Russian New Year Traditions

I woke up at night. It’s a weird feeling when you wake yourself up quickly as if someone punches you at the back. I was about 9-year-old child, but still remember that night. I saw my daddy in his pajama, leaning over the New Year Tree. He tried to rustle gift wrapping as quietly as possible. I hid under the blanket and watched while he was laying out our presents. When he left, I wondered if I should first check the presents or go and shout proudly: “Aha, I knew that Father Frost was you, Daddy!”

I chose to take a look at the gifts. What if I don’t like mine? In such a case, I could switch my presents with my elder sister’s gifts and pretend it was like that from the very beginning. Daddy brought us two candy boxes in a doggy’s shape. My sister’s dog was very romantic, pink in color, with a daisy in his paw, and mine was of my favorite green color, showing a victory sign with his paw. Well, well, well, my daddy obviously knew me well.

While I was looking at the gifts, my sister and parents woke up and we started to unwrap the presents. “I saw you earlier under the New Year tree, – I told my father. – You were putting our gifts in pajama. I knew you are the Father Frost”. – “So why didn’t you call me over?” I couldn’t tell my parents that I was thinking of switching the presents. “Look, I’m not the Father Frost. He doesn’t wear a pajama, everyone know he wears a long red coat. It was just a dream”.

I chose to believe him. I always believed my parents and knew they would never lie to me. Since then, every New Year’s Eve for many years in a row I wanted to catch Father Frost, but always fell asleep early.

We don’t have Santa Claus in Russia. All the religious holidays were prohibited since Russian revolution in 1917 and people were allowed to celebrate a New Year instead of Christmas: so it’s became a secular tradition which I personally found perfect – no matter, what religion you follow, what country you’re living now, all former Soviet people celebrate New Year’s eve and this is the tradition that unites us all.

We have a Father Frost instead of Santa. Well, technically he is not a Father, but a Grandfather. It’s complicated – nobody knows who his child is, but everybody knows his granddaughter is a Snow Maiden.  Father Frost wears a long red sheepskin coat with a white fur, embroidered with glittery snowflakes, winter hat, and he also has a long white beard. There is a magic staff at his hands, and if he hit it against the ground, it will become cold, or snow will begin, or beautiful lights will light up on a New Year tree. His sleigh is harnessed by a trio of horses. Father Frost lived in the north of Russia, in the Veliky Ustyug town. Snow Maiden helps her grandpa to present gifts and entertain children. Outwardly she looks like Elsa from Frozen.

When the New Year comes, our family and guests gathers at a table set with a lot of food. There is always a traditional Russian salad named “Olivier” (in fact it’s what you call here “Russian salad”, a mix of peas, cooked potatoes, carrots and eggs, fresh cucumbers and pickles, boiled beef or chicken, and mayonnaise dressing). We turn on the TV and listen to the chime, the most famous clocks of Russia, located at the Spasskaya Tower on Red Square, Moscow. We loudly count from 1 to 12, and when “12” hits, it means that the New Year is here. At this moment we make wishes, then we congratulate each other, eat, dance, play games – and we can celebrate the whole night long. In the morning we run to see the presents that Father Frost has already put under the New Year tree – as I did when I was a child.

That’s the part of our home country’s traditions which we try to convey to our children. Our children are Americans, but it’s also as complicated as why Father’s Frost is a Granddaddy, not a Daddy. We raise them, combining Russian, Jewish and American traditions – gosh, I can’t even imagine a mess in their heads! – but that’s what make them very unique.

Every time when I put their wrapped gifts under the New Year tree, I can clearly see my daddy, in his pajama, laying out that green dog filled with candies for me. It’s been 12 years since he’s not with us anymore, but I still feel his love – and feel the special magic of this moment. That’s what a real Holiday Miracle is about – to cherish traditions and know that all your ancestors are staying behind you, with love and support.

 

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