New Year in Russia — a favorite holiday

Spruce as a symbol of Christmas and New Year

By decree of December 30, 1699 Peter I ordered to decorate the main streets of Moscow, as well as the houses of the nobility, with coniferous trees and branches, and the rest of the inhabitants of the capital — to put «on a tree or a branch over the gates or above their own.» For the sample it was proposed to use spruce, installed in the Gostiny Dvor. This custom was adopted by the tsar from Europeans who lived in the German settlement (now the Lefortovo district). The townspeople had to congratulate each other, burn bonfires in the streets, shoot guns and muskets, and launch missiles. On the Red Square, where the main celebration took place, fireworks, cannon and rifle salutes were organized by the decree of the tsar. The New Year holiday lasted seven days. At the same time, a tradition arose to organize masquerades and folk festivals. Under Elizabeth I, court balls, modeled on European ones, became fashionable. The first spruce for the public was installed on Christmas Day in 1852 in St. Petersburg in the building of Ekaterininsky (now Moscow) station. Later, public Christmas trees began to be staged in other places, in Moscow they were held in the building of the Noble Assembly in Okhotny Ryad (now the House of Unions). Representatives of the nobility, merchants and industrialists arranged charitable New Year holidays for children. They were dressed and installed for Christmas on December 25, and they stood before the New Year or Epiphany on January 19. New Year celebrations were perceived only as an addition to Christmas. The first Christmas tree toys were associated with Christian themes (figurines of angels, etc.). Candlesticks, sweets, fruits, nuts, etc. also used as decorations. The top of the tree was crowned, as a rule, by a star (the symbol of the star of Bethlehem). Later, from Germany began to bring glass Christmas toys. At the end of the XIX century, the Russian production of glass balls and beads was established at a plant founded by Prince Alexander Menshikov, near Klin, the great-grandson of Peter I’s favorite. The tradition was interrupted during the First World War. In 1915, German prisoners of war in the Saratov hospital staged a Christmas party, which caused an extremely negative reaction in the Russian press. As a result, Emperor Nicholas II forbade setting Christmas trees for Christmas.  

Holiday after the October Revolution

After the October Revolution of 1917, the ban was abolished, and on December 31 of the same year the first public Christmas tree was opened at the Mikhailovsky Artillery School in Petrograd. In the Kremlin, affected by shelling in November 1917, the holiday was not arranged. On January 24, 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR (Sovnarkom) adopted a decree on the introduction of the West European Gregorian calendar in Russia (the decree was signed by the chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Vladimir Lenin, on January 26). According to the document, the day after January 31, 1918 was to be considered not February 1, but February 14, the difference between the old and the new style was 13 days. The Russian Orthodox Church did not recognize these innovations and retained its chronology according to the Julian calendar. Therefore, the Orthodox Christmas was celebrated not on December 25 (according to the Julian calendar), but on January 7. January 14, a new unofficial holiday, called «the old New Year». In the first Soviet years, the tradition of Christmas and New Year holidays was preserved. For children of state and party figures, Christmas trees were held in the Grand Kremlin Palace. However, in the mid-1920’s. in the country, a campaign was launched to combat religious prejudices. On September 24, 1929, by the decision of the Council of People’s Commissars, the celebration of Christmas was forbidden. Then there were proposals to postpone the New Year’s meeting from January 1 to November 7 (October Revolution Day). This did not happen, but the official New Year celebrations were canceled as «bourgeois» and «priest’s vestiges».  

Revival of the holiday in the Soviet years

December 28, 1935 in Pravda was published an article candidate for membership of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) and the 2 nd Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of Ukraine Pavel Postyshev «Let’s organize for the New Year a good Christmas tree!». In it, the author proposed to put an end to the «wrong condemnation of the Christmas tree»: «In the pre-revolutionary period, the bourgeoisie and the bureaucrats always arranged a Christmas tree for their children on New Year’s Eve … Why do schools, orphanages, nurseries, children’s clubs, pioneer palaces deprive this wonderful pleasure children of the working people of the Soviet Union? «Somehow, just as the» left «benders have appeased this children’s entertainment as a bourgeois venture.» The next day in Pravda was published a decree of the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Komsomol Alexander Kosarev on the January 1 Komsomol members and pioneers of Christmas trees in schools, children’s clubs and orphanages — «fun and without tediousness.» January 1, 1936 Pravda posted on the front page a photo of Joseph Stalin with a congratulation «Happy New Year, comrades, with new victories under the banner of Lenin and Stalin!». In the same year, for the first time on the radio, the New Year’s greetings of the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, Mikhail Kalinin, sounded. His speech was devoted to the events on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. In the same year, in the Hall of Columns of the House of Unions, a Christmas tree was organized for children and youth. The main New Year character — Father Frost (performed by Mikhail Garkavi, an entertainer) was present at the festival, after a year the Snow Maiden accompanied the tree with him. On New Year’s Eve in 1944, the USSR first heard the national anthem, the text for which was written by Sergei Mikhalkov and El-Registan (real name Gabriel Urecklyan), music — Alexander Alexandrov. Since 1954, the New Year’s festival for children and youth was held in the St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace. Since 1962, he was held in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses (now — the State Kremlin Palace). The best schoolchildren and students of the country were selected for the first Kremlin tree. Broadcasting was conducted on the radio, and in the newspapers were published detailed reports. Since then, the holiday in the Kremlin began to be called «the main Christmas tree of the country.» Since the mid-1960’s. it takes place in the form of a fairy-tale view.  Since the 1970s. there was a tradition of annual television New Year’s addresses of state leaders to the Soviet people. For the first time such an appeal was made on central television on December 31, 1970 from General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Leonid Brezhnev. In the USSR, the attributes of the holiday have changed. Bethlehem Christmas tree was replaced by a five-pointed red, wax candles — electric garlands. Instead of gilded nuts, fruits and Christmas characters, Kremlin towers, airships, astronaut figures, satellites, wheat sheaves, corn cobs, etc. appeared.
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New year in Russia

For the first time, a live spruce on the Cathedral Square of the Kremlin was established in December 1996 on the initiative of the Russian President Boris Yeltsin (in 2001-2004, due to severe frosts, it was replaced by artificial frost). The main New Year performance — the All-Russian Christmas tree, also called «presidential», is held in the State Kremlin Palace. Annually it is visited by more than 5 thousand children from all regions of the country. Among them there are winners of contests and olympiads, pupils of orphanages and boarding schools, children whose parents died in «hot spots», etc. On New Year’s Eve the Russian President addresses the citizens of the country with congratulations. After the speech of the head of state, television and radio broadcast at exactly midnight the battle of the chiming clock of the Kremlin’s Spassky Tower, marking the beginning of the new year. Then the national anthem of the country sounds.  In modern Russia, the New Year is being lied to as never before. First of all, these are gifts. Who does not like gifts? And secondly, it’s a very long holiday week. In Russia, everyone officially rests from December 31 to January 9-10. These days, Russians celebrate New Year and Christmas and have a rest from work. It’s almost like a vacation. Despite the fact that in Russia and without the New Year there are a lot of holidays and festive days off, and despite the fact that the performance ratio is not much lower than in the West, no one plans to cut the New Year’s weekend in Russia. This is the most favorite holiday in Russia. The New Year begins to be celebrated in the Far East and further the celebration along with the time goes on all the time zones of Russia to Kaliningrad in the heart of Europe. Russians are very fond of launching salutes, a big festive table with a lot of tasty and traditional dishes, and of course night festivities. 
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