We thought that maybe it would be interesting for you to know how Soviet people celebrated New Year.
New Year always was the most favorite holiday in Russia. But first of all things about Christmas should be explained. We celebrate it at January, 7th (because Russian church didn’t admit the Gregorian style, which was brought by the Bolsheviks after the Revolution in 1917) and it is religious holiday first of all. Christmas had interesting and difficult history at the times of Soviet Union. In the middle of 1920-s antireligious propaganda was at its high. It was forbidden to celebrate Christmas. In 1929 even fir-tree decoration was forbidden as the symbol of Christmas celebration. But still people kept Christmas traditions. When Soviet authorities understood that it’s impossible to deracinate this religious celebration and that people needed some bright holiday, they decided to transform it. From 1935 fir-tree was exculpated and some global changes began. From now on it was not Christmas tree, it was New Year fir. Saint Nicolas was changed into Ded Moroz. Six-pointed religious star on the top of a fir was changed into Soviet five-pointed star. Fir-tree decorations which depicted angels or Jesus were changed into some Soviet symbols or just neutral objects. So this is how religious holiday became ideological one. This is why New Year is still more important holiday in Russia than Christmas, which comes a week after New Year and which is celebrated mostly in churches. So for the last 80 years in Russia New Year is more popular than Christmas.
In Soviet Union New Year became official only in 1947. The celebration was held in schools and kindergartens. It was (and still is) called Yolka (Fir). Boys were dressed in costumes of hares and girls – in costumes of snowflakes. Of cause there were other costumes too – different animals, favorite fairy-tale characters, book heroes. The main Yolka of the country was held in Kremlin since 1954.
This is the most popular New Year song in Russia. It's more than 100 years old! It was written in 1903-1905 as Christmas song for children.
Grownups celebrated New Year at work too, holding corporate parties at community and cultural centers. It’s interesting that sometimes, if some brigade of mine workers for example made 12 months plan in 11 months, they were allowed to celebrate New Year in November)))
Of cause New Year’s preparations were very important part of the holiday. It was thought that fir-tree in the flat should not be artificial. Only real one. But it wasn’t very easy to find good looking tree, so people came to fir-tree bazaars at 5 A.M. to get good one. Another problem was that many people were looking for high firs, because they had high ceiling in their flats in old houses. As far as I understood it was an epic quest to find high and bushy fir.
As fir was found and taken home, the decoration time came. Most of Christmas-tree decorations were made of glass. It is believed that it was German soldiers, prisoners of war, who taught people here how to blow glass garlands. Some Soviet decorations had ideological bent. It was glass figures of pioneers, workers, farmers, cosmonauts. Other popular decorations in 1960s were glass fruits and vegetables, especially maize due to the farm policy of Khrushchev.
Beside fir-tree decoration it was usual to glue paper snowflakes on the window glass. Soviet people were taught to make such snowflakes since kindergarten. Somewhere near fir-tree paper-mache and cotton wool figures of Ded Moroz (Russian Santa Claus) and Snegurochka (his granddaughter) were put.
It was not easy for common people to organize festive table too, because some products were in short supply, such as kolbasa (and it is really hard to translate it, but maybe you know it as kielbasa or baloney) which was necessary for one of the most important New Year dishes – Olivier salad (Russian salad). It’s interesting to say that any time I taste this salad when I’m abroad, it is nothing even close to what real Olivier is. I guess some food couldn’t be cooked properly anywhere but the country of origin. Other food that was usual for New Year celebration was holodets (aspic), canned sprats in oil, red caviar (on bread and butter or on the half of an egg), Mandarin oranges, sturgeon, pickled products (mushrooms, cucumbers, etc.). The main drink was champagne. It was hard to find meat to cook holodets, so people cooked it from chicken legs. It was ok to give products to each other as a present for New Year.
And what it's made of (here kolbasa is changed to chichen)
Canned sprats in oil
As to presents it was popular to make something with your own hands. For example to knit some sweater or to curve something from wood or to present some nice embroidery made by yourself.
Because of the extension of the country, during the New Year night it was popular to welcome the New Year twice – in your own timezone and then Moscow time. Most of the people spent this holiday with their families and friends at home and then walked out to the streets to congratulate neighbors and each and every person there. People who had financial opportunities could spend New Year in restaurant. Besides there was censored "Blue light" New Year's show on TV.
As to the present times, it’s all the same actually. Traditions are strong.
And this is some New Year postcards of 1950-60s and more late too.
Snegurochka - granddaughter of Ded Moroz