Russian Christmas and New Year in St Petersburg

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This year the national holidays in Russia run from the December 31st to January 11th. The most important day is the New Year on January 1st. In Russia December 25th is actually a working day because Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. Old Russian New Year (according to the old Julian calendar) is celebrated on January 14th.

The first thing to be found on the party table of any Russian family is traditional Russian salad which we call “olivier” (after French chief Lucien Olivier, a fashionable gourmet chef from the XIX century) which is a recipe from the USSR and much different than the original because of the lack of the ingredients during Soviet times.

Another “must “ on your Russian holiday tables is “Selyodka Pod Shuboy” which literally can be translated as “Herring under a fur coat.” To the amusement of many foreigners there is only herring and no traces of fur; the name derives from many layers of vegetables and mayonnaise covering herring.

Traditional Russian drink is champagne which is available in many varieties from brute to sweet, and both red and white. This is usually complimented with red caviar on white bread with butter and Russian chocolates.

But if you want to forget about the fuss of cooking local hotels are waiting for you and your family for a special dinner in St Petersburg. For example, the Grand Hotel Europe offers a Russian Fairy Tale Night and a special party for children with food, sweets, and gifts. The Kempinsky Hotel has their own Christmas Market and the hotel’s lobby will be transformed into a magical Nutcracker fairytale  with Christmas concerts. Guests are also invited to try specially created holiday meals on New Years eve. Astoria Hotel guests are invited to a “Snow Kingdom” party where children and parents will become   participants in their favorite winter fairytale.

The celebration of Christmas as an Orthodox holiday and the custom of leaving gifts for the good children by “Ded Moroz” (Father Christmas or Santa Clause) and the decorating of a Christmas tree(yolka) were forbidden in Soviet Russia before 1935.

It was Stalin himself who gave the order to revive the image of Ded Moroz (now dressed in a blue fur-lined costume and accompanied by a young, attractive blonde girl – “Snegurochka”, who is his granddaughter). Actually this lovely girl turned into the companion of Ded Moroz only after Rymsky Korsakov ‘s opera “Snow Maiden.” The opera was staged in St Petersburg at the world famous Mariinsky Theatre and was a great success.

Recently, both gained an official residence in Veliky Ustyug, not far from the Russian city of Vologda. Ded Moroz receives plenty of letters from Russian children asking him for some gifts every year. You can meet the famous Christmas couple in many public places around St Petersburg during the weeks before New Year’s Eve.  Many foreigners are surprised to learn that Russian people give gifts on January 1st instead of on Christmas.

Both Nevsky Prospect and Palace Square will be closed to traffic on New Years Even and will be filled with holiday revelers greeting each other with hearty “S Novym Godom” (Happy New Year!) , clicking plastic glasses with champagne. To make sure everyone gets home safely after the big party finishes, the famous  St Petersburg Metro will be opened earlier than normal at 4:00 am.

The Annual St Petersburg International Christmas Fair will be opened near Zvenigorodskaya metro station. Not only will there be holiday gifts and food but also pavilions representing different countries presenting their respective cultural holiday traditions, foods, and holiday season entertainments. There will be also a stage where daily performances take place. Several outdoor ice-skating rinks are open across the city including one near Park Pobedy metro station. There are also more than 6 ski resorts near St Petersburg for more winter fun.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Dancing Bear Tours!