It’s kind of a big deal.
New Year’s Eve used to be the biggest celebration in the Soviet Union (followed closely by International Women’s Day and Victory Day). There would be huge parades in major cities, and everyone threw or went to parties. I have been in the United States for more than 40 years, and it still confuses and surprises me that New Year’s is often celebrated by watching a ball drop on TV, then going to bed, or for some, not celebrated at all. Many people go to parties, but just as many don’t do much of anything.
For a child, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day was magical. We had a Santa Claus, of sorts. His name was Ded Moroz (Grandpa Frost), and he rode on a classic Russian sleigh, pulled by magical trio of beautiful (usually) white horses. He also had an assistant, a lovely young woman — traditionally dressed in white or blue, with the name of Snegurachka. (“Sneg” means snow, I have no idea what the rest of her name means, so something to do with snow.) And on New Year’s Eve, Grandpa Frost would deliver the gifts to all the good girls and boys. Since I was always a good girl, I still don’t know what the naughty kids got, if anything. Furthermore, I assumed that gifts were delivered all over the world on New Year’s Day. Since Soviet Union was godless, this had nothing to do with religion, and whatever religious overtones were there, were purely coincidental.
Once I asked my grandmother if Ded Maroz was real.
“Of course he is,” she said, assuring me. “As a matter of fact, I saw him yesterday, as I was walking out of the store, and he asked about you.”
“He knows about me?” I asked, not even daring to hope that such an fantastic thing was possible.
In our apartment, there was one corner where the ceiling was crisscrossed with scratches. This was the corner where, every year, we put up our New Year’s Tree (not to be confused with the Christmas tree, because, again, godless Soviet Union). Since it is difficult to judge the height of the tree outside the apartment, often the tree was taller than the ceiling, and my father would trim it, but after the top of the tree would inevitably scratch the ceiling.
We had the loveliest decorations for the tree, some from East Germany. One of my favorites was a small, crystal-looking airplane, made out spun glass filaments. I still have a flat, gold hedgehog that also adorned our tree.
There were New Year’s concerts on TV, huge fireworks, people walking around wishing even strangers a Happy New Year — and if there is one thing I know about Russians, they are not a naturally happy, gregarious people with strangers (at least not while sober). No one smiles in the black and white photographs from the 70s. But the New Year’s holiday is a game changer.
How big was New Year? There are two phrases people say to each other that is specific to this holiday. The first one, translated loosely, means “With the coming year.” And it is usually abbreviated to, “With the coming,” which in Russian is just two words, but everyone knows it refers to the coming year.
Another big saying is, “With New Year, with new happiness” — S’Novim Godom, S’Novim Shastyim. While it doesn’t rhyme, it does roll of the tongue in Russian. As a matter of fact, this is my favorite wish for people. That and good health, something you can never buy.
So to all my readers I wish the new year to be filled with new happiness, and may the new year find you healthy and in good spirits.