Perhaps there is no better time to experience the mood and pulse of the Russian people’s devotion to family, their culture, and to their Motherland than over the New Year’s holiday celebration. Just to hear the Russian national anthem on this solitary moment can be the experience of a lifetime: Come to Moscow and spend New Year’s Eve in Russia. Gather with extended family and friends in a compact apartment crowded to the walls with those you love and cherish.
At about 8pm the salads begin to appear on the table, then soon followed by a never-ending stream of food as favourite Russian culinary delights make their way from the kitchen to the living room table over the next several hours.
Sometime during the evening the music starts and lively dancing and toasts begin. The finest champagne is held in reserve for after the midnight bells toll from the clock at the Kremlin. Across Russia all eyes and hearts turn toward Moscow. Just before midnight every television station switches to the Kremlin whose distinct red walls are dressed in a dramatic display of lights bathed in falling snow from Red Square.
President Medvedev appears on the screen and in his solemn style delivers the traditional greeting to the Russian people. It is usually a very short speech and all across Russia the music has stopped. Dancing feet become still. It seems as even the sounds of the streets and the hissing steam from the heat radiators also grow silent.
Traditionally the president offers words of best wishes to the people and afterward comes the announcement for which everyone has been waiting: The President announces the length of the government holiday. His pronouncement will affect everyone from government office workers to school children and their teachers to policemen and to many private business workers. And at the end of his one minute speech the Kremlin clock tolls midnight and the President ends his address with the familiar С Новым годом (sno-vim godom), Happy New Year!
Those in the apartment, especially the elders and war veterans, stand at attention, glasses in hand, waiting for the playing of the Russian national anthem. Immediately it begins and afterward the glasses are raised heavenward in toasts to health, wealth, and happiness for the coming new years. Kisses, three times on alternating checks, are offered around the room.
Quickly New Year cakes appear on the table. And fruit. And more champagne. Dancing begins again and now the sound of fireworks can be heard across the land. The night sky is charged with colours so vivid, so bright, and so promising.
Children are bundled in heavy winter coats and carried outside to watch the dazzling displays as the cascading lights arch across the normally dark and brooding Russian skies. The celebration of fireworks outside, and parties indoors, will continue until 3 or 4 in the morning.
For many, sleep will come eventually but usually on a crowded sofa or even a blanket on the floor depending on the number of guests. Others will wait out the night, often it is the men who sit in the kitchen or in a hallway and chain-smoke away the remaining hours until dawn begins to belatedly peer across the Russian horizon.
For those who managed to sleep even for a little while, morning comes quickly on January first and the winter snows have created a new white landscape across the Motherland.
Oh there is nowhere like Russia for breakfast! In a land where there are no designated foods for specific mealtimes, any Russian breakfast can be an exciting adventure. But on New Years morning it is very special: Leftover New Years cake, champagne, sausage and cabbage from the night before, marinated beet/potatoe salad, and a spoonful of red or black caviar on thick black bread with butter. Who needs an egg when you’re having champagne and caviar for breakfast at 8am!
Most families have a tradition of walking to an important square or park in their city on New Years morning. Naturally for Muscovites that traditional walk is on or around Red Square. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is passed reverently with memories of past conflicts from invading neighbors.
Once on Red Square, typically teeming with folks dressed up like Eskimos and with the usual aloofness forgotten for just a day, greetings of С Новым годом, even to perfect strangers punctuate the brisk morning air. Surrounded by churches many step inside briefly to pray before continuing the annual tradition.
Happy New Year! С Новым годом, from the Mendeleyev family in Moscow, Russia.