Russian traditions differ greatly from those of North Americans at New Years. Here's the take of an exchange student who spent the holiday here in Canada.
We Russians have the same tradition as Catholics of decorating a fir-tree, however, it s origins are not religious. It was introduced by Tsar Peter the Great in 1699 in imitation of European practices.
Russian believe in Father Frost and Snow Maiden who bring presents to children in a carriage dragged by three horses after midnight. Sometimes the presents are put not under the fir-tree, but in a hidden place, and children find them by playing the game called “12 notes.” Each note has a riddle about the location of the next note. The process of guessing and moving around the house repeats until the “buried treasures” are discovered. While kids look forward to presents, adults look forward to the president’s address. It is traditionally translated 5 minutes before the Kremlin Clock in Moscow starts chiming, notifying the beginning of New Year. While the bell rings, Russians usually make wishes for New Year and drink champagne.
Now it is time to talk about cuisine. The Russian festive table usually groans with food, and there’s always left overs for the first days of January, freeing people from the duty of cooking. In deep bowls you may see olivier salad, dressed herring, zalivnoye. Let’s explore the ingredients. Olivier salad is made of potatoes, peas, eggs, meet, apples, salt, mayonnaise.
Dressed herring consists of pickled herring, potatoes, carrots, beetroots, onions and mayonnaise.
Zalivnoye is a cold meal composed of meat, fish, pieces of lemons and frozen broth. The salads usually constitute the first course.
There is no traditional hot meal: each family prefers something different. My mother usually cooks puree with roasted chicken. In other families, turkey may be used instead of chicken. Usually, the first and second courses are accompanied by wine for adults and juice or soft drinks for children. The feast is wrapped up by hot tea and a dessert – usually cake. During the feast Russians discuss the main events of the past year, deliver toasts for the coming year, watch entertaining TV programs that feature performances of famous Russian pop singers, such as Alla Pugacheva, Philipp Kirkorov or Maxim Galkin.
This year, celebrating the holiday in Canada, I feel that the main difference is not the absence of fireworks, which in Russia start several days before December 31st, not the absence of a big feast and TV programs, but the separation from my family. Because, most importantly, New Years is about reinforcing family ties and expressing unconditional love.
However, I am blessed that this year I could celebrate the holiday with friends: one from Russia and another from Malaysia. This way I was rescued from a lonely transition to 2019. Also, it turned out to be quite enjoyable to share my Russian culture with someone from a different country!