In the USSR the New Year was a non-religious and non-Communist holiday. It was a family festivity, when everyone gathered together for this wonderful celebration and it was the favorite holiday for children and adults.
Before the Russian Revolution 1917, Christmas was the main winter holiday.
The first official Christmas tree in Russia was arranged by Emperor Nicholas I at the request of his wife, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, Princess Charlotte of Prussia.
On December 24, 1817 the Christmas tree was installed in the personal chamber in the imperial palace in Moscow and next year in the Anichkov Palace in St Petersburg.
On Christmas Day Empress Alexandra Fedorovna arranged a Christmas party for her five children and nieces in the elegant Grand dining room. On the table were serving apples, sweets and nuts. Under the tree kids found gifts.
The first public Christmas tree was organized in 1852 in the hall of the St. Petersburg Yekateringofsky railway station. Later, Christmas tree became tradition and was installed in public buildings, clubs, theaters and other places.
In 1929 the new Russian government banned Christmas celebration, and Christmas trees were forbidden. The government fought against “religious prejudices.” Only in 1935 people were officially allowed to install Christmas trees. All the attributes of the Christmas have become New Year’s tradition. The star of Bethlehem on the tree has turned into a Soviet five-pointed star, the same as on the Kremlin towers. Gradually the New Year became a delighting and most enjoyable winter holiday.
The interesting fact: people in the USSR celebrated New Year twice. First time is on December 31 and the second on January 13. This happened because the Russian Empire lived according to the Julian calendar, while Europe lived according to the Gregorian calendar, which was created only in the 16th century. A difference of 13 days between the calendars made difficult for international affairs. On February 14, 1918, the Bolshevik government transferred the country to the Gregorian calendar. Then such an unusual holiday as the Old New Year appeared. Since then the people celebrated both festivities: New Year and Old New Year.
Russian people always say: “The way you ring in the New Year, will reflect how your year will transpire.” And people worked hard just to make everything as beautiful as possible: pretty dresses, lots of delicious homemade food, decorated Christmas trees and interiors and of course champagne. Soviet champagne was the “must have” attribute of New Year party and everyone was excited about coming festive celebration. People had a great fun, incredible joy, good mood and happiness.
In December 1935, New Year’s celebrations became official. Since then , Christmas trees and decorations have appeared in stores and all families were desperate to buy them.
The trees were specially grown for the holiday sale, but people were buying them as soon as they got an opportunity. A common picture was when people walked on the street and carried a Christmas tree several weeks before a New Year.
First tree decorations were made from fabric, cardboard, paper, but later they became more vivid and elegant. The most popular and traditional were Christmas balls, snowflakes, bears, snow man, fruits and toys. In the 70s, cones, pyramids and icicles appeared in stores, and in the 80s the symbols of the Olympic Games – the Olympic bear and flame. There were not many decorations for the interior, so people, especially children at school made them. There were chains of assorted colored paper, various shapes of snowflakes and all handmade decorations were hanged on the Christmas tree or windows. In addition, people painted the windows with winter ornaments.
The New Year’s table in the USSR was much more various and delicious than the everyday menu. This is another reason why people loved to celebrate the holiday.
The same deficit taught Soviet citizens that they need to prepare for the celebration ahead. People started buying some food and gifts when the opportunity arises. Food was stored in the fridge or on the balcony, things – in cupboards or storage rooms. We all remember when our moms says: “Don’t touch it! This is for new Year!”
Every woman has her own unique recipe in her notebook. The table was served with homemade cutlets, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, sandwiches with Riga sprats, herring, marinated vegetables and mandarins.
At the end of the meal, was tea with homemade Napoleon cake and chocolates. Soviet
champagne was always opened at Midnight, but after the adults drank Stolichnaya vodka and wine. The kids had lemonade.
A new tradition in the USSR had the “food set” for the New Year’s table organized from work. Typically, the “food set” included one or two jars of sprat, a box of chocolates, a bottle of “Soviet Champagne”, sausages, salami, a pack of Indian tea and oranges or mandarins.
Celebration at schools and kindergarten
Soviet children traditionally celebrated the New Year at matinees in every kindergarten and school. Usually, in the school’s grand hall was installed a decorated Christmas tree and kids were dancing around it, reading verses, singing and demonstrating their carnival costume.
Parents had to prepared costumes for carnival by themselves and often our moms sewn them over the night. The most popular outfits for girls were snowflakes and squirrels and boys – bunnies and bears. The children’s novel “Adventures of Pinocchio” was one of the favorite books in the USSR and many kids wore costumes of the story’s characters like Harlequin, Signora Rosaura and Pinocchio.
In 80s very popular were children’s carnival masks, which were made from cardboard. Often it was enough to wear them with a regular light color dress or suit for boys to have carnival costume.
Every Soviet kid, without exception, received New Year gifts. The gift contained candies, chocolates, nuts and mandarins.
Outfits and beauty tricks
Even with such of the deficit of everything people tried looking good for this holiday.
Men traditionally wore a suit with a white shirt and tie.
Women started thinking about their outfits long before the celebration. It was difficult to buy a good dress, so they ordered an elegant gown at an atelier or fashionable dressmaker or simply sewn by themselves.
The beauty salons were full from the early morning, because every women tried seeing hairdressers. But there was such a big line, that not everyone can get at that place, so women stylized their hair by themselves. So henna and concentrated hydrogen peroxide were used to color hair and for half a day they wore aluminum hair curlers.
To make eye lashes full woman use flour or tooth-powder before to put mascara. Baby powder was applied instead of face powder.
There were lots of beauty tricks what women used and on the end every woman looked beautiful and attractive.
The image of the Soviet New Year is unthinkable without the Moscow Kremlin, Red Square and the Spasskaya Tower.
The grand New Year celebrations began with the installation of the main Christmas tree on the Red Square.
On December 31 around 22:00, people gathered together at the table and cheered the outgoing year. They raised their glasses and thanked the year for all the good things what happened and asked to take away all the bad ones.
Close to midnight the General Secretary of the Soviet Union made a brief speech, addressed to the country. Usually, he summarized some of the results of the past year, wish good luck to citizens in the new year. The tradition of having speech on TV started by Leonid Brezhnev in 1976 and it continues to the present day.
After speech at 00:00 Moscow Kremlin chimes played melody followed by 12 strikes. At the end of the strikes, the national anthem was played. During this moment people were so quiet, making personal wishes and right after strikes opened the champagne, hugged each other and say Happy New Year or S Novim Godom!
Everyone was delighted and looking forward to the coming year. People hoped that the new year would be better, easier, and happier.
After people were dancing, laughing, played games and cheers each other. Some people went out onto streets for walks or tobogganing.
Some people stayed home and watched TV, sitting in a cozy apartment near a Christmas tree. The television program was great during the holidays. On New Year’s Eve, many comedies, cartoons and concerts were shown, including famous stars like Josepр Ira Dassin, Mireille Mathieu, Raffaella Carrà, ABBA, Boney M and many more.
USSR doesn’t exist anymore, but lots of people still remember New Year with nostalgia. This holiday was a good opportunity to taste different goodies, receive some new things as a gift, or merely chat with friends without any political matters.
It was and continues to be a favorite holiday of all those who “born in the USSR.”