As I have already described here, growing up in the Soviet Union was far from the ordinary. With religion being forbidden and no Christmas celebrations allowed until the 1990s, New Year has become the biggest and most exciting holiday of the year with large-scale celebrations that last for days. Even though the times of the Soviet Union are long gone, many countries that once made USSR still hold on to some of its New Year celebration traditions which I am sharing in this post.
1.New Year Tree
The New Year (not Christmas!) tree is the center of New Year’s celebrations at every home. Lovingly decorated with glass baubles, tinsels and lights, it traditionally featured a red star, a symbol of communist ideology.
Today, people chose something less political and more shiny to top the tree. New Year tree also means a holiday-themed costume party for children in kindergartens and schools, where every child dresses up as a cartoon or children’s story character. Puss in boots, red riding hood, bunny, musketeer, snowflake… you name it!
2.Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka
Every child believes in our version of Santa Clause – Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) who delivers gifts with the help of his granddaughter Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden) and his three horses pulling the sleight.
Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka make appearances at the above-mentioned costume parties in kindergartens and schools, where children perform songs or recite poems in exchange for gifts. Little do the children know that the gifts (usually sweets and oranges) they get from Grandfather Frost have been arranged and paid for by their parents!
That’s me, I am 6 and yes, I am a snowflake!
When I say a feast, it is an all-night feast! Usually food shopping and cooking starts a day before with elaborate menu of various appetizers and desserts. The traditional salads that you will see literally on every table are: Olivier salad (very similar to the Russian salad and includes potatoes, carrots, pickles, green peas, eggs, chicken or bologna, and mayonnaise) and Selyodka pod Shuboi or ‘Herring under a Fur Coat (a layered dish made with herring, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions and mayonnaise). Very fattening, but so good!
Traditionally because of the shortages, sparking wine (what we called champagne) was considered a luxury and consumed only at very special occasions. It has become a symbolic New Year’s celebration drink. But it can’t be any champagne, it has to be ‘Sovietskoye’ (Soviet) champagne produced and bottled locally.
My own stock of Sovetskoye champagne
The traditional salute when we raise champagne flute as the clock strikes midnight on 31st December is “S Novym Godom, s novym schast’em!’ (To New Year and new happiness!).
5.TV shows and entertainment
Unlike the US or UK where New Year TV programs stop shortly after the midnight, in the post-Soviet countries TV celebrations and partying just kick off at midnight and run through the next morning and day to keep festive moods up. There are several old Soviet comedies, Irony of Fate or Have a Nice Bath, Gentlemen of Fortune, Ivan Vasilyevich: Back to the Future, and Carnival Night, that are shown every year on New Year’s eve.
Good old 1956 Carnival Night movie; Source
Considering that every channel shows performances from top pop and rock starts, there is no shortage of all-night entertainment. These are only shortly interrupted at midnight by the President’s speech summing up last year’s achievements and wishing his fellow countrymen and women great upcoming year.
Living in London, I watch my favorite Russian New Year shows on my laptop!
6.Calling loved ones
New Year festivities are all about spreading the love and good wishes. So, couple of hours before midnight, we pick up the phone/skype and call friends and family near and abroad to wish them happy New Year. I usually call my Mom back home 6 hours ahead as my early evening in London is her midnight in Kyrgyzstan. It’s a great way to show people in your life that you remember and love them.
Another great tradition is celebrating New Year by going to a concert or fireworks display at the main square with hundreds of other people. Or uncorking champagne outside at midnight as it snows and everyone is cheering and shooting firecrackers. Sipping champagne and playing in the snow is lots of fun before popping back inside into a warm and festive home.
This was probably one of my favorite New Year’s celebrations – 2010 in Kyiv.
8.‘Old’ New Year
So, if you think we celebrate one New Year, wrong! We have a long-lived tradition of celebrating ‘old’ New Year on January 14th according to the Julian, or Orthodox, calendar. The celebration is much smaller with the family but still involves a lavish dinner and TV entertainment (usually a rerun of the New Year’s shows and concerts). Only after the ‘old’ New Year people get rid of their New Year trees and consider winter holiday celebrations to be over!