Always winter, never Christmas

"Meet me at the Diner for lunch,” Joe Kelly said over the phone. “I need to ask you something.”

A former linebacker from Ohio, Joe fills the hexagonal booth at the Starlight Diner with his effusive bonhomie most afternoons, massaging his iPhone and running his business between a cheeseburger and jovial encounters.

“So,” he said after I slid into the booth next to him, “here is what I want to know - what is it like to spend New Year’s in Russia?”

“Armageddon,” I responded automatically. “You aren’t really considering staying here, are you?”

“I might be,” said Joe. “Tanya would like to go to her mother’s dacha, and she’s made it clear she’d like me to stay.” Tanya, Joe’s longtime girlfriend, is the original tough cookie—a titanium chip cookie. If Tanya wants a Russian New Year’s, she is likely to get it.

“I spent New Year’s in Russia once,” I said, “and almost got divorced as a result.”

“Seriously?” he asked.

“Seriously,” I said snitching one of his French fries. “It’s like Narnia - ‘always winter and never Christmas.’ No stockings, no carols, no wassail, no eight tiny reindeer - none of that. Christmas, when it happens, is in January, and it is no big deal. Do you really want to sit here on December 25th while the civilized world sips Bloody Marys and egg nog and opens presents, and you are at work with some beefy accountant?”

“Jen,” said Joe carefully as I was in mid-harangue, “I am self-employed, that wouldn’t be my experience.”

“And then when you finally get to December 31st, you have to spend the entire day with your mother-in-law cleaning the entire apartment while she makes herring under a fur coat.”

“Is that the one with potatoes and carrots?”

“No, Joe,” I responded sternly, “herring under a fur coat is the one made from layers of beets, chopped hardboiled eggs, pickled herring, potatoes, glued together with polyester mayonnaise, all topped with grated cheese.”

“And then, when your husband finally comes home after an afternoon congratulating government ministers and police chiefs - he falls senseless onto the couch for about four hours until it’s time to get up and turn on the TV. And what’s on TV? Russian variety musical shows, that’s what.”

“Well, Tanya doesn’t know any police chiefs,” said Joe grasping at straws.

“And then, just when you’ve had about enough, the sister will arrive, not lift a finger to help and proceed to take a four-hour nap. And then you will begin to get why everyone is taking all these four hour naps, because you aren’t going to eat anything until 11 p.m., and when you do eat, it will be herring under a fur coat and sweet champagne.”

“What happens at midnight?” asked Joe.

“Ah, well,” I said, “the big dénouement is that president of Russia comes on and makes a five-minute toast.”

“That’s it?”

I racked my brain. “I think so,” I said. “Yes, that’s all, but you know I’m not sure. I was so tired that I fell fast asleep at 12:01.”

Jennifer Eremeeva is a longtime resident of Moscow; she blogs at and She is currently working on her first book.

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