Russian New Year: Traditions and Celebrations

Moscow streets with Christmas and New Year decoration

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In Russia, the New Year is often grander and even more widely celebrated than Christmas, which takes place on Jan. 7. In fact, Russians celebrate two New Years: one on Jan. 1 with the rest of the world and one on Jan. 14, the so-called "old" New Year. The latter is based on the Orthodox Calendar.

Russians welcome a new year by saying, “S Novim Godom” (С Новым годом). Be prepared to say it often if you're traveling around Russia between December 30 and Jan. 15. Whether you're in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, there will be a variety of activities to help you celebrate both Russian New Year's Eves.

“New” and "Old" New Year

Most New Year celebrations in Russia occur from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, like most other countries. You can count on there being lots of fireworks and concerts to mark the special holiday.

What those in the Western world would call a Christmas Tree is considered a New Year's Tree in Russia. Because the Russian New Year precedes Christmas, the tree is typically left up in honor of both holidays. The Russian Santa, or Ded Moroz, and his female companion Snegurochka visit children on New Year's Eve to pass out gifts.

This New Year is called the “new” New Year because it was first recognized after Russia made the switch from the Julian calendar (still recognized by the Orthodox Church) to the Gregorian calendar, which is followed by the Western world. During the Soviet period, the New Year was celebrated in place of Christmas; however, Christmas has been regaining importance as a holiday more recently.

Russians have a second opportunity to celebrate on Jan. 14, the traditional (i.e. "old") New Year, according to the Orthodox calendar. This holiday (Старый Новый год) is usually spent with family and is generally quieter than the New Year celebrated on Jan. 1. Folk traditions like singing carols and telling fortunes may be observed on Jan. 14, and a large meal will be served.

Where to Celebrate

If you're in Moscow, head to Red Square to experience the most popular (and tourist-friendly) public New Year's Eve party. Thousands gather here every year—some with sparkling wine or vodka in hand—to watch fireworks burst over the famous St. Basil's Cathedral. If being sardined between strangers doesn't sound like your thing, consider celebrating with a private party or at one of Moscow's many eateries with a table full of traditional Russian food.

The host at Russian New Year celebrations may set up a zakuska table for guests, which will be covered with little bite-sized snacks that go well with drinks—think: caviar and dark bread, pickles, and marinated mushrooms.

Other cities throughout Russia will have their own fireworks displays or concerts on the night of Dec. 31. Be sure to check event calendars for big outdoor gatherings or exclusive parties in whichever city you plan on visiting.

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