Ringing in the New Year in Russia

Ded Moroz is accompanied by Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), who is usually a very beautiful woman. Source: Nasya Demich

Ded Moroz is accompanied by Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), who is usually a very beautiful woman. Source: Nasya Demich

There isn’t a more fun time to be in Russia than around the New Year Holidays when there is a feel-good factor and warmth among the people that make up for the cold weather.

Ask anyone from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok in the first week of December about what’s on his or her mind and it’s highly likely that the answer will be the impending New Year holidays. Russians love a good celebration with the country even earmarking a special holiday for each profession, but the mother of all holidays is the New Year.

Essentially the New Year has the same value in Russia that Christmas has in the Christian world. It’s the time for goodwill and presents. Russian children write down their gift requests in a letter to Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), who like Santa Claus wears a red suit. Unlike his western counterpart Ded Moroz, is accompanied by Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), who is usually a very beautiful woman.

New Year in Russia is traditionally an occasion to spend with family, when bottles of Soviet champagne after finished off even before the clock strikes midnight. While many young people are shunning the tradition and heading off to warmer places like Thailand, most Russians still cannot fathom the thought of ringing in the New Year under a palm trees. Snow is an essential part of the Russian New Year and many towns across the country organise cross-country ski races on New Year’s Day. Of course, the participants would have gone easy on the bubbly the night before.

Another essential part of the celebrations is watching the Soviet-era comedy Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom (The Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath), a romantic comedy directed by Eldar Ryazanov. The uniquely Russian plot has a Muscovite landing up in drunken state in an apartment with a similar address and layout in Leningrad, after being put on a flight by his equally drunk friends. This is the quintessential Russian feel-good film and is still very popular in many parts of the former Soviet Union. Some regional television stations also broadcast old Hindi films during the holidays, with Raj Kapoor’s Bobby still being a favourite among an older generation, with Seeta aur Geeta also being popular.

When the clock strikes midnight in each of Russia’s regions that stretch from the Scandinavian border all the way to the Bering Strait, revellers watch a telecast of greetings by the president who addresses each region separately. This is followed by the first toast of the New Year and several rounds of fireworks. The party lasts the entire night and carries on over the following week.

Unlike in many parts of the world, it’s not business as usual in Russia on January 2. The holidays continue officially until after the Orthodox Christmas (January 7) and most businesses open around the 10th of January. It’s a violation of the Russian Labour Code to make employees work during the official New Year Holidays without paying hefty holiday wages. The casual attitude of many towards work continues right on till January 14 (The Orthodox New Year), all of this leading to an annual fall in industrial productivity in the country.

The long break is a wonderful time to meet and greet loved ones and enjoy the delights of the Russian Winter like ice skating and picnics in the snowy woods. It’s also a nice time to be in Moscow since the city feels peaceful and abandoned since a large section of the elite fly south to warmer environs like migratory birds.

 As hard as it is to believe, in the midst of all this public celebration and revelry, utilities and public health services function across the country. Hats off to the unsung heroes in the country who work during the holidays! These include hospital staff, police, employees of utility providers and those working for the emergencies ministry.

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