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New Year History and Symbols in Russia


New Year, nowadays, is the principal winter holiday, as opposed to Christmas. It is universally recognized as such by both secular and religious people.
New Year in Russia is celebrated on January 1, the first day of the Gregorian Calendar. In earlier times, New Year was celebrated in the month of September. Later, Czar Peter The Great forbade celebration of this day. In 1699, a decree was read about counting of years from Birth of Christ since January 1st. Thus, this day was declared as a New Year's Day in Russia.
Christmas has always had a huge meaning for Russians, but in the 20thcentury when the communists came into power, they forbade religious holidays. Christmas tradition was so strong, though, that people continued to decorate the Christmas trees in an underhand way. So the government allowed people to celebrate what was the Christmas holiday in a different way and at a different time: on January 1st. The Christmas tree was renamed into a New Year tree. But the non-religious traditions of the Christmas holiday remain: Santa Claus, gifts, dancing around the New Year tree and happy family times.
Gradually the religious meaning to the holiday has deteriorated leaving the general meaning of the New Year holiday as one for a hope that the new year will be more happy and that all bad remains behind in the old year. Since then, New Year became a family holiday for the people of Russia.
Symbols and traditions

Amongst the most popular New Year symbols is a New Year's Tree. Decorating New Year's firs trees (pronounced Novogodnaya Yolka in Russian), began centuries ago when Peter The Great declared, "all major streets, the homes of important people, and the homes of distinguished religious and civil servants should be decorated with trees, pine and fir branches. Poor people should put up at least one tree or branch on their doors gates."
He also declared that, "if you have a musket, you should fire it three times at midnight, or fire three rockets."
Many years ago another tradition appeared: before New Years' families made Christmas tree decorations from color paper, fancy candy's wrappings, colored thread, and real candy. Russian Christmas tree's decorations are different from American and European trees. Russian trees are decorated in varied bright colors (not just one color or one style of ornament) with many different types of decorations: figures, icicles, and candy that kids can find and eat. Nowadays this tradition is observed by fewer Russians but still exists. Novogodnaya Yolka used to be topped with a bright star: in Soviet times it was to be red. At present the tree can be topped with anything you like.

Russian version of Santa Claus

Another popularly celebrated New Year tradition is the arrival of Santa Claus or Old man Frost (Ded Moroz in Russian).
The origin of Santa Claus is due to the holy St. Nicholas. He was born in Asia Minor in the Greco-Roman city of Myra in the province of Lycia, at a time when the region was entirely Greek in heritage. Due to the suppression of religion during the Soviet regime, Ded Moroz - Grandfather Frost, Old man Frost - the Russian spirit of winter, replaced St. Nicholas. Folklore holds that Ded Moroz is charged with the responsibility for delivering presents on New Year's Eve. He wears a long coat (usually red, sometimes blue), has a long beard and felt boots and carries a stick and a big sack of gifts and dispenses them to each family. He comes by horses, usually 3. In the northern part of Russia he comes by deer. He resembles Santa Claus, although he has no saintly identity.
Instead of elves to help him, Ded Moroz has his granddaughter “Snowy” (Snegurochka). Snegurochka is made of snow; she is a beautiful young girl. Most often she is pictured as being around 17 to 20 years old; other times rarely, as a Preschool girl. She is always a blonde with big blue eyes and red cheeks. She too wears either a blue or red long coat. When the people decorate their apartments and Novogodnaya Yolka, they place a toy Ded Moroz and Snegurochka either under the Novogodnaya Yolka or somewhere else in the room.

Excitement and goodwill is felt long before the New Year. The streets are decorated and music is played everywhere. Long before New Year's, people begin their shopping. The gifts are purchased for everybody around. There are big decorated Novogodnaya Yolkas in the streets. There are free holiday shows in the public parks. You can see Ded Moroz walking around on the streets. Television presents many holiday programs.

Next week we’ll tell you about the way Russians celebrate the New Year and Christmas.

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New Year History and Symbols in Russia © 2007