New Year is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia. The equivalent of the British Christmas, New Year is a time to be spent with family, eating a lot of food and a time to look forward to the excitement of a fresh start when the clock chimes midnight. Christmas itself is celebrated on the 7th January, according to the Julian calendar, and is not regarded as the main holiday as it is in the UK, rather being celebrated as a religious holiday. And whilst the 25th December is just an average working day in Russia, I took advantage of my dual-holiday opportunity and attempted to create my own Christmas also.
Having listened to my Michael Bublé Christmas album on repeat for the majority of December, I was already feeling fairly festive for Christmas. I celebrated with my students, spending the last couple of weeks of term holding classes that involved Christmas quizzes, introducing them to the joys of cheesy Christmas music (Wham’s Last Christmas seemed to be a favourite) and eating sweets. On Christmas Eve I went to a party with some friends from Congo who also celebrate Christmas, so it was nice to be able to give a cheery “Joyeux Noël” at midnight. Arriving home at 6am, I was feeling a little worse for wear when I had to get up a few hours to start my Christmas activities, but no matter. Having invited a few friends to go ice skating, our afternoon was spent at the local rink. The park was decorated with Christmas trees and lights, Дед Мороз and Снегурочка (Russian characters of the festive season, roughly translatable as a Santa Claus figure and a snow maiden) animating a winter stage above a small market, and everything was covered in a layer of fresh snow. My white Christmas dream come true! My friends even gave me some gifts, which was so touching and very much appreciated.
After returning home, I set about making Christmas dinner, as no Christmas Day would be complete without it. 3 hours of cooking later and the masterpiece was complete. Roast chicken, roast carrots and potatoes, spiced lentils, stuffing (!!) and salad. Considering that I don’t exactly pride myself on my cooking skills, I impressed myself! Along with my flatmate Sarai, a neighbour, Georgy, and Sarai’s boyfriend, David, we enjoyed the meal together, decorations, guitar renditions and toasts galore. I don’t think we could have had a better fake Christmas if we tried.
So, Christmas was over, but we now had the even bigger event to look forward to, the one that we could share with everyone here – New Year. The excitement of having another celebration to look forward to, rather than the usual post-Christmas blues, was great. With Sarai, I had planned to travel for a couple of weeks over the New Year holidays, and we would be spending the 31st itself in Moscow.
We arrived on the 28th December, and were met at the airport by one of my friends, Alexey, who took us to our hostel. Our first glimpses of the city from our taxi already confirmed that the holidays were in full swing. Lights and trees were on every street, the city lit up like a glorious, glittering mirage. The megapolis, which I had once considered cold and superficial, was warm and inviting, festive cheer surrounding us and enveloping our senses everywhere we turned.
The 31st arrived and we prepared for the night ahead. Having tried to go to Red Square (closed) and an art gallery (closed), we ended up walking around for a couple of hours before spending the afternoon resting in our hostel. I was so excited to spend my first proper New Year in Russia. A few years ago I had been in St. Petersburg, but I was alone with my friend, so we went to the street events, but didn’t have the whole Russian experience of New Year at home. This year, Sarai and I had been invited to a dinner party with friends. We arrived around 9pm, and the table was already laden with Russian salads (not the leafy, light salads we are used to, but dishes of potatoes, vegetables, fish and meat all smothered in mayonnaise or сметана, a kind of sour cream), meats, cheeses and of course champagne. We literally sat at the table for the rest of the night with the other 7 guests, eating, drinking, chatting, and pausing momentarily before midnight to watch Putin’s speech – which prompted a discussion about the similarities between all these speeches that we watch at this time of year, whether from the Russian president, the English Queen or the Spanish King. Later we played games such as charades, and continued eating and drinking into the night. Bellies and hearts full, we headed home at 4am for a rest before our next journey.
Having disliked Moscow after previous trips to the capital, after spending the festive period in the city, my mind has been well and truly changed. If you are interested in visiting the city, I would highly recommend visiting over New Year. The city is beautiful, and there are so many festive activities to enjoy. A mulled wine on Red Square, ice skating around Gorky Park or a trip to the theatre, Moscow at New Year is special. I will be writing a more in depth account of what I got up in the city, as well as my adventures to Kazakhstan! But for now, a very happy new year – С новым годом! Желаю вам счастья, удачи и любви. Пусть сбудутся все ваши мечты!