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:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Russian science today

I always wondered what has happened to your country after perestroika. Where are all of your "great nation" science achievements?
Asked by Roderigo, Spain

Tough question to answer...may I say...and not because there is nothing to say, but just because there are so many topics to cover.

Well, to summarize and make it light, science achievements are still there)))
To be more precise, I am going to mention most recent several ones:


Russian winners of Nobel Prize (after 1990):

1990 Peace: Mr.Mikhael Gorbachev
2000 Physics: Mr.Zhores Alferov

2003 Physics : Mr.Alexei Abrikosov & Mr.Vitaly Ginzburg


The Fields Medal is a prize awarded to 2, 3, or 4
mathematicians not over 40 years of age at each International congress - a meeting that takes place every four years. The Fields Medal is often viewed as the top honor a mathematician can receive. More on this medal you can see on Wikipedia:
Russian winners of Fields Medal

1994 Mr.Efim Zelmanov
1998 Mr.Maxim Kontsevich
2002 Mr.Vladimir Voevodsky
2006 Mr.Grigori Perelman.*

* This funny guy has declined the medal even though he was awarded "for his contributions to geomerty and his revolutionary insights into the analytical and geometric structure of the Ricci flow"


Russian winner of Abel prize:

2009 Geometry: Mr.Michail Gromov

I am not aware of any prizes for space science development but the fact that Russians are not doing that bad in this science can be proved by the blog of one of the members of the International Space Station.

Too bad Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev updates his Russian version of the blog from the
Space Station more often that the English one

I hope my brief review gave you some ideas, Roderigo. Watch for the updates, though ))))

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dinner and "good night" time for kids in Russia

What time is dinner (supper) for small children? Middle age children? Older children? What time do Russian kids go to bed?
Asked by Anza West


Traditions of dinner time for all children in Russia (and I mean on all ex-USSR territory) have not changed much since Soviet times when everyday life of any family member was supposed to be organized according to the general recommendation of the State sanitary control.

...Well, it sounds scary, but actually it was very well organized and every new mom could get an answer to any question regarding her child from her local pediatric center for children from 0 to 16 years old(polyclinic).

Quiet often all walls of this centers were covered with the clear slogans. from how to teach your child to eat to what time to put him to bed. As you can see from the picture, it was advised that for the child's health the best schedule will be:

9 am -breakfast
1pm - lunch
4am - snack
7:30pm - dinner

This recommendation applied to the children of all ages.

It was important to finish dinner before 8:45pm, as at 8:45pm every child on the territory of ex-USSR was suppose to be in front of TV for his evening treat.

He had a right for 15 minutes long program Good night , babies! (Spokoinoi noch malyshi!) which was often the only daily TV entertainment of a child from 3 to 9 years old .

Music from this program put all babies in the sleepy mood and they were ready to go to bed leaving some free time for their parents.


Well, of cause many things has changed since then and now parents have access to all recommendations possible from all over the world. Some leave kids to eat when they want and to play until they fall asleep on the couch, others stick to a good old tradition of the grand-mothers.

But usually, since many parents work and are rarely home before 7pm, the dinner for all is around 7 30pm, unless grandma or nanny helps to feed hungry small kids before that. Teenagers will wait for parents or will eat before 8pm if parents left something to be heated.

You rarely will see small kids wondering around on the street after 9pm. The rule of
9pm-sleep-time still works but even if kids don't go to bed right away they are not allowed to go outside after the dinner. Those who will not go to bed might spent evening in front of computer or TV....just like in any other country)))))

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why so many Russian women go abroad

I am an engineer and had seen many Russian speaking ladies in my field who left Russia for other countries. Why so many Russian women want to live abroad?
asked by Akshay, India

I don't know much about Russian emigration to India (still subject to be studied)...but Russian speaking emigration to European countries after perestroika has brought there over 5-6 million people.

Well, it is bit too general as an observation to say that there are all girls ))))) but it is true that we see a way too many Russian ladies living in other countries comparing to Russian men. There are several reasons for that.


I am sure the modern population movement of Russian Federation is a subject of many studies in demography and social sciences. I might be wrong but my observation showed that there are 3 types of Russian speaking girls leaving their country:

- students. Those who decided that they would want be able to get the most exclusive education ( read to move to Moscow or St.Petersburg) available back at home.

