Winter Holidays Russian Style: Quadruple Celebration
“What Holiday is it Today?”
A Russian woman is about to marry a Russian man, but she wants to make sure that her fiancé is a decent man, not a drunk:
“Do you drink?” she asks him before marriage.
“Why, no!” he replies, “only on holidays.”
The woman is satisfied with his answer and so they get married.
The next day, first thing in the morning, the man reaches for a bottle of vodka… “Wait!” the woman objects, “you told me you don’t drink, except on holidays!”
“I did,” the man replies, “And can you tell me, wife, what holiday it is today?”
And so, while most countries in the world celebrate winter holidays just once (typically at Christmas day) or maybe twice, Christmas and New Year’s and go straight back to work,– Russians get to celebrate at least four times.
Russian winter holidays begin right with the Catholic Christmas on December 25th. That has nothing to do with Russian Orthodox Christmas. You will hardly find any Catholics in Russia. It’s just that the occasion for celebration is hard to miss:
If Western Europe and America are already drinking, Russians cannot stay sober. It wouldn’t be fair. So, nowadays, most Russian citizens sit down on December 25th as if it’s their own holiday.
Vodka is number one item on the menu. So, from now on, I won’t even mention it, as it’s a given. Second item is invariably the Russian potato salad, Salad Olivie.
Then, the main Russian holiday of the year comes, December 31st, Russian New Year’s. Though no longer a strictly secular society, Russia still adheres to the old Soviet tradition of New Year’s Day (and not Christmas) being the main holiday of the year.
On the New Year Day, all Russian people, including little children stay up until midnight preparing the traditional festive food and watching holiday concerts. Adults are waiting for the president’s speech and children are waiting for Ded Moroz (Father Frost, Russian Santa’s analogue) to drop off the gifts.
At midnight, right after the presidential speech, the Kremlin clock chimes twelve times, officially designating beginning the New Year.
Nobody sleeps that night. People get pretty drunk the New Year’s day and staying up through the night, shooting fireworks and watching holiday concerts, as they eat potato salad Olivie.
The day after the New Year’s celebration, Russian citizens wake up late, usually in the afternoon, around 4 or 5 pm, and first thing they look for… is the last night traditional potatoes salad.
Salad Olivie is “always better the next day.” Every Russian knows this.
The next day after staying up all night like this, one would think it as day of recovery and recuperation… but in Russian culture, it’s just a little pause.
Russian people take the New Year’s celebration very seriously. Drinking vodka, firework shooting and feasting on Russian potato salad continues like this for a week. And, remember, many of them have already started “celebrating” (drinking) on December 25th…
Then on January 7th, Russians remember that now it’s time to celebrate their own Christmas. That is, Russian Orthodox Christmas. That makes it
a third celebration in a row and vodka is consumed like water.
Why sober up? Three days later Russian people recall that long time ago, before Emperor Peter the Great, the New Year was celebrated on a totally different date. According to the old style calendar, it was on January 14th. What a great occasion!
And so the drinking goes on, and so does shooting of the fireworks though the night at the many-story apartment complexes.
In case you’re planning to sleep at night, forget it. It’s too loud for anyone to sleep at night during December-January. Russian citizens will be shooting their firework rockets in the courtyard, in the snow.
You will see many big men in their bulky winter coats acting like little children, staying through the night and exploding something in the communal courtyard, right underneath your windows. No, you cannot call the police, as it’s a common national practice to shoot fireworks during December-January though the night. It’s a big carnival.
People will also scream through the night (as they are typically drunk, and they sing songs loudly outside your apartment windows). But don’t worry, this will only last for a few days, 2-3 weeks, perhaps. And it’s going to be so loud, that you might be better off just joining in. Try it. You may like it!
Besides, what else is there to do? The entire country is typically shut down down (for about 3 weeks). Nothing will be working. The only places open will be shops selling alcohol and maybe some groceries (to refill on potatoes). People are going to be in front of their TVs, getting stuffed with the traditional potato salad and refilling their vodka glasses, of course.
As that old Russian anecdote says, “Wife, what holidays is it today?”
NOW IT’S TIME TO LEARN SOME RUSSIAN!
– RUSSIAN MONTHLY VOCABULARY –
RUSSIAN WORD FOR TODAY IS POTATOES:
And don’t forget to check the Recipe page for this must have Russian holidays potato salad Olivie!