Does it make sense when somebody wishes you Happy New Year and Merry Xmas?
Of course it does!
Does it make sense when somebody wishes you ONLY Happy New Year and nothing else?
In Russia, or in the ex-USSR, it does. Since 1917, Bolsheviks had a hard time re-writing the culture and traditions.They could not eliminate Christmas altogether, therefore they created New Year (two in one) – New Year with Christmas traditions, without baby Jesus and nativity scene.A little bit of history)
Traditionally, New Year’s Day in Russia fell on September 1, which ended Russia’s tax year. In 1700, in an attempt to westernize the country, Russian ruler Peter I moved the holiday to January 1 according to the Julian calendar. Therefore Christmas fell on the 7th of January (if you translate Julian into Gregorian calendar and New Year fell on the 14th of January by the same logic. Russia was 13 days behind the world, but the proper sequence of events was preserved.
The New Bolshevik Russia started using the Gregorian calendar in 1918, leaving the Church, which kept its Julian calendar by 13 days behind.
Between 1919 and 1937, the Bolsheviks banned public celebrations of New Year’s Day, calling it a bourgeois holiday. It became a non-labor day again in 1947. The Christmas traditions became adopted as New Year traditions. Santa Claus with its Russian equivalent of Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden girl) slowly became adopted into New Secular Year traditions.
The Christmas Eve became New Year Eve. The presents were left under New Year Tree (read Christmas Tree) or exchanged at 12am on New Year Eve. Christmas itself, on the 7th of January became a non-event. Communism won, but so did secularity. The New Year was embraced and celebrated by everybody religion withstanding. For better or for worse, Jews, Muslims, Russian Orthodox, Catholics celebrated New Year with a real gusto. Even Ramzan Kadyrov (a President of Chechen Republic, the one who approves Isis) remembers with nostalgia the Grandfather Frost, who turned out to be his uncle coming from the next village to bring the children presents.
Which religion are we talking about anyway? The “Opium for the Nation” (Definition of Religion by Lenin) was abolished in 1917. If Communism as an idea gets buried forever, deservingly so, I want to have only one thing left – New Year celebration as a unifying celebration.
I would love to celebrate Hanukkah, but having had no Jewish religious upbringing, I am also a stranger to my own celebrations. My religion was interrupted through three generations. I don’t know Hebrew and believe me, English translations of Hebrew prayers, don’t make sense. If I were back in Russia, I would be like a fish in the water – New Year and no mistakes, lots of room to wiggle, no traditions to understand. There was also a tradition in USSR enjoyed by every kid from the age of 5 till the age of 13. There were New Year performances in the theatres, Houses of Culture, local clubs. At the end of the performance the kids were given little presents containing chocolates, mandarins!!! (in the middle of winter), waffles and many other yummy treats.
But I am in Australia and that’s how it is. We give presents for Christmas for our Christian friends and for New Year for our Russian friends. At the same time I appreciate the fact that we are so free to celebrate anything we want, that every religion has its niche here.
One strange thing about Australian New Year is the hot weather. For the first year in Australia I resented the hot weather, I missed winter, frost, snow, the atmospheric feeling of a “proper” season. Having lived in Moscow from 2005 till 2012, I realised there was no proper season. Who would miss the Moscow fireworks only seen from the Red Square or from the tall buildings around, which are not many. Who would miss the snow treated with special salt to make sure the snow looked like an undercooked porridge? Who would miss obligatory ceremony of taking off their shoes and putting on the “tapochki”/slippers when entering Moscow apartments for celebrations.
But I still miss Russian New Year – the hot beautiful food, the numerous TV shows lasting for 24 hours, the presents given by Grandfather Frost (The Most Non-Drunk Male at Midnight – pretty hard task) and the children promising this Grandfather Frost that they would behave so well next year, that they deserved all of the presents given to them by Most Non-Drunk Male at Midnight. Russians or rather ex-Soviets do the same here and we enjoy it very very much. Having Russian TV handy is a good and cheerful help.
Since our parents died and there is no 1st of January lunch and dinner visits (soon I will start stealing my granddaughter for the 1st of January), 1st of January for the last 4 years feels for me like a 24 hours long flight on the plane. No care in the world, you feel you are in a certain time capsule where everything is taken care of.
I start my 1st of January with a splash in the swimming pool, cutting the Russian salad (nobody tells me how to cut or what to put there – many variations) and with a bottle of champagne. Reading, watching Russian TV, what could be better than this? That’s the only hedonistic day, I allow myself once a year. And every year I hope the time capsule would take me to the better places…
In 1988, when we were staying as refugees in Rome, we managed to get to St Peter’s Cathedral to watch midnight Christmas Mass. It was the most beautiful singing performed by the boys’ choir and the most amazing feeling there. One felt that something magical would happen after the Mass finished. And it did. We came out to absolutely transformed Rome. The were 2 or 3 snowflakes in the air, the night was so starry, the most beautiful women wearing unseasonable mink coats were coming out from the houses with the most handsome men wearing long cashmere coats, with the most beautiful children all laden with presents. Everybody were saying to us “Buon Natale”. Everybody was happy. Obviously their Grandfather Frost arrived just in time…Long live traditions! The most beautiful ones, of course.