Sunday, December 27, 2009

1 Russia = 2 New Years + 2 Christmases

I know that your Santa comes to you on the New Year Eve. Can you explain why?
asked by Frederic, Canada
Russia has been Christian since 980 A.D. (for over 1000 years) and the Russian Orthodox Church still follows the old Julian Calendar. The Julian calendar is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar which is used by the majority of the countries in the world including the Russian State. According to tradition, all Russian Orthodox believers celebrate their Christmas on January 7th of the following year.

It was not always like this. Until 1917 the Russian State celebrated Christmas as lavishly as the rest of Europe but with an official delay of 13 days. So kids received their Christmas presents on that day. This holiday opened seasonal festivities of Russian Imperial court and nobility, which continued until the Lent before Easter.
When at the end of 1917 the Bolshevik government decided to adopt the Gregorian calendar, the Russian Orthodox church decided not to follow the rules set by the increasingly hostile civil authorities. Part of the reason was to protest against the Bolsheviks and their interference in church affairs. Another reason, probably, was to preserve the older/ Orthodox (read "unchangeable") rules, and ways in which the previous generations of Russian Christians were praying, celebrating, etc.

So the new Soviet State also marked its territory by forbidding all possible reminders of "the Old times". That naturally banned Christmas trees and Christmas day became a working day. But still parents didn't want to deny their kids the pleasure of decorating a Christmas tree on long winter evenings. My grandmother remembers that even though the people were afraid of repressions they covered windows with blankets when they put a small tree in.
It was like this until 1935 when one of the party leaders addressed the Communist Congress with a clever note mentioning that "the most civilized State offering everyone an equal chance can't deprive its happy children of presents and the New Year celebration under the wise control of the Communist Party". That argument was unbeatable and here once more - tradition won. Now New Year became a Soviet version of an old Christmas celebration. Presents, Santa, and trees were adopted by the Soviet Union. Lenin had been dead for a long time, but every school had a right to a nice picture of him visiting children for the New Year.
It was only in 1938 when the Communist Party officially organized a Christmas/New Year tree inside the Kremlin and every small visitor had a right to a small present offered from Grandpa Frost (the Soviet version of Santa Clause).
No one knew those days that in just 3 years, the decorated tree would be almost the only consolation for children in bombed and attacked Russian towns during WWII.

The end of the war brought another calendar change, though. Now, the 1st of January officially became a day off.

People were allowed to have a celebration and all Soviet newspapers showed happy families united for New Year's Eve.

As time went by and the regime softened, Soviet traditions included great festivities for the New Year with an obligatory Grandpa Frost's visit often accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden).

Like his Western counterpart Santa, Russian DED MOROZ (Grandpa Frost) travels in a sled (albeit with a Troika) and there are no unreachable places for this omnipresent old man. He prefers the daytime for visits, though ))))


For the not-so-religious part of the Russian society, Christmas time is just a long holiday season.
Many people these days start parting with their Western friends on December 25 (together with the Western World),

then continue on the real New Year Eve with festive parties and Grandpa Frost , enjoy New Year's Day with their families, then, celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7th together with Russian Orthodox believers, when children get another set of presents, and finally every person from ex-USSR territories celebrates the night of January 13 (known as Old-New Year).

P.S. So don't be surprised if your business partners in Russia wish you Happy New Year or simply are in the festive mood until January 13th. It's complicated, you know....well just like many other things in Russia.
One thing is sure, on the New Year's Eve you will hear these songs:


  1. When you say every person, does that include Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and people of other religions?

    This was one of the successful Soviet PR campaign. The major purpose of shifting by Soviet State the "tree-presents-parties" to the civil New Year was actually desire to detach these attributes from the religious holiday.
    Nowadays, unless the family is strictly practicing the other then Christian Orthodox religion, they will have in the house a decorated "New Year" tree, presets and New Year party with Father Frost for kids.

  2. In Romania all christians(orthodox,catholics,old styles etc) start partying on 6th december when st Nicholas comes to children bringing sweets along, we go on gaving a uge party on the Xmass days and we go on with this on New Years Eve ,until 7th of January when we celebrate St John the Baptist ( huge romanian event since about 30% ofthe men bear his name....). So, in between 6th december and 7th january it is full of Merry Xmass, Merry Winter Celebrations and Happy New Year, eating, drinking, throwing parties and visiting family and friends ... After 7th of january we gradually return to work.....Of course, just to prepare for easter :))