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  Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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Russian New Year
In modern Russia, the main decoration for New Year's Eve is a fir-tree, and the guest of honor is Ded Moroz (Russia's Santa Claus) with his bag of presents.

The tradition of the fir-tree came to Russia rather recently, about 200 years ago. In 1817, Czarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, the wife of Czar Nicholas I, brought this tradition to Russia from Germany where it was a tradition to decorate houses with branches on Christmas. Small firs were used to decorate the tables in the Winter Palace to remind the czarina of the firs decorated with lit candles of her childhood in Prussia.

This quiet celebration was supplemented with the custom of exchanging gifts placed around the tree on the table or hung on its branches. The czar's family had so many gifts that it became necessary to have larger and larger trees until if finally became necessary to put a large tree cut from the forest in the hall.

Everyone noticed the beautiful tree and began talking about it as if it were a palm tree. The court wanted to have similar trees and a year later all of St. Petersburg had trees and soon the practice spread through Russia.

The practice became even more popular because the czar would allow everyone in St. Petersburg to visit the Winter Palace during his New Year's celebration (up to 4,000 people). Thousands of people saw the trees arranged on tables for the royal family and the huge tree in the center of the ballroom.

The Christmas tree immediately became close to Russia's heart. The evergreen was an essential component of the Russian winter and the Slavic soul enthusiastically responded to the idea of making the forbidding tree gentle and a symbol of happiness. It should not be forgotten that Russians were initially fishermen and farmers in the middle of the huge Russian forests. In the Russian mind, these ancient forests were pagan monsters. Christianity transformed these forests into an Eden.

That is why Russians love Christmas trees and prefer buying real trees instead of fake trees. A fir should smell like a fir, and no matter how beautiful a fake tree is, it does not smell real.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7 instead of December 25, but Russians and Europeans celebrate New Year's Eve together.

Another indispensable Russian custom for New Year's Eve is for families to celebrate New Year's Eve with children. New Year's Eve is considered a children's holiday and incorporates elements of child-like theater.

The Bolsheviks banned Christmas trees because they were considered a bourgeois vestige. On January 24, 1918, the Council of People's Commissars issued a decree changing the calendar and shifting the New Year's Eve 13 days earlier.

It was a very difficult time for children and adults. New Year's Eve became a regular workday and people could not stay up late because they had to work the next day. There were no presents either. No Christmas trees were on sale, and cutting down firs in the wood was a crime.

A famous Russian author and playwright, Mikhail Bulgakov, was the first to remind Muscovites about the beauty life under the czars. At the beginning of the second act of his legendary play, "The Days of the Turbins," the audience saw onstage a live and fragrant Christmas tree decorated with garlands and candles and heard the cracking of the candles on the tree branches, reminding people of the wonderful times.

Perhaps at that point, after seeing the tree onstage, Stalin, who saw the play more than 15 times, decided to return Christmas trees to Russian homes. The Kremlin revived New Year's celebrations in 1937, the height of the purges.

The first Soviet tree, a 15-meter tall tree, was unveiled at the Hall of Columns in Moscow's Trade Union House on January 10, 1937. The tree was filmed for the newsreel, "The Soviet Union." By the next year, New Year's trees were in every part of the country following the Kremlin's example.

As New Year's Eve was not celebrated during World War II, the return of the fir-tree brought a carnival-like atmosphere, gifts, New Year's cards and sweets, the children's favorite. The German Christmas tree became the most valuable trophy from the war. Only while they danced around a New Year's tree did the Soviet people feel their dream of happiness was coming true.

Aside from the fir-tree, Ded Moroz is the other main symbol of the holidays. He is dressed similar to Santa Claus in a fur coat, a hat, and gloves. He carries a red bag full of presents. The only difference between Ded Moroz and Santa Claus is his felt boots.

The origins of Ded Moroz are a mystery. A hundred years ago, there was no Ded Moroz in Russia. He first appeared on Christmas cards at the end of the 19th century. He was invented by an anonymous genius of art nouveau, and emerged in several countries at once.

In Germany the character is known as Ruprecht, in England he is known as Santa Claus - St. Nicholas, and the French refer to him as Pere Noel. The characters all look alike; they are all tall bearded old men with fur hats and red coats. Interestingly, the character was invented at the same time as movies and airplanes and the first experiments in radioactivity.

He came to Russia not only through cards but also through Shrovetide events, where he was depicted with a red nose and a long beard. He also had a beautiful snow maiden granddaughter, which was reminiscent of Moroz, a hero from ancient Russian fairy tales.

But the last component of the legendary image of Ded Moroz came from the colorful stories of that time (Nikolai Nekrasov's poem "Red Nosed Frost"), which gave the personification of winter a new mission - to bring a huge sack of presents to children, in addition to freezing rivers, building snow palaces, covering the land with snow.

This image of a tamed winter, a blizzard pacified by Christian sermons, became the most precious image in the new mythology of the New Year that coalesced at the beginning of the 20th century.

When Ded Moroz begins to hand out present to children it is a custom in Russia for him to sit at the table and be poured a glass of the traditional champagne. However, Ded Moroz more often than not opts for a hot cup of tea.