Soviet Union collapsed a long time ago, but monument to Lenin is still standing guard to the festivities on Lenin Square in Tula.
Russians love the New Year for several reasons. First of all, it signifies the new beginning. “To New Year, to New Happiness” is one of the popular sayings and toasts that people wish to each other. Secondly, Christmas as well as other religious holidays, was banned during the Soviet times. Other Soviet holidays such as the 7th of November, the October Revolution Day and 1st of May, International Labor Day, were really too impersonal. So the New Year, like birthdays, had a warmer nature. For many Soviets, like my grandparents, I believe, it rivaled in importance even their own birthdays. The reason for this lies in the fact, I think, that the New Year brought a feeling of togetherness, so important for a Soviet person, and not an exclusivity of one’s own birthday. Today, this togetherness with others celebrating is not as evident but it still exists. You don’t see anymore people on the street singing in unison accompanied by an accordion or a passerby offering (and accepting) shots of vodka to (and from) perfect strangers in the street. (Although, I won’t be surprised to learn that this habit still exists in smaller towns.) Now togetherness remains in the fact that people think same thoughts about the holiday, as well as they cook similar dishes. The New Year has a taste of nostalgia, nostalgia for an illusion of togetherness, since of course it is more difficult to feel united with others siting in a personal car or separated from the rest of the world by an ear-phones.
Mine is a view from Tula, a rather big city near Moscow. But despite many differences between the capital and provinces, the New Year is celebrated similarly. For an average person the preparation for the most important night of the year takes at least a month and it includes such universal activities as buying gifts and tickets to various holidays attractions, making beauty appointments, thinking about korporativy (office parties), making plans for vacations and other such pleasant distractions. In my Soviet childhood at least six weeks before the New Year were dedicated to the quest of searching for the special occasion food such as good sausage, red caviar, wine, and citruses for the big Holiday. Candies were saved and tangerines or oranges were brought from Moscow and put aside. Heavy green bottles of Soviet Champaign were placed under the bed in order to lose their plastic corks only at midnight on the 31st. Since then this pastime is no longer available for a very simple reason of the over-abundance of any kind of food or drink in any Russian store. But some of my friends mourn this tradition saying that the Holiday used to bring to them more satisfaction.
For some reason unknown to me contemporary provincial Russians love fireworks. I see in this our Byzantine heritage and just the universal human love for things bright and sparkling. Probably, people think that loud sounds and luminous explosions in the sky can express jubilation better than words. For example, firecrackers are a culmination of almost any wedding now. However, for Russians, I think, the danger of fireworks is also appealing. In any case, the first night of a new year is punctuated by a cannonade of firecrackers launched by citizens celebrating in the street. The sound is continuous and lasts at least until three or four in the morning.
The people, many of them, celebrate throughout the night. Either at home, restaurants, clubs or outside the way you celebrate depends on your imagination. Many people ring in the New Year at home and then start the happy rounds of going to relatives and friends. Many still like to go to the main Christmas tree in town, where there are many different attractions. The celebration usually dies off by seven in the morning. After eight and until ten or eleven in the morning the city is almost absolutely quiet. No lights in windows, no cars on the roads. Just trolley buses, empty, except for some men looking exhausted or couples returning home and some unfortunates going to work.
The Tree for many days before the New Year and after that becomes the meeting place for the people.
In Russia, New Year is the Holiday. It is celebrated by all the people, despite their national, religious, cultural or political affiliations. While in the U.S. New Year festivities are concentrated at Times Square, Russian celebration of the arrival of each new year is all encompassing and everlasting – it goes on for 6 days all the way to Russian Orthodox Christmas (more on this later). Russians look forward to New Year as much as Americans anticipate Christmas, and celebrate with as much joy and self-abandonment as Brazilians do their carnivals.