21 December 2015

Holiday Nostalgia

Post in cooperation with Man Crates

The holiday season is here, and so is the feeling of excitement for me, since the biggest holiday of all is coming- The New Year.

As mentioned numerous times before, I do not celebrate Christmas, but the New Year on December 31st.
I grew up in a Russian speaking home which followed Russian tradition despite living in Israel, where the New Year is not being celebrated (not in December, since it´s not a Jewish holiday).
And in Russian tradition, December 31st is BIG. So big, that people still celebrate it into the beginning of January, and well, that involves mainly getting drunk.

Some things are a New Year must, like decorating the pine tree, preparing a huge ass table full of traditional food a few days before the 31st, watching special New Year´s eve movies on television even if you´ve seen them a hundred times and know them by heart, and so on....

Here are a few things that have always made the New Year a special time, that I love having around me since childhood:

Ирония Судьбы, или С Легким Паром! - The Irony Of Fate, or Enjoy The Steam!

God forbid that I have translated the title for you, it sounds completely ridiculous, but this film is the film of all films, of all Russian films, and of all Russian New Year films.
This film is a romantic comedy, a drama, a holiday film and a music film. It has so many things in it I find it hard to point down what makes it so magical. Here is the plot:

Moscow, and the main character gets super drunk with his friends in a sauna/public bath on New Year´s eve and ends up accidentally flying to Leningrad. Confused and still drunk, he takes a cab to the street number where his house (originally in Moscow) is located, takes the elevator to "his" floor, and opens "his" apartment with his key. This is made possible in the film as an anecdote that all soviet houses are built the same. When the main character is drunk and asleep (believing he has reached his own apartment in Moscow) the real inhabitant of the apartment comes in: a beautiful woman,
A scandal begins when she discovers a drunk stranger in her bed, and the main character understands awkwardly that he is in fact not in Moscow at all, but in Leningrad! (you can read about the film here)

A love story develops later, as beautifully touching songs are being played (or sung by the characters in the film) in between. Don´t get me wrong, it´s not a musical at all, and the songs come very naturally during the scenes (no dancing, thank god).
Also, some scenes in the film are so iconic they have become jokes, understood by any Russian person. A good few generations can quote this film from start to finish.
Have I seen this film more times than I´ve celebrated New Year´s eve? Certainly.

But I suppose the real magic of the film is that you grow up watching it, and each period of time you watch it with different eyes:
Once a child laughing at the drunk main character oblivious to the situation he´s in
Then a teenager admiring the love story, the beautiful blonde woman whose apartment in Leningrad the main character intrudes, and how from a drunk man he sobers up and falls in love
Or listen to the songs instead, how they portray a certain loneliness that contradicts the cheery mainstream holiday spirit
Then as a grown up you put all the above together, and realize how this film has spoken to so many generations, regardless of age, music taste etc etc. How it will always stay with you and if you happen to be alone among strangers, it would be enough to find another Russian speaking individual to cite the film and feel at home again (I am writing this with tears in my eyes I am not kidding you).

One of my favorite songs from the film

Cone ornament for New Year´s tree

We have never put a star on the head of the tree in our family, we´ve always put a cone-shaped thing, and I think it´s pretty common in the tradition. I don´t know why. I couldn´t find a nice cone in the stores in Berlin, people use stars here, so our tree has no head ornament, but that´s ok.

I also love the old tree decorations. When I was little we had a few glass ones but they all broke with time. Most of ours were in the shape of pine cones, icicles or diamonds.

Mandarin oranges and caviar

Not much to say here. You would lay a few mandarin oranges around the tree and eat them all through December, and caviar on bread with butter is a must on each New Year´s table. It´s no luxury, it´s a standard. Caviar was always there. Add champagne to the mix and no doubt you will soon be speaking The Mighty Language.
Speaking of tables, nothing surpasses the enormous New Year´s dishes which lasted for at least a week after New Year´s eve and you were happy to eat leftovers cause it reminded you of how amazing celebrations were. 


Grandfather Cold and Snowy the granddaughter

Ok, this is where we get even more traditional. In Russian folklore, what you might guess is "Santa Claus" comes to visit the children on New Year´s eve. He has a slay, a staff that shines and a granddaughter, wearing blue with long blonde braids (usually one braid though) to accompany him. The closest I could translate her name was Snowy. 

Here´s the cool part: you might think all this winter imagery was somewhat ironic due to me growing up in Israel, where there is no snow. Well, it was, but what wasn´t is that each New Year´s eve there would be people (married couples mostly) who would dress up as both characters whom you could "book" to come to your apartment to entertain the children, so that no Russian traditions would be lost during your Israeli socialization.
My parents always did that when I was little, even till my early teens, and me and my brother loved it. The people who role played Grandfather Frost and Snowy got paid to do it of course, and always got their share of alcohol from the parents who would book them. The later they came during the evening, the drunker they were. It was fun for everyone.

In Russia they would come to the kindergarten and the entertainment would be more thought through, like leading a circle around the New Year´s tree with the children etc etc.

All in all, I like keeping my New Year very traditional. No goth tree decorations, no thank you. It is also very important for me to celebrate with family, or at least with closest friends. Because, and that´s the most important lesson of the New Year: how you will celebrate it, that´s how your New Year will be.

Happy holidays everyone, a summary of 2015 in music will follow.

N. Finsternis


  1. Thanks for sharing all this! I grew up in a Russian household, but my mother was never very traditional and didn't follow or teach us any of the customs. We didn't really celebrate much of anything, which is why as an adult I'm excited to learn about ways of celebrating. thanks for writing this!

  2. I'm excited to see some of the customs are present in Poland, too. Like the cone treetop decoration - gosh, my whole family uses these. The one I've been putting on a tree in my room broke lately, so my parents bought another one, again not in the shape of fashionable stars or whatever, but good old cone-shaped. Shitload of dishes and mandarin oranges? ALWAYS here on the end of December.
    We have Santa Claus, or rather st. Nicolaus, as we call him here, but I assure you, every Polish person knows about Russian folklore figures: Grandpa Frost and his granddaughter, whose name is 'Snowflake' in Polish, probably that's because it's a feminine word.

    1. They have St. Nicolaus in Germany too, and he comes a few days before xmas? Something like that. It´s nice to see how traditions collide :)

  3. I think my previous comments didnt go through? anyways, this is for you, if you do awards! http://justkeepbrains.com/2015/12/05/beautiful-blogger-award/

    and for the cones, I grew up here in the Brunswick area (I think located 2-3hrs from berlin? near hannover...) we do have beautiful cones here, no stars so if you ever want a cone, you can come here for a visit & shopping!

    1. oh good to know! I think I might have not searched enough, but our tree was rather spontaneous and is really small hehe.

  4. I loved this post! That movie sounds awesome and so do the other traditions. Actually, the Finnish traditions of the New Year celebrations are quite similar and I was delighted to read how Russian traditions are. :)

    1. It does not come as a surprise to me that there are things is common between the two traditions :) I am happy you liked the post, I feared it would be too long hehe

  5. I love this post! It is always nice to read about how other people celebrate Holidays and their traditions