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New Year Traditions and Beliefs in Russia
December 21, 2010 16:53

January – the first winter month – was once called prosinets (azure-like) in Old Rus’, because after the low gloomy sky of December it brought islets of clear dark blue sky. But January was also famous for its blizzards and frosts. Hence is its ancient name of sechen’ (whipping one). Besides, January also used to be the month of Vasily (Basil) in honor of St. Basil, whose day fell on January, 1st – the turning point of winter. In Russian proverbs January is glorified as “the beginning of year and the middle of winter”.

Formerly in Old Russia the year began in March, therefore January was the eleventh month; later the New Year was marked in September, on Simeon’s Day - and so, January became the fifth month of the year; and only after introduction by Peter I of a new chronology in 1700 it became the first of twelve months.

On February, 20th, 1918 the new Gregorian calendar was introduced in Russia. Now, to convert a date from old style to the new calendar, one has to add 11 days to the old style date for the 18th century, 12 days for the 19th century and 13 days for the 20th century. Therefore on the night of January, 14th the Russians mark the oxymoronic holiday of the Old New Year.

Earlier in Russia there was a custom to note down the weather of every day from the New Year’s Day (January, 1st) to the Old New Year (January, 13th). It was believed that similar weather will be during the 12 corresponding months of the coming year. Some experts in omens advised to remember not only the weather, but also mood and incidents on each of the first twelve days of the year, assuring that the same things will expect a person in a corresponding month of the year.

The night of January, 1st is traditionally celebrated as the New Year. At midnight when the chimes beat 12 times, everybody makes one’s most cherished wishes, which should necessarily come true in the coming year.

Now there is a more complicated ritual. Before the chimes start beating 12 times, one should prepare a piece of paper and a pencil. While the chimes are beating, one should quickly write the wish, burn the paper, stir it in a glass of champagne and drink it. Then the wish is bound to come true.

Certainly, there were other beliefs and signs associated with the New Year celebrations. On the New Year's Eve they would freeze water in a spoon in severe frost. If the ice turned to be with bubbles it predicted good health and longevity. But if there was a hollow in the center it was an omen of sickness or even death for somebody.

In some houses a no less interesting custom was observed: on the night of the New Year a girl put under her pillow the first piece of the festive supper and before going to sleep invited her intended one to come and try the treat. Then he would appear in her dream, as the custom provided.

Sometimes on the New Year's Eve before going to bed one would “make a bridge” out of twigs and chips and cover it with the pillow. In the morning they would remember the dream they had at night and guess about their destiny in the coming year.

A happy dream foretelling wedding, children and wealth in the house, was described in the proverb: “There is a cat on the stove, a goose on the floor, swans on benches, pigeons at windows, and a serene falcon at the table”. A dream with a cat and a she-cat was considered especially happy.

On the first day of the year people get up late and with thick heads. But the holiday goes on! Folks go on visiting their friends and relatives and feasting.

According to old beliefs, women should wear something new and change their clothes every half an hour, so that new things will be there all the year through. Men are advised not to pay the debts on this day; otherwise they will have to do it all the year long.

S novym godom! Happy New Year!

Read more about New Year celebrations here.


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Tags: Russian Traditions Russian Holidays New Year Old Russian Beliefs Russian Customs 

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