As in Western countries, Christmas and the New Year are two of the biggest holidays in Russia, and the winter months mark the holiday season in Russia. However, the shopping season really kicks into gear a bit later in Russia than in the West, as the New Year marks the beginning of the holiday season, and Orthodox Christmas is not celebrated until January 7. More recently shoppers and retailers have started participating in Black Friday that has encouraged earlier shopping but as seen elsewhere, shoppers put their activities off closer to gift giving so the shopping season lasts longer than a month.
Though Eastern Orthodoxy is a strong pillar of Russian culture and society, Christmas is not the biggest holiday. That honor falls to New Years, which kicks off a weeklong celebration that extends into Christmas. Orthodox Christmas is still a major holiday, though, and since January 1 through January 9 are public holidays in Russia, many Russians do not work during the week between the New Year and Christmas. This blog gives a general overview of the Russian holiday season including the history and shopping trends.
The New Year
The tradition of celebrating the New Year as the most prominent holiday in Russia began in the Soviet era. As eliminating religion was a propagated goal of the Soviet government, the USSR attempted to shift the attention and celebration away from Christmas. Major resources of the state were mobilized to encourage Russians to embrace the New Year. Though many Christian Russians continued to privately celebrate Christmas, this was largely a successful effort, and the New Year continues to be the most important holiday in Russia.
The Christmas traditions enjoyed in many Christian countries have a secular counterpart for the Russian New Year. Naturally, there is no Santa Claus, but there is Father Frost, a bearded elderly man who also brings toys to children. The Snow Maiden accompanies him, and both of the characters hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many Russians. In a similar manner to there being a replacement for Santa Claus, there is also a New Year tree, which is decorated in the same manner that Christmas trees are in Christian homes elsewhere in the world. It is more common to use spruce and fir trees over pine trees.
Food forms a central part of celebrating many Russian holidays, and this is especially true for both the New Year and Orthodox Christmas. A bountiful feast is prepared for the New Year, accompanied by a wealth of traditional Russian foods. The most essential dish to have for ringing in the New Year is Olivier salad, a popular potato salad. While alcohol is present, sparkling wine is typically saved for a toast to the New Year at midnight.
Though still not as large a holiday as the New Year, Orthodox Christmas has returned to a place of prominence in the years following the end of the Soviet Union as increasing numbers of Russians take advantage of the freedom to openly practice religion. Christmas is celebrated on January 7 since the Russian Orthodox Church continues to use the Julian calendar. Particularly devout Russians observe a 40 day fast, which ends when the first star appears on Christmas Eve. A traditional vegetarian grain dish is then typically served, but not before the first star appears, as the day before Christmas is the strictest day of the fast. Religious services naturally form a major part of the Christmas celebration, and many Russians attend Orthodox Church from midnight well into the early hours of the morning.
As one would expect for the week-long celebration that is bookended by Russia’s two biggest holidays, December is the major shopping month in Russia. Many Russians nowadays are turning to the Internet to procure their holiday items, such as gifts, decorations, and party supplies. Items that form a particular place of prominence in Russian culture are among the most common gifts, such as tea. Just as in Western Christian nations, many turn to the Internet in particular for childrens gifts, and some of the most popular items Russians have turned to the Internet for in the past have been Lego and toys.
The Internet has proven to be a popular place to find New Year and Christmas decorations, especially for those that depict the aforementioned Snow Maiden. In the realm of decorations, increasing numbers of Russians are also using to the Internet for their New Years trees. As large costume parties typically help ring in the New Year, many Russians find carnival costumes for themselves and their children on the Internet too.
Fun facts about holiday season searches
The following are some interesting facts about the holidays from information collected by Yandex experts.
- “Father Frost” has over 1.2 million impressions per month.
- “New Year decorations” receives roughly 117,000 searches every month, while “New Year toys” sees almost 248,000.
- About 270,000 searches are recorded for “New Year tree.”
- “New Year costume” has nearly 354,000 searches every month.