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Russian New Year and Cristmas today

All right, if you insist :), I 'll tell you about our Christmas holidays.
russian icon First of all we don't celebrate Christmas on 24 December. We know it is a holiday in Western countries. And we can organize little party in a pure symbolic way ;-) 
The biggest holiday in Russia is New Year. I think, I must begin from Peter The Great, it was his decree to celebrate New Year on 1 Jan and put a fir- or pine-trees or branches at home, decorate them with toys and lights, and make a great feast. 
We put New Year Tree a week before the holiday. It is usually decorated with lights, glass toys and balls, sweets and little tangerines.  There are two principal characters of New Year, Father Frost (he looks almost like Santa Claus) with a big red sack full of presents and his granddaughter Snowmaiden (she usually wears light blue dress and a little hat). Father Frost is a very serious, strict, but kind and just. He has a deep voice. Little kids venerate for him. Father Frost can punish any evildoer by freezing him. Snowmaiden is a young girl, who loves and protect all animals. She cares about any creature. There are  little  Father Frost and Snowmaiden under the Tree. People usually put sweets and fruits and carnival masks there. I have never had New Year without Tree. It has always been a very tall (up to the ceiling) beautiful fir. We played many different games with Tree. For example, "Find me ...". Someone orders you a toy (clock, icicle, house etc.) and you must find it on the Tree as many as possible. If you haven't found all the pieces, change the roles.
Children attend New Year parties at school and other places. At first they watch a performance with many fairy tales and cartoons personages, where "bad guys" like Baba Yaga (an old woman with a big nose and terrible hair who lives in a little house in the forest that can fly, she eats kids and braves and does many bad things to people) kidnap Snowmaiden and "good guys" like Father Frost, different animals and Snowflakes save her. Of course, the show has a happy end. Every year there are new variations with new heroes, but the essential idea is the same. After that kids dance around New Year Tree, sing songs, tell rhymes to Father Frost and he gives presents to the best ones. Children attend as many as possible such parties and get presents. Usual present is a pack of sweets and chocolates.
Now we go to the kitchen on 31 Dec. The table must be crammed with dishes. There is a sign - how  New Year is celebrated, all the year will be in this way. So people try to put all possible and impossible on the table ;-) We cook as a rule about 8-10 different salads, sandwiches, preservings. The main dish is potatoes and meat (it can be young pig, or chicken, or turkey, or goose). As to beverages, all range is on the table, but champagne is obligatory. It is a family holiday, but we often invite friends and relatives, as it is boring to be for two or three. 
People sit down at the table at eleven p.m. "to tell Good Bye to this year", they recall all good and bad in this year and eat and drink a little. At a quarter to twelve, everyone turn on TV and listen to the president and after that the tower clock on the Red Square begins to strike. The champagne is opened and we hold glasses and with clock strikes we make a wish. Then we wish "Happy New Year" to everyone and kiss each other. And after that people drink, eat, dance and have fun till the morning. I never could  be up so long. My record is to go to bed at 5 a.m. 
I almost forgot about presents. Kids find their presents under the Tree, sometimes Father Frost "visits" them and gives the presents himself. Kids receive their best presents about which they dream day and night at home. The adults manage without middlemen ;-) To tell you the truth, people don't eat a lot during this night and all salads can be eaten during some next days.
Well, New year is left behind. Now goes Christmas. We celebrate it on 7 Jan. Russian Church (and other Orthodox Churches like Bulgarian , Serbian and others) uses Julian calendar where 25 December corresponds with 7 January of Gregorian calendar. As you know, we all live by Gregorian calendar. Unfortunately, this holiday didn't exist during communistic time, so the traditions haven't been kept well. Young girls tell fortunes at this day. There are many different ways - card-reading, signs and marks. Young people put on masks and funny clothes and go from home to home singing songs and telling jokes. And hosts must invite them to enjoy meal together or have a drink. Nowadays children usually do it and they get sweets and money. But in general, it is just a little family party.
And the last holiday is Old New Year. Sounds funny, doesn't it? Well, it is New Year by Julian calendar. We have been always celebrating it. It looks like New Year holiday, but not so big and  none stays awake all the night. You can tell fortunes at this holiday, too.
Well, I hope you are satisfied with my story and if you have any questions, feel free to ask. Oh yes, we keep New Year Tree until Old New Year and sometimes longer until Epiphany.

Best wishes,

By Olga Timokhina

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