- women in their 30th. Often already divorced with 1 or 2 children or just single. Who want to have another chance of having a family. (Looking at the demographics below will explain why it is gong to be harder for them at home)

- professional expat women of any age. You can include here Russian models too. What will we do without them)))) Often very successful in the work who consider their emigration as a new swing of their carrier . (This will make them part of the international professionals).

Something tells me that you are more referring to the second group. Am I right?


As you can see from the graphics it is simply country specifics to naturally have more girls then men. I found an interesting graphics showing the proportion of population (in millions ) of the Russian territory by the age groups and gender.

So it's true that there are more girls (pink) in Russia then there are boys (blue).


Another reason could be their desire to work and really gain well their own life. During the Soviet times Russian women may be didn't have access to the latest fashion trends, but they were definitely those of the first ones to vote in Europe (in 1917). Very few industries were closed for women and this cultivated the image of Soviet women-mother-comrade known to the rest of the world.

Now the times of guaranteed work and stable salary in Russia have gone and many women and girls hope to gain their life at least as well as their sisters in Europe and other countries.

They don't count only on the men to support them and since their early age know that they will have to work. That is why it is so important for our girls to study well and to learn foreign languages, hoping to get later in life chance to make their own assets work for them - so called return on investment.


All women are known for their ability to adapt to new situation easier and quicker then men. There where men will feel frustration and anger women will be more patient and wise. Remembering that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Besides those who already left once their home country are strong and ambitious. This applies to all internationals.

Having said all of this, I must mention that it is not that Russian girls don't want to go is just hard for them to do ones they get married and have children. (Like Ms.Natalia Vodyanova, for example)

And surprisingly.... they are rarely single for a long time
abroad (like Anna Kurnikova, for example) ))))

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sit for a second before traveling

My college roommate always made everyone sit for a second in silence before leaving for any trip. She didn't speak Russian but had some Russian relatives and always said that this is what they do for good luck. Is it true?

asked by Collette, NY

this remarkable tradition does exist and has it roots in the times of ancient Russia. By saying ancient I really mean it is one of the superstitions of pre-Christian Russia.


Our pagan ancestors believed that the good and bad spirits surround every human and his house
, so like in Ancient Rome the special rites accompanied every event of man's life. This particular custom, which requires to sit for a second in silence before leaving your house, is one of them.

Originally this ritual let the traveler put his thoughts together and was suppose to trick domestic spirits. It was suppose to make them stay home and not follow him in his journey. People thought that, if man leaves without this preparation the bad luck will follow him, because most likely on his way out he will recall something he forgot to take
and will have to return...and that will definitely mean that he will not have a tail-wind , because offended spirits will spoil his travel and he might never come back.


Well, those times are gone...and hardly anyone will know the origin of this tradition. But it's still there and once again thanks to 70 years of Soviet Union all traditions mixed up and now this ritual of siting before leaving the house is spread among all nationalities and religions.

Even those who left the territory of ex-USSR long time ago are easy to spot. Regardless of their assimilated names and lastnames
already dressed for traveling they will make every member of family (grandma, baby, cat including) sit in silence for few moments before opening the door.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Russian dinner drinking habits (vodka and not only)

I was invited recently to one Russian friend's house for a dinner and came with a bottle of wine but finally everyone ended up drinking vodka as we are drinking wine. Is it really always like this during your dinners?

asked by Anonymous, Paris

Well, I was sure this question will arise very soon.

To answer shortly.... everything depends on the occasion and the type of dinner you are talking about. You have not specified what was the occasion.
In any case, I am sure it was not a simple family dinner...or maybe you were served a special food which requires only vodka as a drink to accompany (yes, it exists!). Was it this? Pelmeni?

Nevertheless, Russians rarely drink vodka during their ordinary dinner...and rarely drink soft drinks while eating.


It's well known that vodka is a national Russian drink and there are many books and articles dedicated to this subject.
But to a big disappointment of many foreigners visiting Russian flat, they might see a vodka bottle in the fridge, but unless it is a special occasion their Russian friends will not offer to drink it with their ordinary dinner. The maximum you would get will be a bottle (or two) of beer to go as your aperitif. (Sounds not too much Russian but this is the reality)

More that that, it is possible that even water will not be offered. Why? Simply because we don't drink during the meal, but always finish our meal with 1-2-3 cups of hot tea.

But it will be a different case if you are invited to a special occasion dinner. Where a lot of food will be served and people are planning to spend hours and hours at the table.

Of cause traditions are changing and the influence of Western culture is changing the look of traditional Russian meal, but still some things hardly will change.

