holidays, russian style

How the Soviet Union turned New Year into its biggest holiday.

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“As we all know, Christmas is that mystical time of year when the ghost of Jesus rises from the grave to feast on the flesh of the living… So we all sing Christmas Carols to lull him back to sleep.” Well did you expect something better from Family Guy’s Peter Griffin? Me neither, but animated sitcom gags aside, the Christmas season has always been an odd time of the year for me. You see, I’m one of those people who don’t celebrate it.

It’s not a protest of some sort. I just come from a different religious culture and I was born in a country where Christmas was a purely religious holiday while everybody celebrated New Year’s Eve as the really big, important event that caps off the year. Having a whole Christmas season that lasts from the day after Halloween to December 26th with almost everyone I know plowing untold amounts of money into gifts and almost an entire month of Christmas specials on TV, have never become less alien to me. Rather, I’m used to countless TV concerts on New Year’s.

Orthodox Christmas and New Year’s have very different purposes in the nations of the former USSR. The former is strictly religious. There are no pine tress, no decorations, no nothing. Just worship and mass. New Year’s Eve is strictly secular but oddly enough, it did incorporate some parts of Western European Christmas. On New Year’s, good boys and girls are visited by an old elf known as Grandpa Frost who brings them toys, games and books while most of the adults get hammered and watch TV specials with a heavy emphasis on music and stand-up comedy. Oh and the old elf has a granddaughter named Snowflake who comes in both kid-friendly and adult-enticing versions. (Yes, the second link is pretty safe for work.)

So while I won’t be joining you tonight, have a merry Christmas if you celebrate it, try to steer clear of the “culture war” and enjoy yourself. Meanwhile, I’ll just wait for New Year’s.

# oddities // culture / entertainment / holidays / russia / ussr


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