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How Do Russians Celebrate New Years? 5 Traditions Unveiled

In Russia, the New Year is not just another holiday; it is the most significant and widely celebrated occasion, surpassing even Christmas in its scale. This preference for New Year's celebrations over Christmas is rooted in the country's history. During the Soviet era, religious holidays were banned, and the New Year became an alternative celebration that everyone could enjoy. This historical shift left a lasting impact, making New Year's Eve the focal point of winter holidays in Russia. Let's dive right into the New Year's tradition and explore both famous and lesser-known facts.


Preparations for New Year’s Eve

Russian homes on December 31st will remind you of your home on December 24th. People decorate their condos (yes, the majority of people in Russia live in condos) in red, white, and green, and obviously do not forget about sparkles. Central to the celebration is the New Year tree, or "Novogodnaya Yolka," which looks exactly like the Christmas tree. Interestingly, there are no stockings in Russia. All the presents need to be put under the New Year tree.


What's on the Table: The Russian Salad & Beyond

The Russian saladThe New Year's meal plays a crucial role in the festivities, highlighted by iconic dishes. The "Olivier salad," also known globally as the Russian salad, is a combination of diced potatoes, carrots, peas, eggs, mayonnaise, and usually ham, chicken, or beef, making it a central (and quite filling) dish.
Selyodka pod shuboy"Selyodka pod shuboy" (herring under a fur coat) includes layers of herring, potatoes, beets, and carrots, topped with mayonnaise. These items, along with caviar served on buttered bread, are favorites for their flavors. Although caviar is not a frequent guest on the Russian table, people make sure to have it on New Year's Eve, as it represents the hope for a year filled with prosperity and good fortune.

The Magic Stroke of Midnight

The moment the clock strikes midnight is awaited with bated breath. This is when the magic happens. When the chimes of the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower signal the start of the New Year, Russians drink make a toast to the good year to come, drink champaign and enjoy a display of fireworks. Families and friends exchange gifts, a tradition you know by heart if you celebrate Western Christmas, but distinctly Russian in its warmth and sincerity.
There are a number of unofficial traditions that different families have while the clock strikes 12 times. We will tell you about three of them:
  1. Write down as many wishes as you can, all on separate papers. Once the New Year comes, burn them, and they will come true in the upcoming year.
  2. Eat as many grapes as you can, and make a wish with each grape you eat. All will come true in the upcoming year.
  3. Just make as many wishes as you can, and all will come true in the upcoming year. Must have been created by a person with a lot of wishes, right?
Interesting fact: 15 minutes before midnight all channels show the President's speech. Like it or not, you have to watch it, if you do not want to miss the chimes. 

The Russian Santa and His Granddaughter

Ded Moroz and SnegurochkaNo Russian New Year would be complete without the beloved figures of Ded Moroz (Father Frost) and his granddaughter, Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden). They are similar to Santa Claus and his elf and are at the heart of New Year's celebrations, especially for children. They are thought to travel through the wintry landscapes of Russia, delivering gifts under the New Year trees while kids sleep. And just like Santa and his helpers, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka are famous guests at children's parties during the New Year time.


The Tradition of the "First Foot"

One of the strangest New Year traditions is that of the "first foot," known in Russian as "pervy gost'." According to this custom, the first person to enter a home after midnight influences the household’s fortune for the coming year. Ideally, this should be a man with a gift, symbolizing good luck and prosperity (just like the above-mentioned caviar!). 


New Year Celebration Lasts Much Longer Than You Could Expect

The celebration doesn’t end as the clock moves past midnight; it stretches well into the early days of January. With the country on holiday until January 10th, Russians have plenty of time to enjoy the festive period, visit family and friends, go for a walk in the snow, and have a yearly binge-watch of beloved Soviet movies, like The Irony of Fate or Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession., or some popular series that we recommended in a list of series to learn Russian.

No matter whether you decide to take the next step and watch the beloved Soviet movies or just interested in the Russian New Year tradition, learning the Russian language will immensely help you understand the culture. At ICLS, we offer both private and group online Russian classes that will surely help you out. We add a cultural component in every class and make sure you achieve your goal of communicating with your loved ones, propelling your career, and beyond.
P.S. This blog post was written by Katya, ICLS Marketing & Communications Manager and Russian native.

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