Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gleðilegt Nỳtt Ár! (Happy New Year)

The hands of the clock are slowly moving towards twelve and I feel a familiar excitement bubbling up inside. Today is the New Year Eve, the day when for a split second the Old Year will meet with the New One, the day when we bid farewell to the past and get ready to face the future. It is such a special holiday for me. The beginning of the year changed through history in Russia. Before 1492 it was celebrated on the 1st of March, after that – on the 1st of September. Only in 1700 by the order of Peter the Great moved the start of the year to the 1st of January. We also was behind most of the world in adopting the modern Gregorian calendar, which was done only in February, 1918, compare to 1582 when it started his way around the world.

For a long, long time Christmas was the most important holiday in Russia as everywhere else, though according with the Russian Orthodox Church calendar it was celebrated on the 7th of January, but then the October Revolution came, and New Year became the one and only celebration.

Growing up we could care less for such details, we just enjoyed the holiday. It follows the same path as Christmas celebration – a decorated tree, Father Frost (Russian Santa-Claus), gathering with friends and family, presents, fireworks - minus the religious overtones.

My father was a creative type: it was always fun to be around him when he was around. I remember one New Year he found somewhere a fisherman net, put it up on the ceiling and used it as a base for ornaments; the other winter we decorated a live tree in a nearby forest and met the New Year there; the other year after working in Peru, he missed its diversity and threw a costume party. After my parents parted their ways, there weren’t much of the New Years celebrations, aside from giving presents, for a while, but little by little the tradition of a big party returned. By then my sister and I were big enough to participate in preparation. We liked to decorate our apartment, make ornaments, or work on the program of the evening. We thought that it wasn’t fun just sit around the table and eat, so we tried to come up with some interesting games, funny wishes, poems to recite, songs to sing. The day of the New Year was spent cleaning and cooking and then by around seven o’clock everybody was dressed up and ready to greet the guests. About an hour before midnight we toasted (children with bubbly juice) the Old Year, recalling the most interesting or amusing events. The coming of New Year was marked by the striking of the Kremlin’s chimes, broadcasted on radio and TV. While the chimes counts the seconds till 12 you were supposed to drink up your champagne and make a wish. All people despite their ages took this custom seriously; there were no fooling around with such important business. The opening of the presents started shortly after arrival of the New Year and by two o’clock in the morning everybody was ready to go out and have fun in the snow.

For the past three years in Beijing we were very lucky to celebrate the New Year with our friends; the last year was the closest one to a traditional celebration. I even found Soviet champagne! It was a bit hard to explain to the boys why we could not throw a big bash this year, but they are determined to stay till midnight anyway.

I’d better hurry and post this because I want to make a silent toast to all our friends and family. Majority of them already finished with their celebration and are well into the first day of the year 2008. It is a leap year and the year of the Rat, by the way. Only our friends in Guatemala still have six hours to go till midnight.

Well, dear dudes and dudettes, Happy New Year! Joy and happiness to you all!

P.S. We officially jumped into the year 2008. I have to say that the fire work here is unbelievable.

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