Saturday, 27 December 2014

Russian Christmas and New Year!

    It’s tough to be away from friends and family, more so over the holidays. Long absences compound these feelings even more. I will have been away from Canada for almost a year. A great year it has been to be sure, but not without some heartache. Rarely do great adventures come without a little heartache sprinkled in. Facebook and Twitter make this a little easier, along with Skype, Facetime, and a few other tech apps. But they are a two-edged sword. The daily reminders a friendly connection but also a constant example of how artificial those “connections” really are. While Skype and Facetime are better, it is a pale replacement for a live conversation. This is the reason I have been a little remiss in setting up  ‘chat dates’. Technology is fine and while it is intelligent it is also artificial, and thankfully so. One day perhaps it may not be and that I think would be a shame. So put down the phones, and put away the computers, and interact with one another! Life is not a page or “like” count on your awesome Christmas selfie. I think it is far better to be “IN” the moment and not distracted by how you’re going to share the moment.

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.

Inga and I bumped into a couple that have become our friends and when they found out I was missing my Canadian Christmas they instantly made calls. Despite working all day and having to work in the morning, everyone came back to our place, grabbing fixings required along the way. Then together everyone pitched in to make dinner and set the evening up for Canadian Exile Christmas. We had an awesome time together sharing stories and watching videos of how Canadians shared Christmas. It made me feel good to have friends and a wife that cared so much, making an enormous effort to make me feel welcome with my tradition and not one they shared. A true one of a kind gift just for me and one everyone could afford despite currency fluctuations and sanctions.

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.


  1. Scott, thanks for sharing that Russian insight and your away-from-Canada-holiday. Stay warm.

    1. Thanks Chuck,
      It is getting a little cool here, dipping to minus 5 metric in the evenings. Moscow will be cold with daytime highs of minus 12! But Chiang Mai is 26 and will be a much needed reprieve!

  2. Interesting article. And crosses all language barriers.