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FACTBOX: How Russia embarked on celebrating the New Year

Starting in 2013, the official New Year holidays run from January 1-8

2020 has begun. TASS-FACTBOX offers a look at the history of New Year celebrations in Russia.

Holiday’s origins

From the adoption of Christianity until 1700, Russia used the Byzantine calendar, which dated back to the world’s creation, which was then, the year 5508. Russians initially celebrated the New Year in March, but the holiday moved to September 1 in the 15th century. On that occasion, a festive ceremony usually took place on the Kremlin’s Cathedral Square, as well as a church service, attended by the tsar, the patriarch, bishops and members of the nobility.

In December 1699, Peter the Great issued two decrees, which introduced a new chronology system, which counted years from the birth of Jesus Christ, and ordered that the new year be celebrated on January 1. However, the Russian ruler refrained from introducing the Gregorian Calendar that many European countries had switched to, so Russia continued to use the Julian Calendar, celebrating New Year’s 11 days later than other Europeans. With time, the gap between the two calendars grew, reaching 13 days in the 20th century.

Fir tree as a symbol

Peter the Great also ordered to decorate Moscow’s thoroughfares and nobility’s homes with fir trees and pine branches. The czar had borrowed the tradition from Europeans living in Moscow’s German Quarter (presently known as the Lefortovo District).

The townsfolk were told to congratulate each other, burn fires on the streets, shoot rifles and launch firecrackers. A firework display took place on Red Square. New Year celebrations lasted seven days back then.

Sweets, fruit, ribbons and candles were initially used to adorn Christmas trees, but later special decorations came along, which were usually Christmas-related. People started to adorn their trees with small bells, figurines of angels and shepherds. As time passed, glass Christmas decorations started coming from Germany, and at the end of the 19th century, the production of glass balls began at a factory near the Russian town of Klin.

October revolution’s consequences

In January 1918, the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic passed a decree introducing the Western European Gregorian Calendar. The Russian Orthodox Church rejected the change and continued to stick to the Julian Calendar. This is why Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, which corresponds to December 25 according to the Julian Calendar. At the same time, a new unofficial holiday emerged - the Old New Year - which is celebrated on January 14.

In the first years of the Soviet Union, the tradition of Christmas and New Year celebrations continued. Special New Year parties for the children of state and party officials were held at the Grand Kremlin Palace. However, in the mid-1920s, a campaign against religious prejudice was launched across the country. As a result, Christmas was banned in 1929.

Revived holiday

On December 28, 1935, the Pravda newspaper published an article by Pavel Postyshev, a senior Soviet politician, entitled "Let’s organize a great New Year’s tree for the kids on New Year’s Eve!" where the author urged to end the "wrongful condemnation" of the holiday tree, and called on authorities to hold collective festivities for the children.

On January 1, 1936, Pravda’s front page featured a photo of Joseph Stalin and his New Year greetings. At the same time, a New Year party for children and youngsters took place at the House of the Unions’ Column Hall. The party involved the key New Year character, Ded Moroz (or Father Frost), who was joined by Snegurochka (or Snow Maiden) a year later.

Since 1954, New Year’s celebrations for kids and teens had been held in St. George’s Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

In the 1970s, Soviet leaders started the tradition of addressing the nation on New Year ’s Eve. General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev was the first to make such an address, which was aired on national TV on December 31, 1970.

In the Soviet era, the holiday’s features changed. The Star of Bethlehem was replaced by a five-pointed red star. Figurines depicting the Kremlin towers, cosmonauts, satellites, wheat sheaves and the like were now used instead of nuts, fruit and figurines of Christmas characters.

New Year’s celebrations in Russia

For the first time, a real fir tree was installed on Cathedral Square within the Kremlin’s walls in December 1996 at then Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s initiative. The main celebration - the All-Russia New Year party, also known as the "presidential" party - takes place at the Grand Kremlin Palace. More than 5,000 children from all Russian regions attend the event every year.

On New Year’s Eve, the Russian president addresses the country with his annual holiday speech. After that, at the stroke of midnight, TV channels and radio stations broadcast the chime of the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower’s clock, which is followed by the national anthem.

Holiday vacation

The official dates of the New Year holidays in Russia has changed many times. January 1 was declared a non-working day in 1948, while the January 7 Christmas holiday became a non-working day in 1990. In 1992, January 2 was also declared a day off.

Starting in 2013, the official New Year holidays run from January 1-8.