As big as Christmas is all over the world, you should know that the Russian New Year is bigger than any of that Christmas thing.
In fact, it’s bigger than Christmas, Easter, and birthdays combined.
In Russia and many post-Soviet countries New Year’s is a big deal. Russians prepare for New Year’s throughout the whole year to make sure that every single important symbolic attribute is present during this special night.
I’m Russian myself, and in this article, I’m listing 6 must-have traditions Russians religiously follow during every New Year celebration. Read on!
Russian New Year: Customs & Traditions
This movie became a Soviet classic ever since it was screened on TV for the first time on January 1, 1976. Since then, it has been broadcasted in Russia and former Soviet republics for every single New Year’s Eve. The Irony of Fate of Have a Nice Bath is like It’s A Wonderful Life for North Americans. The story tells about a man named Zhenya Lukashin who lives in Moscow. Every New Year’s Eve he meets with his friends to go to banya (aka the Russian sauna) and drink some vodka (the usual Russian custom). That year, however, there was way too much vodka that caused Zhenya to do the unbelievable – confuse his address in Moscow with the same address in St. Petersburg, where he appeared (completely drunk) in some lady’s apartment… A true love story begins!
This movie is gold. And it’s absolutely impossible to imagine New Year’s in Russia without it.
2. What is yolka?
After the revolution in 1917 when Christmas trees were banned by the new government (and so was Christmas itself, actually), people lost the annual token of peace, family, and gathering. So in 1935 Christmas trees were reintroduced as ‘yolkas’, or New Year’s trees. Since then, yolka has been, and always will be, an obligatory attribute and an important symbol for every December 31.
3. Tangerines are a must on the Russian New Year table.
Supposedly, the tradition to have tangerines on the New Year’s table was cultivated by the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. During the Soviet regime, however, when people were experiencing the overall deficit of products, tangerines were very expensive and hard to get. It was a luxury to have, so people saved up to buy this fruit for the New Year’s Eve – the only day in the whole year forever associated with tangerine scent.
4. And so is the Olivier salad.
The Olivier salad is more famous than its creator, Lucien Olivier, whom people have generally no idea about. The famous salad has, as a matter of fact, a solid reputation in other parts of the world, too. In fact, in Latin America people are crazy about it – they call it ‘the Russian salad’, ensalada rusa, and their eyes sparkle and shine just by mentioning the name of it. In Russia as well, people’s love towards the Olivier salad is indescribable – New Year’s literally doesn’t exist without it. The salad has so much mayonnaise that it’s almost poisonous. But it’s a sweet death, really – that’s how good it tastes. All Russian salads are usually very rich in mayonnaise (Russians consume about 2.5 kg of mayonnaise every year), which makes a traditional holiday table very heavy. Apart from the Olivier, there’s also another famous salad called Herring Under a Fur Coat (селедка под шубой), which is made from layers of herring, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and, of course, mayonnaise. Because of the beets, the salad is actually purple – so it feels nice and festive at the Russian New Year’s table!
5. And Caviar and champagne as well (if you can afford it).
Life can be tough in cold Russia, the land of snowdrifts, icicles, hard work and no luxury. But during Russian New Year, every festive table must have red caviar and champagne since those were the products that were impossible to get back in the Soviet days. These luxury foods represent comfort and hope for good life. And, well, they also taste good.
6. The President’s speech and the chimes of the Kremlin clock
About ten minutes before the chime clock strikes 12 midnight, the president gives a year-end speech. This speech sums up everything the country went through the last year and makes a hopeful prognosis for the brighter future. After this motivational talk, the Kremlin chime clock is broadcast. The countdown begins. People are standing with a glass of champagne in their hands. Everybody is holding their breath. There’s an absolute silence and a feeling of utter importance hanging in the air that nobody interrupts. And then suddenly, there’s a loud outburst of joy coming from people – the New Year has finally arrived!
There’s definitely some inexplicable magical effect that New Year’s Day has on the Russians. No other holiday has such rejuvenating power that makes people feel so happy and brings the whole nation together.
Russians are crazy about their New Year traditions, and take them close to their heart. This date is a true “reset button” for the upcoming year and you’re meant to leave all the negativity in the old year.
But you know that Russians also have the Old New Year as well? Read about this other Russian tradition here!