The Tradition of Welcoming the New Year

The celebration of the New Year is very precious to each of us. Many people associate the festivities with the sound of snow crunching, the smell of tangerines and Christmas tree, with the warm and cozy homely atmosphere. Let’s step back in Russian history to get a better understanding of the New Year traditions’ origin.

It was Peter the Great who introduced the celebration of the New Year in Russia. In 1699 he issued the order establishing that on the night of January 1 each year (in the Julian calendar) all people should celebrate the New Year. Public festivities lasted 7 days — on every night cannons of the Kremlin were fired. The houses were decorated with pine and juniper twigs. Besides there were tar barrels on poles flaming to boost the festive mood. Before that the New Year was celebrated in September, during the harvest time.

For several centuries it was the way to welcome the New Year up till the Revolution in 1918, when the New Year festivities were banned altogether. Only in 1937 the tradition revived, and in 1947 the government declared January 1 the state holiday. Since then the holidays evolved into modern 10-day winter holidays.

The central figure of the celebration is Father Frost (Ded Moroz) who is accompanied by Snow Maiden (Snegurochka — made of snow). Father Frost wears a long white beard. In 1998 Father Frost’s residence was established in Veliky Ustyug, which is a great tourist attraction. You can also find a dedicated post office there that answers children’s mail to Ded Moroz.

December 31 is the most important day of preparation for the celebration. On this day people try to take of all the unfinished business, pay back their debt, it’s custom to tidy and decorate homes, and of course set up a Christmas tree. It’s believed that to welcome the New Year with loose ends is bad luck. » A good year beginning makes the whole year good» — one of the most popular sayings in Russia.

On December 31 the New Year spirit is in the air: you can smell delicious dishes in the kitchen, children sing «The forest raised a Christmas tree» and decorate the tree with baubles, icicle strands and tinsel. All day long New Year films are on TV screens, most of them are learned by heart and are very dear to several generations. Among those are The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy your Bath! – 1975 («Ирония судьбы, или с легким паром!»), Gentlemen of Fortune — 1971 («Джентльмены удачи»), Magicians — 1982 («Чародеи») ,The Carnival Night – 1956 («Карнавальная ночь») and many more.

Usually the celebration begins with seeing off the current year, the dinner is served around 22:00, guests are dressed up and watch «the blue light» New Year TV show. On the table you are sure to find the Russian salad (Оливье), dressed herring (селёдка под шубой) and aspic (холодец). The dishes should be hearty, it’s another belief — if you want a rich year, you should welcome it with rich food. 

The climax of the night is the president’s and chime of the Kremlin clock. The speech begins at 23:55 and streams online by all channels. The head of the state marks up the end of the year, summarizing the work of the government and sends his wishes to the people. Such speeches became a tradition in 1976.

At 24:00 the Kremlin bells begin to chime, which is a signal for everyone to open champagne and make wishes. Many believe that it’s the most magical moment of the year to make wishes that are bound to come true. Then people go outside to enjoy fireworks, meet their friends and relatives to congratulate each other.

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