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Happy New Year is Russians’ most-favoured wish forever

December 30, 2014, 18:20 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© TASS/Zurab Dzhavakhadze

MOSCOW, December 30. /TASS/. New Year is Russia’s number one and most favoured holiday. That’s the way it was throughout most of the Soviet years and, hopefully, it will remain so forever. Unlike the atheistic Soviet Union modern Russia has made Christmas an official holiday, too, but the event has not yet become deeply ingrained in Russians’ minds again, in contrast to the cultures of other Christian peoples. Besides, the Russian Orthodox Church still marks Christmas under the Julian calendar on January 7, toward the end of the ten-day long holiday season.

Russia started celebrating the beginning of the new year on January 1 under a decree issued by Emperor Peter the Great in 1699. The first festivities on the occasion of the new year, 1700, lasted in Moscow for seven days. All households were obliged to put fur-trees in front of their homes and gates. Each evening, barrels with tar were lit up, firecrackers launched, and two hundred cannons fired a salute inside the Kremlin. Most of the events were replicas of German customs. But it was only in the former Soviet Union that New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day became the most-loved popular holiday the way we know them today. That happened in 1935. But before that the Soviet authorities in 1929 cancelled Christmas and in fact banned the holiday as part of a militant atheistic campaign.

New Year is one of our most favoured memories since childhood. Like a magic thread this occasion links the past and the future. We remember it and love it for the fur tree aroma wafting around the living room; for the glass spheres of various sizes and colours gleaming on the branches, for the makeshift decorations, like foil-wrapped nuts and heaps of sweets and tangerines. Back in the USSR most, if not all of the tangerines that shoppers could come by were from Abkhazia — a subtropical paradise on the Black Sea. And although these days the variety of citrus fruit in the supermarkets and at bazaars is abundant, Abkhazia-grown tangerines are still the senior generation’s fruit of choice. Their odour readily brings back the memories of childhood and youth.

The festive table remains basically unchanged, although over the past two decades Russians have been able to taste quite a few delicacies from other countries. The Olivier salad, which in many countries features on the menus as the Russian salad, dressed herring, colloquially known as ‘herring under a fur coat’ or just ‘fur coat’ — a colourful layered cold dish, fish in aspic, red caviar (black caviar is a luxury very few can afford these days) and Russian sparkling wines, tasting very much like real Champaign… For many it is a good occasion to eat and drink well and to sit in front of the TV well into the night. In the afternoon of January 1 most will get up after having a good sleep and finish off everything still left on the table… These are some customary ways of celebrating the beginning of a new year in Russia, obviously not very healthy ones. But traditions gain the upper hand over the common sense year in year out.

After hearing the traditional New Year address by the head of state most TV channels will telecast the picture and sound of the Kremlin Chimes. After the first stroke millions of Russians will be raising glasses of Champaign and making wishes.

New Year is an occasion that many people associate with many omens and telling signs. It is a custom to see the new year in wearing new best clothes — many believe those who enter the new year wearing everything new will look smart during the whole year. Also, it is customary to settle all debts and to forgive all insults before the old year is out.

This time most Russians will have to pay 12% more to lay a festive table than a year ago. The federal statistics service Rosstat says this time the basic set of foods to be purchased for the holiday will cost 4.5 roubles. The prices of some items have gone up by a third.

“According to some polls Russians are less prepared to say goodbye to their customary diet than to durable goods or, say spending on tourist trips,” says analyst Artyom Kislyuk, of Rye, Man and Gor securities. “The food budget will be the last to undergo cuts, if at all.”

Giving gifts is a must. Their choice is fully in line with the modern trends. Sociologists say smartphones are on the list of the top ten most popular gifts Russians will be giving their next of kin on New Year’s Eve. More than a third of the polled expressed the intention to buy electronic gadgets as New Year presents.

Most Russians will be celebrating New Year at home. According to the Levada Center, 73% are not going out. Another 21% of Russians will spend New Year’s Eve and the first hours of January 1 with relatives or friends, and two percent, in the company of strangers at a countryside retreat. The share of those who will be travelling abroad is tiny — 1%. As many prefer to stay all alone or not celebrate at all.

During the long winter holiday, bound to last until January 12, most will spending time at home, 25% will be doing postponed household repairs and other chores. Thirteen percent of the respondents will go on pre-planned trips about Russia.

As far as my inner circle is concerned — all typical representatives of Moscow’s middle class — this time none of them is going to spend New Year’s Eve or holidays abroad, while in all previous years they did precisely that. But in December last year the dollar cost 32-33 roubles, and the euro, 44-45 roubles. These days the dollar is pretty close to 60 roubles, and the euro, 70 roubles. Willy-nilly, most chose tourist itineraries inside the country.

Since the late 1980s Russia has had the tradition of associating the coming year with a living creature from an oriental horoscope, although the Chinese and Japanese new year begins much later and has nothing to do with Russian traditions. Still, the manufacturers of oriental horoscope souvenirs make good money. Such artefacts are no less popular than the customary rose-cheeked white-bearded Grandfather Frost and his grand-daughter, the Snow Maiden. This year Russians are looking forward to the Year of the Goat (or Sheep) and discussing what they should be wearing on such an occasion. It is noteworthy that the demand for lamb at supermarket and bazaars has slumped.

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