Christmas and New Year in Russia



The author takes us on an armchair travel to Russian Christmas and New Year celebration. We will learn about the history, traditions, activities and foods that are part of the Russian holiday season.

Christmas in Russia

The dominant Church in Russia is the Russian Orthodox Church. The church uses the older Julian calendar instead of the newer Gregorian calendar employed in secular contexts as well as by the Catholic and Lutheran churches. Therefore, the official day of Christmas, 25 December, which commemorates the birth of Jesus, falls on 7 January in the Gregorian time-reckoning. However, Catholics and Protestants in Russia, who observe the Advent, celebrate Christmas on 25 December.

In the USSR, it was forbidden to celebrate Christmas, but, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, 7 January was made an official day off in Russia, where it has since been celebrated as the Christmas day.


In Russia, people do not spend a large amount of money on gifts and grocery purchases for Christmas. Instead, a more casual holiday is preferred: people who have children may visit the central square of their city, where a New Year tree, a skating-rink and children’s slides are set up. Others attend a church service, while some stay at home and watch church services on TV.

During the Christmas season, small groups of children walk around knocking on people’s doors and carolling. It is believed that children bring happiness and good luck to the house; in return, they receive money, gifts, sweets, and other treats. The Christmas carols sung by children are known collectively as Kolyadka.

Two examples of Kolyadka

Wondrous night
(Удивительная ночь)

Bowing to you,
From house to house,
With our souls stretched out,
We shall be knocking on doors,
Provide for our hungry mouths.

Receive this fare,
Save words you can spare
Speak about love,
About the saviour of the soul.

Rejoice while you’re strolling,
United in crooning,
Kolyada did not come in vain,
The heavens have opened.

This wondrous night,
Chases worries out of sight,
Kolyada – kolyada,
It is delightful!

Carolling, carolling
(Колядуем, колядуем)

Carolling, carolling,
From family to family we’re _wandering,
Relaying verses for your sake,
Do furnish us with cakes.

Well, better yet would be coins,
We’d buy sweets of our own choice,
And also a handful of nuts,
And some wine for a blush!

New Year in Russia

In Russia, the New Year is a far more important and spectacular occasion than Christmas. It was first celebrated in the USSR on 1 January 1935. Already back then, people began to reintroduce the old tradition of bringing coniferous trees from the forest and erecting and adorning them at home. Oftentimes, the tree is called a “New Year tree”, apparently due to the fact that, in Russia, the New Year comes before Christmas both in time and importance.

Before the New Year, people will buy gifts for their family, friends, and colleagues at work. They clean their homes, prepare meals, set the table and invite guests to feast.  Folk omens and certain superstitious beliefs are heeded: it is thought, for example, that one should pay off their debts by the end of the year in order to enter the new year without indebtedness that might hinder the prosperity of that year. On 31 December, some shops are closed all day, and hypermarkets and shopping centres close no later than 8 pm.

On the evening of 31 December, people gather with their families or friends and wait for 23:55 o’clock – at that moment, the President of Russia appears live on all TV channels to deliver a speech. The speech lasts five minutes and ends with the wishing of “Happy New Year!” Next, the Kremlin Clock tower is shown hitting midnight, followed by the national anthem and fireworks at the Red Square in Moscow. People open bottles of champagne or sparkling wine (shampanskoye), congratulate each other and start eating. After the feast, they go out and walk all night watching fireworks and meeting with others. If you happen to be celebrating New Year in Russia and wish to initiate contact with the locals, you can take a thermos of tea or a bottle of sparkling wine to share as a way to warm up conversations. On Nevsky Prospect, the main street in St. Petersburg, a type of mulled wine called Glintvein is sold, which resembles the German Glühwein.


Instead of Santa Claus, the Russian season features Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and his aide and granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden, from the word sneg “snow”). Before the New Year’s holidays, they visit kindergartens and schools along with other fairytale characters who attempt to steal Christmas. With the help of the children, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka defeat the villains; the holidays are saved and the children receive gifts. The dress code for Ded Moroz is a blue or red fur coat and a fur cap, whereas Snegurochka dons a white and blue dress and either a fur cap or a crown.



As regards the New Year feast, each family has its own traditions and prepares dishes to its taste. The range of popular foods includes meat and fish dishes, salads and various vegetable casseroles, pastries, and cakes.

Popular New Year’s dishes include:

Cold dishes and soups:

  • rassolnik (a soup of vegetables, barley, and pickles)
  • okroshka (a cold soup with kvass, a fermented drink that resembles the Finnish kotikalja)
  • vinegret (a salad of beetroots, potatoes, carrots, and pickels, similar to the Finnish rosolli)
  • Mimosa salad (egg, cheese, fish, and mayonnaise)
  • Olivier salad (potatoes, peas, pickles, egg, sausage, and mayonnaise)
  • bread with caviar

Main dishes:

  • various kind of red fish
  • French-style meat (myaso po-frantsuzski)
  • pork skewers

Side dishes:

  • fried or mashed potatoes
  • baked vegetables.
Holidays during the New Year

The official New Year’s holidays in Russia last from 1 January until 14 January.

January 1 – New Year’s Day
People spend on shopping, gifts, and cooking.

January 7 – Nativity of Christ (Christmas)
Children relax, adults attend church services.

January 13 – Old New Year (the Orthodox New Year)
People recall the outcomes of the previous year and make plans for the coming year.

The rest of the holidays involve activities such as walking with children, meeting friends, and watching Christmas movies.

Interesting fact

Russia is a large country located on the Eurasian continent, with as much as eleven different time zones. Therefore, the New Year in the east of Russia comes several hours earlier than in the west. The westernmost region of Russia, the Kaliningrad Oblast located in Europe, celebrates New Year an hour later than the western part of Russia proper, where Moscow Time is observed. Due to the presence of eleven time zones, the New Year begins in Russia eleven times each year, which means you can make a New Year’s wish as many times!

Happy New Year and Christmas! С Новым Годом и Рождеством!



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