Russian Old New Year: the Russian paradox
Welcome to this week’s edition of Matryoshka’s Diary. This week our author Elena will share a few facts about the holiday that is deeply loved and celebrated by many Russian people living in Russia and around the world. This is an unofficial but warm, joyful and magical holiday, celebrated on the night from 13 to 14 January.
Russian Old New Year: The origin of the holiday
In 1918 the Gregorian calendar was introduced to replace the Julian calendar, and the concept of “old” and “new” style entered our life. Thus, the day which for centuries was considered the first of January, moved to 14 January (the new calendar).
In addition, celebrating the New Year from 13 to 14 January proved to be more logical for Orthodox Christians who were accustomed to celebrating it 6 days after the Orthodox Christmas.
Though the Gregorian calendar was established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, Russia did not adopt it for official purposes until after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918. The Russian Orthodox Church have not adopted it at all, and still adheres to the old Julian calendar. Russians, therefore, have separate dates for some holidays, including New Year and Old New Year. In Russia, though, Old New Year is not an officially-recognised holiday and people do not get a day off for observance or celebration.
How did people celebrate the Old New Year in the past?
Cooking porridge was a traditional thing to do. The rite was performed before dawn. When the porridge was ready, the pot was taken out from the oven, and the whole family would examine it. If the pot was cracked or the porridge turned out to be tasteless – this foreshadowed the evil. If the porridge turned out lush and tasty, people expected happiness for the whole family.
Trick-or-Treat: children and young adults went from house to house singing carols, asking for treats. The treat was usually pirogi (pies) or any other food. All the food was collected in a basket and eaten just after the event.
How do people celebrate the Old New year these days?
Some see it as a nostalgic holiday and celebrate it by getting together with their loved ones (large family gatherings are very common). Others see it as simply another reason to go out and party with their friends and colleagues. Russian people often make traditional holiday dishes: Olivier salad, Herring under the fur coat (Shuba salad), open face sandwiches with cured red fish and/or red caviar, holodets/studen’ (meat jelly). Tangerines and champagne are a must!
Many parks across the country will be open for skating, tubing, snowboarding, skiing (cross-country and downhill) and other outdoor winter fun — so consider a weekend outdoors. If you have not gotten your fill of rockets, sparklers, pick some up, just do not forget to grab your heavy gloves, a scarf and beany to keep you warm!
Interesting facts about the Russian Old New Year
“So Starym Novym Godom!”— Happy Old New Year! This is what Russian people say to each other on this day.
In Russia, the Christmas tree does not usually leave the house after the New Year. Or after the Orthodox Christmas. Many Russian families wait until the Old New Year to take the Christmas decorations off. This is when the Christmas tree gets undressed and taken down – until the next year.
Where else is the Old New year celebrated?
While Old New Year has a special place in the culture of modern Russia, it’s not the only country that recognises the occasion in some way. Many of the former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Kazakhstan, as well as Eastern European countries where the Orthodox Church is the prevailing faith, observe the holiday – either formally or informally. Additionally, parts of the Scottish Gaelic community use the day as a way to celebrate and promote Gaelic culture. Some German-speaking areas of Switzerland also observe Old New Year under the name St. Sylvester’s Day.
We wish you a happy Old New Year!
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