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How to Celebrate New Year's Like a Russian

Lana is a published writer and editor who helps aspiring authors take their writing to the next level.

Learn about the history and traditions of New Year's in Russia.

Learn about the history and traditions of New Year's in Russia.

Russian New Year's Traditions

No holiday induces the same carnivalesque frenzy as the Russian New Year, which is a combination of Christmas, New Year’s, and Winter Solstice traditions fused together with maudlin nostalgia for the Soviet Union.

It's truly an experience, and it's probably the best time to visit Russia. But in case you're still saving up for those transatlantic plane tickets, here's a sneak peek of Russia's most beloved holiday.

A comical but fairly accurate depiction of a Russian New Year's party

A comical but fairly accurate depiction of a Russian New Year's party

New Year's History in Russia

This holiday dates back to the third millennium BC and was known to the people of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, Persia, and China.

In Russia, it was traditionally associated with spring and renewal, so until the 15th century, it was celebrated on March 1. Then the date moved from September 1 to January 1, when czar Peter the Great decided to westernize Russia drastically. At that point, it wasn't the major celebration it is today.

All religious holidays were banned during the communist era (1917–the 1990s), so Christmas was no more, and even New Year's fell by the wayside. But the communists soon realized that while you can stomp out religion by destroying temples and sacred texts, you can't just as easily take away people's favorite holidays and traditions. So the compromise was to resurrect New Year's as a secular holiday that would perpetuate old Christmas traditions without the religious mumbo-jumbo.

Winter Wonderland in Moscow, Russia.

Winter Wonderland in Moscow, Russia.

Today, New Year's has the status of the holiday supreme and is celebrated for at least two weeks (December 31–January 14). Every major city has New Year festivals, concerts, fairs, and other celebratory events. The streets are transformed with trees, lights, and decorations.

And every year at 23:55 pm, the President addresses the nation.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin addresses the nation on New Year's Eve.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin addresses the nation on New Year's Eve.

Russian New Year's Traditions and Beliefs

Every Russian knows this New Year's axiom:

The way you meet the new year is the way you will spend it ("Как Новый год встретишь, так его и проведешь.").

As a result, many Russian holiday traditions are derived from that belief.

Russian Traditions

  • New Year's Day has to be joyous and festive, free from worries and arguments. Forgive those who've wronged you, repay your debts, and clean the house. This way, you will start the new year with a clean slate.
  • In addition to cleansing the soul and the house, it's customary to purify the body. For that reason, on December 31, many Russians go to banya (Russian saunas) or at least take a hot bath.
  • The holiday feast is not just for indulgence's sake. It's believed that an abundant table with the best variety of dishes and refreshments symbolizes prosperity and well-being in the coming year. If the food is scarce and ordinary, the year will be "famished."
  • It's also a bad omen to sleep through New Year's—then the year will be "sleepy" and uneventful.
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Precisely at midnight, people toast with champagne and make wishes for the upcoming year.

Precisely at midnight, people toast with champagne and make wishes for the upcoming year.

  • To properly meet the new year, you have to say goodbye to the old year. So before midnight, usually around 10 pm, everyone gathers at the table to discuss the year that's ending, revisit its best moments, and wish each other good luck and new achievements in the coming year.
  • It's also believed that to honor the new year, it's best to wear new clothes or at least new underwear. That's why underwear, socks, t-shirts, etc. are popular presents.
  • When the clock starts striking midnight at the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower, it's time to toast with champagne and make wishes. To make sure that the wish comes true, you need to write it down on a scrap of paper, burn it, throw the ashes into the champagne glass and drink it—all before the clock strikes 12!

How to Say "Happy New Year!" in Russian

  • “S novym godom!” or
  • “S prazdnikom!” (“Happy holiday!”) or
  • “S nastupayushchim!” (“Happy upcoming year!”)
  • Reply: “I vas takzhe!” (And you too!)

Ded Moroz: The Russian Spin on Santa Claus

Ded Moroz (Grandpa Frost) is another version of the legendary Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Kris Kringle, Joulupukki, etc.

But unlike Santa, Ded Moroz doesn't ride reindeer or slide down the chimney or live with Mrs. Claus and the elves at the North Pole.

