Everything You Need to Know about Grandpa Frost, Snegurochka and Russian New Year
Unlike in the U.S., a winter holiday season in Russia starts with the New Year’s Eve, which is the most celebrated and beloved holiday throughout the country. Because of the country’s size and many time zones, the celebrations start early on and continue through most of the day, from Vladivostok (the largest city in Russia’s Far East) to Kaliningrad (the most western city, surrounded by European countries). There’s an eight-hour difference between them!
How Do Russians Celebrate New Year? New Year’s Eve is a magical time when families and friends gather around a beautifully decorated Christmas tree (“yolka”) to celebrate and enjoy a festive meal, including traditional homemade salads and caviar, among other delicacies. It’s common to do a champagne or sparkling wine toast at midnight.
Instead of a ball drop in Times Square, Russians watch the country’s main clock in Red Square, Moscow – known as Kuranty – striking 12, signifying the start of the New Year. The celebration continues with fireworks and parties – whether at home, at public venues such as restaurants or night club), or outside despite the cold weather that time of the year. Many streets and squares in Russia are beautifully decorated for the holidays, with sparkling holiday lights, slides and snow and ice sculptures that attract and bring joy to kids and adults alike.
Also, many Russian people like to go to banya - a Russian sauna or steam room - on New Year’s Eve. One of the most famous Russian movie classics tells a story of a man who went to a banya in Moscow with his friends on New Year’s Eve, and later found himself in St. Petersburg, where he met the love of his life. For those who don’t like big festivities, watching holiday movies and shows featuring the most famous performers throughout the night is among popular New Year’s Eve and NewYear’s Day traditions.
Who delivers Christmas presents in Russia? Hint: it's not Santa and it doesn't happen on Christmas. Russian kids receive gifts from Ded Moroz (Grandpa Frost) and his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) who deliver gifts on New Year’s Eve. They arrive in beautifully embroidered and embellished coats (red for Ded Moroz and blue for Snegurochka) with white fur trim and fur caps. Ded Moroz carries a red sac with gifts in one hand and holds a decorated staff with a large star or a snowflake on top of it. Rumor has it, he uses the staff to cover trees, bushes and land with snow, paint whimsical frost patterns on the windows and turn water in rivers and lakes into ice. The grandpa-granddaughter duo arrives by a beautiful ice sleigh with three horses, and they enter through the main door, without the need to go down the chimney.
When is Russian Christmas? Russian Christmas is two weeks away from the world-wide festivities of December 25 and doesn’t happen until January 7. Unlike New Year’s Eve, Christmas is a much smaller celebration that often includes an intimate lunch or dinner with the family.
Do Russians keep their Christmas trees until Russian Christmas? Russians usually keep their trees up at least until after the Old New Year’s celebration, that is on January 14. It is an Orthodox New Year that is an informal traditional holiday, celebrated as the start of the New Year by the Julian calendar, instead of the Gregorian calendar that the world officially uses today. So, many Russians put their Christmas trees up in late December, right before the New Year’s Eve and keep them until mid-January or even later.
What is your favorite Russian winter holiday tradition?