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Let Me Invite You into the New Year

Fontanka river

Listening to Ravi & Anoushka Shankar in the busy frozen streets of St Petersburg creates quite a contrast; my hand moves with the beating of the drum (love the percussion!) and the music somehow keeps me warm. It’s so weird (and great) when everything is so ice cold outside and you have something preciously yours inside that makes you resist and even smile against the immobilizing frost.

Meanwhile, my lavishly illuminated city is preparing for the largest pyanka (booze up) of the year which will continue well into the next year. Remember the odd thing we have here in Russia which is the OLD NEW YEAR? Just another reason to get drunk for some and a prolonged magic for others (mostly children and those who still have their inner child within them). I’ve been having some problems with the whole New Year thing lately, so don’t pay attention to my occasional sarcasms. I guess that’s because my child perception of the holiday continuously fails against the vseobshchaya pyanka (global booze up) plus I have not yet experienced / found a grown-up / personal version of the New Year. I will however try to recall how much this holiday meant to me when I was little and make – finally – a New Year and Christmas post (more posts to come after the NY day, with photos for sure).

Former City Duma building

There should be no surprise if I tell you that the New Year’s Eve like no other holiday was probably the most anticipated and joyful day not only for the Soviet children but also for their parents. I’ve already talked about the New Year celebration in the USSR here, here and here. I would like to continue this saga, but so that I do not repeat myself I will try to tell you something new on the topic and share mostly non-food photos.

I asked my Mom & Dad to recall how the coming of the New Year was celebrated in their families in the 1960s and 70s, one living in St Petersburg, aka the cultural and always a-bit-on-the-independent-side capital of Russia, and the other in the Caucasus, an always troublesome region with a multinational settlements and lots of mining around. Both families were not much well-off, just that the parents had intellectual professions as well as the ability to save money (which was lost when my parents grew older apparently 😉

Let’s see some of the staples, the characteristic features and just tiny details of the best holiday ever (here both of my parents agree). First thing that came to my parents’ minds…

Tangerines (and oranges in the Caucasus too, says Dad) were available only around the New Year season. So there was this direct connection between the beloved holiday and the citrus flavor. The tangerines are still very popular for the festive table in Russia and I remember decorating the New Year tree (as during the USSR there was no mentioning of Christmas, bozhe upasi!) with tangerines on strings when we were living with my grandparents (7 of us in a two-room flat).

Strudel μήλου

{This is a very successful Apple Strudel from a Greek magazine my sis brought me from Greece. A similar recipe can be found here}

Yes, the tree (normally a yolochka 😉 = a small fir-tree but could be a small pine tree, sosna, as well) was the centerpiece. Bringing so much joy and anticipation for the children, however little it was (or just a branch, but please, people, do not destroy trees in the forests…). With some obligatory attributes, of course. So, the Soviet propaganda eagerly accepted and encouraged the already existing tradition of placing a red star on top of the New Year tree. From now on the star was to symbolize the patriotic red stars on the Kremlin towers. Underneath the lowest twigs there are two well-known figurines… The Soviet Santa, a robust grandfather Ded Moroz (literally Grandfather Frost) with his forever-smiling granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow girl) – you can read more about the couple in my January post.

Another way to decorate the tree was to attach whole walnuts (in nutshells, I mean) wrapped in aluminum foil to the branches of the tree (is it just me or you also immediately have this unpleasant feeling as if a piece of a nutshell’s stuck in your nail? Brr!). And if we have embarked upon the New Year tree decorations theme, here are some of our family heritage, still kept in my Grandfather’s very old-school suitcase:

open the suitcase...

{let’s open it! voilà: }

my Mom's new year tree decorations

{the decorations are lined with cotton wool – this thing also served to imitate snow under the New Year tree}

I adored this suitcase when I was little, was waiting to drag it from the attic, open it at the end of each year and play with the shiny things inside and also imagine I was travelling somewhere very far to a fairy land with this suitcase in hand. When there was already the New Year tree, I told myself long stories about being lost in a forest covered with snow… There was so much magic in this holiday, already in the reflections on the ceiling made by the tinsel and the lights on the tree. How little children need to dream away, really…

The most precious and old are these cardboard figurines and the wire ship from the early 1960s (my Mom’s collection):

old decorations

{in the background – a Lenkniga packaging which contained silver dozhdik (=rain, long strips of foil to run all along the sides of the tree, first attaching it to the tree topper piece)}

botan decoration

The one on the peg is very funny, a crammer boy holding a book which reads… BOOK =) There’s also a Soviet red star, a small izba (traditional wooden house, this one is from fairy tales) and a spinning top, a Chukchi girl (USSR is a multinational country!), a mushroom (?!). Plus not in the picture – the most ehm appropriate thing to decorate your tree with… lemons! We have two of them (see behind this round thing here, which also creates psychedelic reflections).

one of my favourites

This is probably all for now, enough to get me in some pretty awesome sort of New Year mood (self-suggestion?)! I will surely make a separate post on the New Year table during the Soviet times. I just need to collect some evidence =)

Happy new year! See you in 2013.

G.

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3 thoughts on “Let Me Invite You into the New Year

  1. Да, не будем пилить ёлки!…И все же…с детства запомнился именно настоящей елки аромат, который придавал “настоящесть” празднику. Тогда как-то не думалось о том, что ёлки растут не ради Нового года.

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