Ded Moroz's marital status is unclear, but he does have a granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), and since 1998 he has lived in the town of Veliky Ustyug, Vologda Oblast. On New Year's, people love to dress up as Ded Moroz and Snegurochka and walk the streets, spreading cheer, good wishes, and (sometimes) vodka shots.

To surprise and delight the kids, Russians actually invite people dressed as Ded Moroz and Snegurochka into their homes. The deal is that you get a present for reciting a poem, a song or a dance.

Traditional Russian New Year's Dishes

The Russian New Year's Eve feast is unthinkable without the traditional holiday salads "Olivier" and "Shuba."


Olivier resembles potato salad but with more ingredients. It's basically tradition, comfort, and your childhood boiled, chopped, and served with mayo.


Shuba (seledka pod shuboĭ in Russian), on the other hand, is a more nuanced dish, an acquired taste. You're either gonna love it or think it's the grossest thing in the world. Shuba is a combination of surprising ingredients (like pickled herring and beets) shredded, smeared with mayo, and arranged like a layered cake. Hands down, it's my favorite dish in the world.

Other Russian Dishes

  • pickled vegetables (cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes),
  • meat and potatoes (baked in the oven or fried),
  • petite sandwiches with butter and red caviar,
  • pelmeni (meat dumplings),
  • Vinaigrette (beet salad),
  • and kholodets (jellied meat)

. . . and wash it down with copious amounts of champagne and vodka. (Tip: It's a bad idea to mix the two.)

But wait, there's more: Chocolate candies, torte Napoleon, and sweet succulent mandarins are the culmination of the festivities.

Films and Gala-Concerts

In a famous Russian cartoon "Zima v Prostokvashino" ("Winter Vacation in Prostokvashino"), postman Pechkin asks: "What is the main adornment of the holiday table?" and then answers his own question: "Television."

Along with holiday salads, decorating the tree (yolka), and drinking champagne while the bells chime in the new year, watching special holiday programs on TV is an indispensable part of the New Year's celebration.

And I'm not just talking about gala concerts with favorite pop stars enthusiastically lip-syncing their latest hits, comedy shows, or yet another rendition of "The Nutcracker." I mean beloved Soviet films, and one film in particular: The Irony of Fate.

 "The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!"(1976)

"The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!"(1976)

In the country where God was persona non grata, people believed in the magic of New Year's Eve. "The Irony of Fate" captures that magic in the most implausible but sweet and hopelessly romantic way.

The Irony of Fate Plot Summary

Every Russian knows the story: Nerdy doctor Zhenya from Moscow mistakenly enters a strange woman's apartment after (again, mistakenly) being put on a plane to Leningrad.

His key fits the lock, the building and the furniture look the same. Since Zhenya is heavily inebriated after going to banya with his buddies, he overlooks the small idiosyncrasies that would have told him that it's not his apartment. He also doesn't remember being on a plane or at the airport.

The owner of the apartment, beautiful teacher Nadya, soon comes home to find a stranger asleep on her couch. Will she call the cops? Or will New Year's Eve work its magic on two Soviet citizens with identical apartments? Watch it to find out! The film is available with English subtitles.

Collection of New Year's Songs From Famous Russian Cartoons

Happy New Year!

No matter where you find yourself on New Year's Eve, I hope you feel this unique holiday's joy and magic. I hope that you're optimistic about the future, and I hope you're with the people you love. As Russians say: The way you meet the new year is how you spend it. So Happy New Year!

© 2015 Lana Adler


jfhe on December 06, 2017:

so pretty

Lana Adler (author) from California on January 06, 2016:

Thank you! Why the quotation marks lol? I guess I should have said Russian speakers. Or former Soviet citizens? I love New Years. I still celebrate it with Olivier, Shuba, and watching of "the irony of fate", even though I've lived in the US for 15 years now.

Lena Kovadlo from Staten Island, NY on January 06, 2016:

Very interesting hub. No one celebrates New Year's quite like "Russians" do.

Lana Adler (author) from California on December 31, 2015:

This is music to my ears. And I think I'll learn a lot from you too, Michelle :-)

Michelle McKiernan from Madison, WI on December 30, 2015:

Oh my! This will change my approach to welcoming the New Year for years to come, starting tomorrow. I have a hunch I am going to learn a lot from you.

