A Russian New Year language primer

Basic holiday vocabulary for our readers:

Новый год:  NO-viy GOHD is the term for the New Year.

Now we’ll learn a greeting for the New Year but before offering a greeting we need to remember that it is bad form to greet someone on a holiday early. So until the clock strikes midnight, instead of wishing our friends a Happy New Year we’ll use с Наступающим Новым Годом!, S Nas-too-pah-you-schim Novym Gohdum, which means “with the upcoming New Year.”

С Новым Годом: SNO-vim GOH-dum means Happy New Year. That is the most common of New Year greetings. If a stranger or elder greets you then you can simply repeat the same greeting but if a close friend or child greets you, it is okay to respond with И тебя тоже, e te-bya TOH-zhah, meaning “and you also.”

ёлка:  YOL-ka (a fir tree) is the New Year tree. Russians often buy one in the final weeks of December in preparation for the New Year and will leave it up until after Christmas day, 7 January. The full name which you may hear sometimes is новогодняя ёлка,  na-va-GOHD-nya-ya YOL-ka, but most of the time the familiar YOL-ka is used.

украшать:  ook-ra-SHAT’ is the word for decorating. In decorating a New Year tree you can say украшать ёлку, ook-ra-SHAT’ YOL-ku (the ending here changes from ka to ku). The plural for decorations is украшения, ook-ra-SHYE-nee-ya.

Новогодние огни:  na-va-GOHD-nee-ye ag-NEE are the New Year lights which decorate the tree and other areas of a home.

A tree in a Yalta shop. (Photo: Anna Panchenko)
A Ukrainian New Year tree in a Yalta shop. (Photo: Anna Panchenko)

подарoк:  pa-DA-rak is a gift (singular) and подарки, pa-DAR-kee, are gifts (plural). Gifts are exchanged at the New Year, thereby leaving Christmas as a more spiritual celebration. Most Russians/Ukrainians don’t go overboard with gifts and it is common to see family members exchange one or two gifts with maybe an extra one or two for children. Once Westernized, that often changes.

новогодняя открытка:  na-va-GOHD-nya-ya at-KRIT-ka is a New Year card. Instead of Christmas cards, our FSU friends traditionally send New Year cards.

Снег:  SNYEK is snow.

Снеговик:  snye-ga-VEEK is a snowman.

Cнег идёт:  SNYEK ee-DYOT means that it is snowing.

Санки:  SAN-kee is a snow sled and going sledding is a popular thing to do in winter.

Дед Мороз:  DYED ma-ROS is Grandfather Frost or affectionately called Дедушка Мороз, DYE-doosh-ka ma-ROS. Although he is purportedly a cousin of Santa Claus, he is not a “Russian version of Santa.” Just ask him if you don’t believe us.

He brings presents as in being responsible for transporting gifts in his troika (three horse sled), and his gifts are usually only for children, while his granddaughter the Snow Maiden often handles the duty of passing them out.


Russians do have reindeer (real ones!) but Grandfather Frost doesn’t use reindeer. His troika is pulled by horses. The word troika is taken from the number three.

Снегурочка:  snye-GOO-rach-ka is the famous SNOW MAIDEN and granddaughter of Grandfather Frost and just as popular. There would be no holiday celebration without her! Dressed in blue or sometimes white, she is the softer side of the vodka drinking Grandfather Frost.

We enjoy viewing the movie Моя Мама — Снегурочка (My Mother the Snow Maiden) a 2007 holiday movie. You can watch it free on YouTube.

Snow maiden blue b5

Lots of cartoons and videos for children have been made of the Snow Maiden. Here is an visit by Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden to a kindergarten holiday party in Kazan:

Many families arrange for Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden to do some shopping and then make a personal house call for their children!

For entertainment purposes only, if you’ve never seen Grandfather Frost do a strip dance at an office holiday party, then today is your unlucky day!

Finally for this series, we’ve arranged for to come and greet our readers with this special wish for the New Year:


3 thoughts on “A Russian New Year language primer

  1. saintgenevieve

    I would love to know what the New Year’s greeting means. It appears to say, “with New Year’s”. Same with the birthday greeting. With? With what?


    1. mendeleyeev

      Great question, by the way. You might think of it as (I congratulate you) with the New Year.


  2. Pingback: How Russian Santa saved a whole community « BGTV MEDIA ONLINE

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