Discovering Tradition

At the last day of this year 2015 I would like to welcome back Dr Gulara Vincent with the inurgal post for the Discovering Traditions guest series. You can find her first guest post on my blog here.

New Year’s Eve Celebration Soviet Style by Dr Gulara Vincent

As a child, I used to love the 1st of December. Not because there was some special festival on that day. But we were finally in December! That meant there were only 30 days before New Year’s Eve. I counted down the days to the celebration (why did time go so slow back then?). To make the wait bearable, I bought cards and wrote careful unimaginative messages to my family members. I also bought ‘khlopushkas’, poppers sold as tubes full of confetti. You had to pull a string and there was a pop with confetti scattering everywhere. Some tubes even contained a small toy or a carefully folded paper mask. I hated the pop it made, so I often made a hole on the top of a tube and took the contents out.

The period around the New Year was the time that TV programmes were at their best. I was allowed to stay up and couldn’t get enough tele. All the movies I loved, lots of cartoons and children’s programmes were lined up back-to-back all-day, every-day for about two weeks. It may sound pathetic, but that was one of my favourite parts of the celebration. Besides, it seemed that the New Year didn’t arrive without some programmes. Take “The Irony of Fate Or ‘Enjoy Your Bath’”. They showed this movie every single New Year’s Eve. It was a light Soviet comedy. Here’s a short synopsis. A bunch of friends gather every New Year Eve and went to… bathe. They drank vodka, and one of them was so drunk that his friends decided to play a trick on him. They popped him on an airplane from Moscow to Leningrad. Somehow he got off the plane and got himself into a taxi. He gave his address, and the taxi driver took him to the street he indicated. He got into the building that looked exactly like his (all Soviet-block flats looked pretty much the same). Miraculously, his key opened the door, and he went to sleep off his hang-over. The flat belonged to a woman, who discovered the half-drunk man in her flat. He claimed it was his home and refused to leave. It got complicated because the woman had a fiancé who was very jealous. Anyway, they got married in the end. He left for Moscow, but of course she knew his address and even had the same key. Ahhh, happy endings….

The house looked festive. We decorated a ‘yolka’ (basically a Christmas tree). I had an artificial one. My grandpa had bought it when he travelled to Berlin when I was little. Starting on 1st December, I nagged my uncles for days to get the dusty boxes with the tree and decorations down from the attic. Putting the tree together and decorating it with sparkly balls and a big red star was a sheer delight, and the sooner I did it, the longer it stayed. We usually dismantled it after 13th January. Strangely enough, on 13th January, Russians celebrated ‘The Old New Year’. Basically, when the old calendar changed, there were 13 days difference. People kept the tradition going, and some celebrated the arrival of the New Year twice. So, I had an excuse to keep our ‘yolka’ up until 14th January.

Although Azerbaijan had its own New Year celebration on the spring equinox, over the decades of the Soviet rule, it gradually adopted the calendar new year as its own festival. The celebration was embraced by the younger generation. My grandparents didn’t care much for it, whilst my mum and uncles were excited about it.

On New Year’s Eve, we gathered around the table to have a dinner at around 8pm. Grandma made predominantly national dishes, like dolma (minced lamb wrapped in vine leaves) and pilav (steamed rice served with caramelised onions, chunks of lamb, dried apricots, chestnuts and raisins). Perhaps the only Russian influence was ‘stolichni’ salad, a version of the Olivier salad. Fruit was expensive at that time of the year, but my grandparents made an effort to buy big red apples, mandarins, and sometimes even pomegranates. It was the only day in the year when there was champagne on our table, and mum was allowed to take a few small sips to mark the arrival of a New Year. I was too young to drink and grandma had never had alcohol in her whole life. Holding my hands over my ears, I watched my older uncle pop the champagne cork and pour the bubbly liquid into a few slim glasses, first at midnight, and then again at 1am. For years, I puzzled as to when exactly the New Year arrived. Azerbaijan was an hour ahead of the Kremlin clock. So, there was a half-hearted cheer at midnight, and a really big one at 1am when the people of the most of the Soviet Union clicked their glasses after the countdown.