For example, the fact that Russians drink pure vodka and never mix it with juice or soft drink. Alcohol cocktails are not our favorite drinks.

So for the special occasion dinner you will probably find on the table from the first course till the desert standing side by side the following drinks :

-vodka (for men & women)
-sweet red wine (for women)
-sparkling white wine (Russian version of champagne) (for women and some men)
-cognac /whiskey (for men)

-sweet liqueur (for older women)
-beer (for men & rarely women)
-juice or soda (for children)

Sometimes there will be a sparkling bottled water and if your Russian is good enough you might read on its etiquette that it is a special thermal water for treating digestion problems. Well, that is exactly why it's there and if you look at homemade pictures of Russian special occasion dinners you will understand why you would want a glass of it.

You probably will be surprised to see that people might drink high spirits during the meal as Europeans will drink wine, but at the end of the meal you might not be offered a digestive.

As I said, one thing is sure, every dinner ends with a big pot of tea (or even two) .

But once again , you have your freedom to stay with your drink.

Just one advise, please make sure you never drink less strong drinks after the stronger ones. This rule is international. Otherwise, don't blame Russian vodka for your head ache the day after.

I hope to write later a special post to Russian eating habits, but for now, just remember that you will be offered a tea at the end of the dinner or even during, but if you want a glass of water, you might just ask for it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why do Russians have these long first-second names?

I've heard that Russians often address to each other not by their first name but by a long hard to pronounce names, which apparently is not their last name. Why is that?
Asked by Nicolas, Paris

This strange long name is probably what is called in Russian "OTCHESTVO" (so called patronymic name) As you can see from the link this name is not used in Europe, but is part of Russian identity.


Regardless of gender, religion or origin Russians never have several first names but just one first name and one second before their last name. Unlike surname it's not connected with various nicknames and defined strictly by the name of the father. As a matter of fact it reflected genetic communication through the father with all his descendants.

The patronymic name as well as the last name always testified the fact that certain person belongs to a certain family (kin). It's literate translation mean: "Child of (the first name of the father)"

(Remember Vladimir Vladimirovich?)

Historically patronymic names were established in the upper Russian nobility, members of the Royal court. That fact testifies the value of a patronymic name as a sign of big respect of the personal merits. The first such person was, of cause, Russian Tsar and his family members.

(Remember last misfortune Russian Tsar's wife Alexandra Fedorovna?)

And it was only in 1610 when the right to be called by his first and patronymic name was granted to not a high noble person. This lucky person was a merchant with a known lastname - Stroganoff who by a special Imperial decree was granted such permission "for his great merits in the protection of Russian land". (Everyone can mention at least oen merit of this family which deserves a prize. Remember boeuf Stroganoff?)

Thus, except for genetic and information loading the patronymic name also bore expressed sign of social respect for the person who was addressed by his patronymic.

Gradually, in XVIII and XIX centuries in Russia the reference by the patronymic name began to spred not only among Russian nobility and officials, but also among intellectual, cultural and spiritual elite.

The reference by a patronymic name became an integral part of person's identity in Russia. Therefore patronymic name was extended to all parts of Russian society as expression of respect and a reminder of the origins.

After Russian Revolution in 1917, the patronymic name was gradually extended among other nations of the Russian state, regardless of the nation

(Remember Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin? )


Now after this historical info I want to specify that there are some other rules which go together with Russian patronymic name:

- You always address to older Russians by the full name : first+ patronymic. Noone will dare to call their teacher (Maria Dmitrievna Ivanova, for example) by her last name (Ms. Ivanova), or by her first name (Maria). She is for everyone: Maria Dmitrievna

- This applies to any kind of official relationship (doctor/teacher/ legal appointment) regardless of age of any party...even if there is a major age difference.

- You also never address to someone calling them by their first+ patronymic names and use the form "you/tu (in French)". Using patronymic name shows that there is a distance between two parties. I remember that I was shocked to be called by my full patronymic name as a freshman in my university.

-Patronymic name is a must. So if the child is born by a single mom, she has a right to give her baby her father's first name as a patronimyc name or the one of his biological father or any patronymic name she'd like, regardless of the opinion of this man.


So, as was explained in one the text books for Russian philology students : "When one is called by his patronymic name, it actually reminds him of his father. Thus normal intellectually developed person subconsciously feels hidden presence of his father, genetic and spiritual communication with him and through it feels respect not only for him, but also for the whole kin".