enjoy it in English!
Enjoy the New Year in the Russian style! May we leave all the bad things in the current year and bring all the best to the next year. It seems that this year we will have to repeat it a few times!

And tell us how you celebrate it in your country!

Text by Karina Carusel Tours
By clicking on the button, you agree to our processing of your personal data. We will not share your data with the third parties. You can unsubscribe at any moment.