Saturday, 27 December 2014
Russian Christmas and New Year!
So Russians don’t really get into the Western Christmas thing. The reason for this is political correctness. Long before it became fashionable to be Politically Correct and regular people worried about appearing to be judgmental it was regulated in Russia by political policy. “Yes Ivan, there is no Santa Claus.” They didn’t celebrate the birth of Christ publicly as it was forbidden. Santa got tossed in with the Christian birth here too and was banned. Although they had a pretty good knockoff, Father Winter, and like most knockoff products it resembled the western version closely. Orthodox Russians celebrate Christ’s birth on the 7 of January and that is Christmas Day. No grand conspiracy they just use a different calendar than the West. It was illegal in the past under the Soviets but is legal now and gaining popularity. Vladimir Putin himself regularly attends Orthodox Mass. It is significantly more about Family, Friends, and Faith than Walmart, Best Buy, and Holiday.
So what is with the “Christmas trees and lights? Winter season! The time between the end of December and the middle of January is one of celebrations and gatherings. Russians actually enjoy two New Years, with Christmas tossed in the middle. How awesome is this? First they have New Years Eve very much like the West with the primary idea being how you bring in the New Year is how the following year will be. The next is Christmas on the 7th and then Old New Year or Старый Новый Год on the 14th. Another celebration focusing on the blessings received and the ones to come, shared with friends, family, and dancing.
In the spirit of research, I organized my month to fully take advantage of the season for you, my reader’s vicarious enjoyment. New Years eve will be enjoyed in Anapa and Christmas, with Old New Years experienced in Moscow. Moscow goes all out with decorations and live concerts by some of the best Russia have to offer. The government has in the past declared a national holiday for this time, although with the drop in the Ruble no such announcement has been made this year.
I missed the traditional holiday and was feeling a little out of sorts this year. However, a few unusual events changed this. Despite it not being Christmas here I still said "Merry Christmas" to the shop owners, friends, and people I regularly interact with. This was met with confusion, past the language issue. Then most would smile and brighten with the realization that the “English speaking guy from Canada” celebrated today. They would say it back in Russian, or English, sharing the day with me. After having two New Years, two Christmases is a pretty easy leap. No one admonished me for getting the day wrong, nor did they say they were Jewish or Muslim. They took the time to enjoy the moment with me and left the political correctness in the past, with the Soviets. Russia is immense and has more ethnic diversity than any other country in the world today. It is home to Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian and many more groups and subgroups. I believe this is the reason that has forced them to get along. Focusing on the differences would be a negative approach while sharing in the joy of the others culture and practice focuses on the positive. When I spent time growing up in Santa Monica, I would say "Merry Christmas" and my Israeli friends, that practiced Judaism, and they responded with "Happy Hanukkah". No big issue, both shared the joy, in their own way, together. Now people debate signs and make a great bit of noise around things during a moment of time meant to bring our communities together. Not here in Russia.
Perhaps a gift for you as well. Kindness, understanding and choosing to share in the joy of another cultures traditions is without price and priceless at the same time.