Skip to main content

How was your New Year's?

Looking at everyone's fun photos, I was suddenly hit by the realization that American Thanksgiving is a LOT like NEW YEAR'S EVE in Russia.

I've always compared American Christmas and Russian New Year's, because there are obvious similarities. Russian New Year's Eve is like a secular Western Christmas: snow, gifts, yummy food, Father Frost, nostalgic films, a Christmas tree, school vacation...basically the same holiday, right?

It would seem. In fact, I've seen "Advent calendars" come on the scene in Russia recently. Protestant families might celebrate Western Christmas, but others use an Advent calendar to count down the days until New Year's Eve. A completely secular thing!

Back to Thanksgiving. I'm struck every year by how meaningful it seems to be to almost everyone I know back in the U.S. Of course, there is that special American feeling of kicking off the winter holiday season...

There's a big meal with lots of prep, time spent reflecting on the year, and EVERYONE celebrates regardless of religion. Yes, it's true...I know there may be emotionally-charged political implications related to colonization, but even my staunchest liberal friends have been spotted in the kitchen laboring over a pot of mashed potatoes or homemade pie. We were invited by fellow ex-pats to a Thanksgiving dinner (we couldn't make it), and I saw lots of similar gatherings being posted, with no one wanting to leave an American behind without somewhere to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Christmas is more divisive. It's like we have to add the words "if you celebrate." You're welcome to our place, if you have nowhere to go, if you celebrate, of course.

I know we sometimes say Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday, because we give thanks to God. But people give thanks to different gods. And when I was reflecting on the tradition, the whole idea of pilgrimage and surviving in a new land made me think of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. So in that sense, I thought...perhaps Thanksgiving is really more like a Jewish holiday?

Just last week, American families were hunting ingredients and recipes and getting ready to wake up on Thursday prepared to cook and/or travel all day until Thanksgiving dinner was served. And in less than a month, I'll look out my window to see no one outside because everyone is indoors cooking up a storm. And then towards evening, I'll see parcel-laden Russians criss-crossing their way across the courtyards to pick up last-minute ingredients, and gifts, maybe a festive cake to treat their hosts, or a bottle of champagne. And over the next few days, they'll repeat the process as they go to visit friends and extended family. Everyone has that celebratory mood, that nostalgic New Year's feeling that I probably won't ever fully understand, because I didn't grow up celebrating New Year's Eve Soviet-style.

But the next time an American asks me about New Year's Eve in Russia, maybe I'll say that it's like Christmas, but also REALLY like Thanksgiving. And if a Russian asks me about Thanksgiving, I'll say it's a lot like New Year's Eve in Russia, but without Father Frost and the presents under the tree.

In general, I think international holiday traditions are getting mingled around the globe. I just read a great book about Santa Lucia to my kids, and I would love to celebrate or at least attend a concert. We have no Swedish blood whatsoever, but Andrei has studied Scandinavian traditions extensively, so maybe they'll adopt us. :)  And we gladly embrace IKEA and Hygge and visions of girls dressed in white with candle garlands, bearing baked goods.


  1. Monnie was so excited about St. Lucy day that I did consider letting her celebrate it (based on my ability to plan such a thing!) This morning she remembered it was St. Nicholas' Day and I was able to grab the little bag of chocolate coins which I had wisely purchased in advance, and drop it into her shoe JUST as she was putting it on, in her full sight. I know how to celebrate, don't I? I consider Thanksgiving to be "Trial by Cooking". I realized that if I had sisters, or daughters who liked to cook it would be different. The vision of generations together in the kitchen made coming up with all those dishes seem more festive. We celebrate Yolka - New Years... not Russian-style at night with great festivity, but with Russian food on New Year's Day. So, I guess you are right - in our case we are definitely "mixing it up".

    1. I thought I had squirreled away some saffron, but couldn't find it. And I was in meltdown mode anyway and the kids were just coming down with a cold. So we didn't do St. Lucia again. Maybe next year! I think it will be on a Saturday or Sunday. Speaking of Thanksgiving, I grew up with a family (neighbors) with 3 daughters, all very creative, though not in a show-off way. They do something like 10-15 different kinds of pie for Thanksgiving, absolutely gorgeous. Yeah, some people make the effort for tradition's sake...too many things going against me to recreate a Thanksgiving dinner here, but it's nice when people invite us to theirs. As far as New Year's, I've never been into the late-night holidays, but maybe it will grow on me eventually.


Post a Comment

Just added word verification to reduce spam. Nothing personal!

You’re welcome to leave a link to your own blog here if it's relevant to this blog.

Please make sure that your comments are 1) relevant and 2) respectful (i.e. no cuss words, attacks on individuals).

Popular posts from this blog

Movie theater triggers

Summer always has a special feeling in the air. In St. Petersburg, of course, it stays light until close to midnight nowadays.

David's workshops are over, so he is on "vacation," resting from all his hard work. ;)

Andrei's workload fluctuates. Lately we've been having guests several times a week, so it feels busy even though Andrei is working fewer days. And the summer will probably fly by!

Since Saturdays are free now, Andrei and David (almost 6) went to the movies this weekend. And they let ME come, too! My in-laws stayed home with Sophia (almost 2). We don't often do this type of configuration because David is so attached to his grandparents. But he was okay with leaving with us as long as he knew he could play with them afterwards.

It was my first time in a movie theater since The Fire at Kemerovo a few months ago. I wouldn't really say I was nervous, just more aware. Probably the way Americans might have felt after the Aurora shooting. I looked arou…


Have you ever just assumed you weren't eligible for something, crossed it off your list? I know that I do it. I'm too young, weak, busy, clumsy, single, etc...

I was helping with a program to aid local Christian families in becoming foster parents. I didn't have professional training and my Russian wasn't great for dealing with bureaucrats, but I could offer some encouragement and help with spreading the word.

A single woman at a local church was interested in finding out more and going through our training program. I took a packet of information, and prepared to meet with her.

When we met up at her workplace, I was surprised to see that she was about my age...just a working single girl, trying to make ends meet like everybody else.
read more/-

I had met so many people who "wanted" to help but were struggling financially; living in cramped quarters; unsure of themselves...or, who simply weren't winning favor with officials, for whatever reason.

At the sam…

Bureaucracy Update: Roadblocks

My children are 7 1/2 and 3 1/2 and have lived in Russia all their lives on guest visas! They were born in the U.S. and only have U.S. citizenship.

Last fall, the government passed some new laws allowing foreign minors to apply directly for permanent residency on the basis of one parent already having permanent residency. That's us!

As soon as the law came into effect, we began to make preparations to start the application process. From my last few posts about this, you can see how the individual documents can be difficult to get.

One of the things we were advised to do was to switch the kids' registration to our flat instead of Andrei's parents.' Everyone living in the Russian Federation has to have an official address where they're registered, which might not be the place where they actually's confusing. Currently I'm the only one registered in our flat.

We were going to switch the registration to my name, but that was going to be a complicated…