New Year Holidays in Russia lasts for over a week, beginning on New Year’s Eve and spanning beyond Orthodox Christmas on January 7th. It is an intense time of festivity in Russia, and a welcome break during the cold, dark days of a Russian winter.
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Late on New Year’s Eve, Russian families and friends gather for a festive dinner and indulge themselves in a wide variety of traditional dishes, along with sparkling wines and champagnes as they await the stroke of midnight. When midnight arrives, fireworks explode in the sky, and everyone toasts when they learn from the TV or radio that the clock tower on the Kremlin has struck 12.
Everyone then congratulates each other, exchanges gifts, and wishes those nearby a Happy New Year. Some also run out at midnight to build snowmen, and there is almost never a shortage of snow for the project. Lighting fire crackers in the backyard at midnight is also common.
Five minutes before midnight, practically all Russians will be watching the presidential address on TV, in which he mentions the successes and progress of the nation over the previous year. Throughout the following day, January 1st, it is customary to wish even strangers passing by a “Happy New Year!”
Since Orthodox Christmas is right around the corner, coming on January 7th, Grandfather Frost (“Russian Santa Claus”) will often make an appearance on or around New Year’s Day, along with “Snow Girl,” his granddaughter. Fir trees will be up and decorated, perhaps, with presents underneath already.
Up until 2005, only January 1st and 2nd were public holidays, but it then became January 1st through 8th, including Christmas. That is a seven-day New Year holiday. A decree issued in 2012, however, extended New Year break to 10 days, running from December 30th till January 8th.
Old New Year, though not so much celebrated anymore, is still a public holiday on January 14th. The date discrepancy arose because of the earlier use of the Julian instead of Gregorian calendar. In 1918, the calendar switch was made, but despite the introduction of “new New Year,” Old New Year never quite fully disappeared.
Things to do in Russia during New Year Holidays include:
- Attend the “main event” in Red Square in Moscow, or if you can’t be there, at least watch it on TV. Besides hearing the presidential speech and watching the Kremlin clock strike 12, you will see the elaborate fireworks overhead. There will concerts and other events nearby as well.
- Be sure to get a full, traditional Russian New Year’s table spread. Common New Year’s foods include Olivier salad, made with mayo, potatoes, carrots, peas, pickles, eggs, and a meat; “Selyodka pod Shuboi,” which is a herring dish also with mayo, potatoes, and carrots; red caviar on top of bread and butter; and mandarin oranges.
- Go “Orthodox Christmas shopping” in Moscow. Stop by GUM Department Store in Red Square, TSUM Department Store just a little walk away from Red Square, and the extremely large Okhotny Ryad Shopping Center. For souvenirs, visit Arbat Street in Moscow’s historic centre. For rare novelties, check out Izmailovo Craft, Flea, Art and Antiquity Market.
Russians celebrate the arrival of a New Year with great gusto, much food, and a long winter break. Those visiting Russian this time of year will have ample opportunity to do the same.