Russian New Year & Christmas

16 Dec 2017

Christmas and New Year in Russia are welcomed with the usual fanfare, champagne and fireworks, but you should also expect some exciting new encounters during this time of year.

Christmas Time
The Russian Orthodox Church still uses the old Julian calendar, which is why this religious celebration falls on 7 January in Russia, 13 days after its Western counterpart. Russians know that much of the world celebrate Christmas on December 24, 25 (and even 26), so there are festivities around the city at this time as well. Traditionally at Christmas time, the family would gather together after the first star appeared in the sky to have a special meal called ‘the holy supper,’ which consisted of 12 courses, one for each apostle. Many Muscovites go to midnight mass on the night of January 6.

New Year
Russia's biggest party is the New Year and this holiday is an unusual mix of traditions. Because Christmas celebrations were banned during the Soviet period, Russians combined traditional Christmas customs with New Year celebrations. So, Russians decorate their fir trees (yolky) on New Year’s and on 31 December, they eagerly wait for Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost - their equivalent to Santa Claus) to bring them gifts. Just before midnight, everyone turns on the TV to hear the president’s New Year speech, before the fireworks and heavy drinking begin. If you want you to experience a Russian New Year, head to the night-club Purga, where it’s New Year’s every night (see Nightlife).

Ded Moroz
Russia’s version of Santa Claus is Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost). Ded Moroz is thought to be an old pagan character who was married to Winter. He dresses in blue, not red, and he travels in a sleigh pulled by three horses. He is stricter than Santa, as he sometimes carries a big stick which he uses to beat children if they’ve misbehaved! No chimney antics either - he leaves presents at the front door. His home is a log house in the wooded village of Veliky Ustyug in northern Russia. Children can even write him a letter (if they do it in Russian) and Ded Moroz loves to read them. His exclusive address is: Ded Moroz, Ded Moroz’ House, Veliky Ustyug, 162390 Vologodskaya Oblast, Russia.

There are many stories about Snegurochka (Snow maiden, see picture), Ded Moroz’s charming and attractive assistant. One says she is Ded Moroz’s daughter and another says that an old couple, who wanted children, made her from snow and she came to life. Some say that, after falling in love, Snegurochka’s heart became so hot that she began to melt and came to an unfortunate end. Whatever her origins, around New Year, you can sometimes spot Snegurochka in a short skirt on Nevsky prospekt with Ded Moroz, talking to children and giving them small presents.

Old New Year
Russians love their holidays and wouldn’t dream of dispensing with them even if some consider them outdated. After celebrating New Year on 31 December, Russians then celebrate it again on 13 January. This is the day that New Year fell on according to the Julian calendar. Two New Years and two Christmases (Western and Orthodox) make December and January a very festive time to be in Russia.

Ded Moroz & Stalin
Historically Ded Moroz came to Russia in the late 1800s when many secular gift-giving characters began to come on the scene across Europe. Yet, pre-revolutionary images often depict him in a costume akin to clerical grab and probably also traces his roots back to St. Nicholas, who is also a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. After the 1917 revolutions, the Bolsheviks deported Ded Moroz as they campaigned against religion and superstitions. Joseph Stalin restored the tradition in 1930s and invited him back from exile. At this time he distinguished himself from Santa by wearing a light blue costume, perhaps because Santa’s red costume has its roots in early Coca Cola advertisements. He adopted a more modest appearance, which included his fur coat and hat, white sapogi, or knee high boots, and a wooden staff instead of a cane. In post-Soviet Russia Ded Moroz has become quite an entrepreneur by building himself a huge new house and opening a big holiday wonderland for people wishing to visit him and Snegurochka year-round. And we wouldn’t be surprised if he traded in his troika for a luxury SUV.


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