New Year is a great time to gather with family and eat holiday food. Many Americans say that New Year is their favorite holiday. However, for Russian people, New Year is a much larger and more celebratory holiday than for most Americans. Though New Year is a largely celebrated holiday throughout all of America, for the Russian families, there is much tradition to follow.
Russian New Year is somewhat like a cross between Christmas and certain old pagan holidays, wherein “Grandfather Frost,” a fat man in flowing fur robes and a white beard, brings presents to children during the night and puts them under a New Year’s tree, and huge celebrations ensue. It is the time for the whole family to gather and stay up all night partying and sharing gifts and, the most important part of any holiday in a Russian family, eating a lot of Russian food (which many of the younger cousins admit to disliking).
This celebration came about in the time of Communist Russia. In this time period, all religion was outlawed, which meant that the holidays that went with religion were outlawed as well. People love to have something to celebrate (especially Russian people, if it means more food and drinks) so it could have been dangerous to never have anything to celebrate. Of course, coming up with a whole new holiday would be too much work, so borrow from a few existing holidays here and there, make up something extra, and voila! New Year as a larger-than-life family celebration was born. And when Russian immigrants came to America, they brought their tradition with them.
Everything begins the morning of New Year’s Eve, when everything in the house, including the people, needs to be either cleaned or thrown out, because it is bad luck to start the New Year dirty. This, of course, includes every surface, corner, and crevice of the house, and if something is discovered to still be dirty a few hours later, tragedy! Bad luck! We have to start cleaning all over! (And then go shower, you filthy little mischief maker).
Then when everyone agrees that everything is as clean as possible, it is time to start partying! There is of course plenty of food and drink, and all the adults who are not going to drive get very drunk (almost all of them, because if we are too drunk to drive, we just keep partying ‘till breakfast!). The party usually lasts until at least 5:30 in the morning. If a family has young children, pity must be taken on them, and that family usually leaves the party at around 2:30. The family goes home, and as all the children go to sleep, Ded Morroz (Grandfather Frost) comes through the windows (even if they are closed) and leaves presents under the tree. (What do you mean that’s impossible, it’s Ded Morroz!)
When the children wake up, they open the presents, but then quickly get ready to go to Babushka’s house. At Babushka’s house, the whole family gathers to do some more eating and drinking, and then everyone crams into one room (the smallest in the house is usually optimal) to exchange presents. The men usually exchange bottles of liquor, the women beauty products, teenagers usually get gift-cards and/or money, and the children get all different kinds of toys (from Ded Morroz, of course). When the floor is nice and littered with wrapping paper and Deda has recorded the proceedings for posterity, it is time to have desert! (What do you mean you’re full, you’ve hardly eaten anything! says Baba).
Exhausted, the adults start to round up the kids to go home. But Baba has fed the kids loads of sugar, and they are extremely hyper, with no intentions of sitting still for the hour car ride home. The ride home is somewhat terrifying, what with everyone screaming. When this finally gets done and everyone gets home, everyone crashes and sleeps like babies. And when the kids wake up, the first thought in their mind is “How many days until next Novi Godd (New Year)?”