Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's in Russia, Part 2

The analysis...

I had only been in Russia once before on New Year’s Eve. On that occasion I had arrived something like Dec. 30th, and with the combination of jet-lag and culture shock felt like I had landed on another planet…

So this year I got ready to “embrace” Russia’s biggest holiday.

I haven’t gotten used to the fact that the same feelings of magic and nostalgia that we associate with Christmas are in Russia associated with New Year’s. Of course the importance of holidays here was shifted due to Communism, but that is beside the point. It is a shock because I always thought all of the warm holiday feelings had something to do with faith. But perhaps it is more about tradition. So what is left of the Christmas season that is faith-related? Just a question I am asking myself...

full post/-

At first glance, the “holiday season” feels the same as in the U.S., because the decorations start to go up around the end of November, and people start a flurry of preparations...

But then Dec. 25th comes and goes and everything is still quiet. At this time I would already be feeling that post-Christmas let-down: back to work/school, taking down the decorations, finishing up the stale Christmas cookies. But in Russia everyone is waiting for Dec. 31st…

So here is how the holiday went:
I wasn’t that excited about New Year’s, but I also didn’t want to just ignore it. Well, you can’t really ignore New Year’s, but I suppose I could have stayed home. At any rate, I was waiting to find out what would happen, but it took quite a while before any sort of plan took shape. Of my friends who weren’t going to be out of town, almost all of them live in communal living situations where it would be difficult to cook a meal as well as gather as a group in peace.

Then one family was going out of town, and we ended up with the key to their apartment and permission to meet there. So everything began to fall into place…

On Wednesday, my friend and I did all the shopping. The store was full of people looking for the standard ingredients for classic New Year’s dishes. We chose a few traditional dishes and a few experimental ones. We decided not to do gifts; none of us particularly had the time or motivation and all the food and fellowship seemed like it would be festive enough.

On Thursday I got to my destination early to avoid traffic jams, and I have to admit that it was nice to not have to worry about transportation for 24 hours!

We did a lot of cooking until the other girls arrived after work in the evening. There was no rush because it’s not unusual for Russians to wait until close to midnight to sit down at the table. We managed to wait until about 10pm when everyone had gathered. Everyone sits at one table and they all eat and refill their plates until they’re ready to take a break. We got full and went into the other room to hang out.

A little before midnight, we went back into the kitchen and turned on the TV where there were several New Year’s Eve concerts to choose from. The only difference was that instead of a TV personality coming on the screen for the countdown, the footage suddenly switched to the Kremlin, where Medvedev gave a speech and wished everyone a happy 2010. Then we counted down to midnight and shouted hooray once or twice.

I celebrated with church friends, but we didn’t have any intercessory prayer or anything like that. I always think it’s nice to take communion on New Year’s, but it doesn’t always fit in with the flow of events. I have mixed feelings about how “spiritual” the holiday should be. Of course it is nice to take the opportunity to thank God and dedicate the future to Him. But on the other hand, if we make a big deal out of it, it is like we are agreeing with the world that New Year’s is something special. Maybe it is just like an ordinary day with your friends. I suppose it depends on the individual gathering.

Anyway, we enjoyed several hours of fellowship, and with the apartment to ourselves it was nice not to have to worry about going home late. We even had enough beds for everyone to crash and get several hours of sleep. We went to bed full and woke up still full, but in the morning we still gathered around the table again and hung out a little more before going our separate ways.

I still haven’t returned a lot of the New Year’s greetings I’ve received. In Russia it is customary to wish something to your friends and family members. It’s interesting how in the U.S. we make “resolutions,” making a statement about something we plan to do to improve our own lives. In Russia they wish each other things like happiness, love, financial/career success, health, etc. I’m never really sure how to respond when they wish me something I don’t necessarily want or can say “amen” to. Perhaps someday I will learn.

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