‘However you meet the New Year, that’s how you’ll spend the whole year ahead,’ mum told me once.

Needless to say, I didn’t want to be asleep!


Author Bio:
Dr Gulara Vincent is a writer, blogger, and a university law lecturer. She lives in Birmingham, England, with her husband and two young children. You can visit her writer’s blog at http://gularavincent.com/blog or connect with her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrGularaVincent) and Twitter (@gulara_vincent).

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43 thoughts on “Discovering Traditions: New Year’s Eve Celebration Soviet Style by Dr Gulara Vincent

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Annika, it’s so true, some traditions are very similar. It’s nice to discover that through the series Solveig has been running this last month. Happy New Year to you!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Wow! This is so super cool! ^.^ I love learning about the traditions of other cultures because it says so much about them and I really like that commented about the fruit being expensive. Having grown up in the US, fruit is always available. (I probably have a warped perspective on grocery shopping… :/) Though, the food dishes you spoke of sound very good! *really loves lamb* ^.^

    I also like how you discussed when you take down the ‘yolka’. It’s so common here to take down the tree just before or after New Years. It’s cool to have it up until mid-January because of an old calendar. (Was this calendar used everywhere or just in Russia? *wasn’t very good at history class* >.>)

    Thank you again for sharing, Gulara!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your sweet comment, Melanie. Fruit used to be always seasonal thing when I was growing up. There was so much excitement and anticipation waiting for the first mandarin of the year (unlike now when you can buy cherries or watermelon on 31 December!). I remember savouring the first taste of fruit in spring. We called it ‘nubar’ and took time to appreciate it… As to calendar, I think it was the Russian one…. There are so many calendars about. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Thank you, Melanie, it was special to have the first fruit of a season, I must admit…
          By the way, I’m going to send my post to you soon! Almost ready 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Gulara, thank you so much for providing the last post of 2015 for my blog, as well as the first one for “Discovering Traditions” I do hope that in 2016 many people will be willing to share their traditions and memories. Enjoy the last few hours of the year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for having me, Solveig, such a pleasure.
      By the way, I keep thinking of Elissaveta. She has a fascinating series about traditions in Morocco. Hope she contributes to your series!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. As always, thank you for reading and your sweet comment, Gwynn. I love learning about other cultures too – so pleased Solveig started this series. Look forward to reading other people’s posts here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Solveig for offering to allow me to post. Sadly, the traditions I had are long gone. The holidays no longer are fun for me. This year Christmas and Christmas eve were spent in the Emergency Hospital with my husband. We are awaiting a surgery date. Plus, my children are grown and live farther away and we had a snow storm so we could not get together. I DO enormously appreciate you thinking of me though! Maybe on another subject, at another time. Timing as you can see is not good for me at the moment. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I must admit, I miss that magic… celebrations are not the same away from family – it’s very hard to recreate the same ambiance, as I know from your Christmas post you can relate to. Happy New Year!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is fantastic. I loved reading about these traditions and your personal experience. So interesting about January 13th. The spring equinox makes sense as a sort of second new year. It’s a lovely time to celebrate new beginnings. Happy 2016! 🎉🍾

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Happy New Year to you too, Sarah! Your comment makes me think that I should write another post for Solveig to tell about the magic of ‘Novruz’, the spring festival. Solveig’s comment also makes me realise how much I’d like to have you in my series too 🙂 It’s The Story Behind The Story… Let me know, if you are interested.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing your Soviet New Year experiences with us.

    I’m really intrigued by the film “The Irony of Fate”. It sounds like a a lot of fun, and a good choice for New Year’s Eve. There are clips and some of the soundtrack on YouTube, but I will do a more thorough search to see if I can find it online anywhere.

    Happy 2016 to you and yours! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a Soviet classic, I googled the title of the film before sending my piece to Solveig, and there are definitely lots of pages about it, including an amazon page which sells the DVD. 🙂 Thank you for reading the post and many thanks for your comment!

      Like

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