Lana Adler (author) from California on December 29, 2015:

It's enormously huge :) And I'm glad it's in December not March - the weather is half the appeal!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 29, 2015:

How interesting. In Cambodia, New Year is in the end of March or the beginning of April which you used to do in Russia. I never knew how huge the celebration is in Russia.

Lana Adler (author) from California on December 27, 2015:

Thank you Bill! Russian New Year's is one of those things you have to experience at least once in a lifetime :-)

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on December 27, 2015:

Very interesting. Sounds like fun. Thanks for sharing the Russian New Year with us.

Lana Adler (author) from California on December 27, 2015:

Wow, sounds like you've had a great time! Since my relocation to the US 15 years ago I've only spent one New Years in Russia, and I always miss it!

Every December I become inconsolably nostalgic. Part of it is missing the winter, especially the snow, another part is missing "the good old times" when things were simpler and I was much younger and carefree, and then there's missing the "atmosphere" of the holiday that was so infectitious and seemed to consume the entire country.

And it wasn't the consumerist frenzy that is Christmas in this country, it was more a celebration of hope and love and magic...I always go back to that film "The irony of fate" because it expresses so perfectly what Russian New Years is all about. It's just the best time!

And I never thought about it but you might be right about the alcohol. Most of the times when I get alcohol headaches it's the quality of the drinks, and the sugar content. So if I drink, I prefer pure alcohol, not cocktails with a bunch of sugary additives.

Summer is also a good time to visit Russia! You can certainly enjoy the outside more :-) when I visited in the winter, I spent most of my time indoors for obvious reasons. It was so freaking cold! But it's getting warmer. My brother said it barely even snowed in Moscow this year.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on December 23, 2015:

The most phenomenal Holidays I ever spent were in Leningrad and Moscow (New Year's 1990), so I know every word you say is true. The food was fantastic, especially the little cakes. I don't care for caviar, but there was plenty for everybody's indulgence. My only food shock was biting into a piece of fish in what we call coleslaw. I had enough drinks under my belt to dance with Father Winter. I think that's what my guide called him then. The trees and decorations were beautiful, the men were handsome, and the women were beautiful, and everybody was so much fun (it didn't matter where they were from).

What surprised me: I took a real chance by mixing up my drinks. I'm not a drinker because alcohol gives me migraine headaches, but after vodka, brandy, and a few others I can't remember, my head was clear as a bell the next morning. No headache, so I think it is the additives that we in the USA put into our alcohol.

I think my favorite food was the borsch I got at the hotel restaurant in Moscow. I wish I could get a good recipe for that soup. Let me assure Mel that pickled herring is delicious!

I've always looked forward to going back and revisiting your fascinating country, but if I ever do again, it will be during the summer. Although I have to admit, we had minus temperatures here in the Southern U.S. before I went, and it only got to -3 in Moscow while I was there.

Lana Adler (author) from California on December 22, 2015:

Thank you Alicia! Russian New Year is really something to experience. Thanks for stopping by!

Lana Adler (author) from California on December 22, 2015:

Thank you Larry! Happy new year!

Lana Adler (author) from California on December 22, 2015:

Thank you Mel! The herring salad might be a bit frightening, but I think you would like Olivier. So good!!!

Yeah, I think cleaning the house before New Years is more or less universal, and ALL drunks are welcome at Russian parties :-)

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 20, 2015:

The New Year's celebration that you've described sounds wonderful! What a fun event. Thanks for sharing a great hub.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on December 20, 2015:

Sounds like a wonderful festivity.

Great hub!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on December 20, 2015:

The Ruskies definitely know how to party. The food does not sound to the liking of my meat and potatoes tastes, but I like the tradition of burning a wish and putting it into your champagne glass to drink. If I make several wishes and drink them all, will they all come true? Nothing like having a drunken WASP wobbling around at your Russian party.

The Russian tradition of cleaning the house and doing the laundry and so forth is similar to what the Mexicans believe about the new year. My wife washes all the clothes in the house frantically before New Years, thinking that having dirty clothes on that day will mean she will be overburdened with laundry all year. Then again, getting all your clothes clean before New Years doesn't guarantee you won't have to do laundry all year. That would get rather smelly. Wonderful hub. Happy New Year!

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