C новым годом! Or Happy New Year!

Ded Moroz holding his winter staff w/ granddaughter Snegurochka riding the classic troika

с новым годом! Or happy new year!

As we discussed last week, the Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th, instead of December 25th because they still follow the Julian Calendar instead of the Gregorian Calendar which most (all?) countries and governments follow. As such, the celebrating does not end on January 7th, but instead follows through to January 14th for старый Новый год (Stary Novy God) or ‘Old’ New Year.

Interestingly, it seems that many of the ancient traditions and folklore surrounding the old Christmas celebrations were at first abolished when the Soviets came to power, but later adopted into the New Years tradition and sanctioned by the government as time passed and the Soviets found that they could not stamp out these old practices and ritual.

Father Frost and the Snow Maiden (Дед Мороз и Снегурочка)

Two of the most well known figures from folkloric tradition associated (at first with xmas and then) with the new year’s holiday, are Father Frost and the Snow Maiden (Дед Мороз и Снегурочка). Ded Moroz seems to have a kind of dual lineage, part St. Nicholas / Santa Clause, and part Morozko (Морозко), a kind of embodiment of winter (some may recognize him as the frost demon in The Bear and the Nightingale).

Morozko and the stepdaughter.

Morozko features prominently in one famous tale in which a stepmother sends her stepdaughter out into the snow knowing that it is cold but uncaring that the child will likely die. Morozko finds the young girl and when he asks her if she is cold, she is polite and says no. Morozko lights a fire for her to get warm and gives her gifts which she takes back to the stepmother. The stepmother sends her daughter out into the snow as well, thinking that she will come back with more riches from Morozko, but when the winter spirit finds the daughter and asks if she is warm, the daughter is rude and ungrateful and so Morozko freezes her to death (lots of paraphrasing happening here). What’s interesting to me about this tale is that it shows Morozko as both benevolent, and malevolent in a single tale.

Ded Moroz however, seems to be purely a benevolent figure, giving gifts and spreading cheer similar to Santa Clause here in America. While Ded Moroz does have many similarities with Santa, he differs in many ways as well. He wears a blue robe (instead of red), often with geometric patterns and carries a staff. He rides a classic Russian Troika — a type of sleigh pulled by three horses instead of reindeer — and has a daughter/granddaughter (depending on the myth) named Snegurochka (who I’m still researching so perhaps I’ll have to write more about her later).

How to Celebrate Old New Year?

So, how does one celebrate this unofficial holiday?

Well, it seems like there are many ways. The Moscow Times, says to ring in the new year eating vareniki (a kind of dumpling or perogi), blini (a sort of pancake), and roast pork. But they mention to be careful biting into vereniki on Old New Year’s Eve in Moscow, because sometimes items are hidden inside the dumplings to help predict the kind of year you will have. For instance, if you find a ring? You’ll be going to a wedding. Some thread? Travel.

How to Celebrate New Year’s Holidays Like a Russian (Medium.com) tells us that people go from house to house singing carols and getting food like pierogi (like a singing Halloween although without costumes), feasting, and telling fortunes. Apparently if you throw a boot into the snow, your new husband will be in whichever direction the toe of the boot points when it lands (I wonder if this works for wives as well).

And Here in America?

I’m sure this depends on the family, but growing up (forth generation Russian orthodox), I don’t remember us participating in many rituals or celebrations on Stary Novy God. One ritual I do remember was that we used to put a silver coin on our window sill on ‘Russian’ New Years Eve and this was supposed to bring us luck and money in the new year. Interestingly, I wasn’t able to find this listed anywhere so I’m wondering if this was some other tradition that filtered in somewhere and might tell me a little bit more about where I came from. Or if my mind might just be completely faulty and we didn’t do this, but I think we did. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure out this mystery before the year is through and can update everyone next year!

Anyway, for this year, с новым годом! Happy New Year!

Please let me know what you think in the comments. Any interesting new years traditions in your family? Any you can’t explain? What’s your favorite Russian Fairy Tale?

See you next time!

Still here? Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed C новым годом! Or Happy New Year! If you enjoyed this little glimpse into my life and nonsense, you might just want to sign up for my newsletter.

Every quarter I try to share a little bit of myself in the newsletter that doesn’t get shared here on the blog, and it’s also packed with other things like new short fiction I’ve written. The next one should go out on January 15th.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

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