December 20, 2015 - January 9, 2016: Issue 245



by George Repin

The principal feast day of the Russian calendar, for nearly one thousand years, has been Easter which continues to be celebrated throughout the world wherever adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church gather together.  Although supressed during the Soviet era there has been an extraordinary resurgence of religious observance in Russia, particularly at Easter.

On the other hand New Year, not Christmas, is a major time of  family  celebrations.  Families gather on New Year’s Eve shortly before midnight to eat and drink together and to mark the coming of the New Year with the greeting : с новым годом

(This is pronounced SNO-vim GO-dahm and is translated as Happy New Year, but literally it means With the New Year – a good wish for the year ahead). 

A practice in traditional Russian families before the Russian Revolution, which has been maintained by some émigré families has been to bake a pirog – a rectangular pie made with minced cooked beef, onions, and hard-boiled eggs with a concealed gold (or silver) coin, and a bottom and top crust of yeast dough.  At midnight the pie is marked out in rectangles which are dedicated to each member of the family, the “home” and, if the family has one or more businesses, to each of the businesses.  The tradition is that the recipient of the piece with the coin will prosper in the New Year.

Although, historically, the start of the New Year in Russia was celebrated on different dates – such as at the Vernal Equinox, on March 1 and on September 1 – Peter the Great at the end of 1699 ordered that the celebration of the New Year would be on January 1 as was the case in many of the Protestant countries of Europe which followed the Julian calendar.  He also ordered the use of fir trees, pine trees and juniper branches as decorations. However, when in the 18th Century the Protestant countries of Europe changed to the Gregorian calendar Russia maintained the Julian calendar and, accordingly, the dates of New Year’s  day diverged until 1918 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted by the Soviets.

In 1929 the Soviets abolished Christmas and fir tree decorations and it was only at the end of 1935 that fir trees and New Year celebrations were restored.  However it was not until 1949 that January 1 became an official holiday. 

Decorated fir trees are in homes and Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and his helper the fairy grand-daughter Snegourochka (“The Snow Maiden”) are associated with distributing presents to children in celebration of the New Year. 

The Snow Maiden is also a character in a Russian Fairy Tale dating back to the early 19th Century unrelated to Ded Moroz.

While superficially similar Ded Moroz and Santa Claus are quite different characters.  Ded Moroz wears a red caftan (an old style garment) edged with white fluff, a red (sometimes blue) Russian style fur trimmed cap (not a conical hat), white mittens and felt boots.  He comes from deep in the Russian forests in a sleigh drawn by horses not by reindeers, and is not accompanied by gnomes.  Unlike Santa Claus he has no relationship with Saint Nicholas.

Instead of Christmas cards Russians send New Year cards.  Pictures of a selection of such cards which I received from the Medical Workers Union of the USSR in the late 1970s accompany this article.

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants  Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre  Around Angkor - 1963  Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross The Oceaographic  Museum in Monaco  The Island of Elba Russian Fairy Tale Plates Meteora Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska Cloisonné Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories Not A Chagall! Did You Listen? Did You Ask? Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells Murano  University of Padua Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi  Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park  Aphrodisias  The Divine Comedy Caodaism  Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre  Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island  ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997 Hotere Garden Oputae Children of the Trobriand Islands Page Park Market - Rabaul Rabual  Kotor, Montenegro  Galleries of Photographs I  Lascaux  Galleries of Photographs II  The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor  Delphi  Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982  

Copyright George Repin 2015. All Rights Reserved.