Unlike any other western countries, the New Year celebration in Russia is much more festive compared to Christmas, not only because the calendar for the Orthodox church itself is different, but also because the history behind it has a big impact. Being under the communist regime, which created a separation between government and religion, and also dampened the church’s power over the country for a long time, has caused Russians to lose interest in celebrating any religious holidays. Also, it was prohibited by the government. That is why New Year is another way to celebrate what you need to celebrate (Psst… Russians always find a way to celebrate something).
So, what do Russians actually do to celebrate the New Year?
1. Enjoy the New Year tree (Yolka - Ёлка)
One day, I asked my husband why it is called a ‘New Year tree’ and not a ‘Christmas tree’. The answer is because they purposely decorate it for New Year, not for Christmas, which is usually celebrated on 7th-8th January. The decoration is essentially the same, except for Ded Moroz (the Russian version of Santa Claus) and Snegurochka (a little girl, his granddaughter) under the tree.
2. Exchange presents
In Russia, giving a present is one of the most essential parts of the New Year celebration. No wonder why you see lots of busy people before the D-day. Online stores get many orders and offer more discounts to their customers. If you are not sure what to give, you can ask the receiver about what they want to get for New Year. It’s simple, but a must-do activity on New Year’s Eve.
3. Eat much until you cry (don’t forget the caviar)
Russians put all of their effort into cooking as much food as they can to serve their guests, especially on New Year’s Eve. If you are invited to celebrate it together, please make sure that your stomach is empty before you arrive, or it will burst! Typical dishes for NYE are Olivier salad, Holodets, dressed herring, and so forth.
4. Watch Putin’s Speech on TV
Actually, it is not just Putin, but all of the Russian Federation’s presidents. Before they ring the bell in Spasskaya Tower as a sign of the New Year, instead of counting down like any other people in any other countries, Russians have their own ritual: watching the president’s speech on TV, who usually sums up what goals the government has reached in the past year and what the hopes and plans are for the upcoming year. A little bird told me that you can see whether the president is satisfied or not by his face. If he looks gloomy, then he definitely isn’t satisfied with something. But, for me, it’s too hard to distinguish between Putin’s different facial expressions in most cases…
5. Toast, write your wish down, burn it, put it inside your Champagne glass, and drink it
Some people do this tradition and believe that their wish will come true if they do it. Some don’t. Those who don’t normally make a wish when the bell in Spasskaya Bashnya rings, right after the president’s speech.
6. Watch a movie: The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!
This movie is a 1976 Soviet made-for-TV romantic comedy that is watched every NYE. Nobody knows why it has become a special ritual welcoming the New Year. The link to this movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVpmZnRIMKs
7. Play a board game
While waiting for the president’s speech or after a sip of Champagne, board games are one of the nicest way to spend quality time with your family. And Russians do like a board game.