Russian New Year’s Traditions

Russians celebrate New Years on January 1st, though it hasn’t been that way forever. For a long time, New Years was celebrated in March, but in 1699, Peter the Great moved the holiday to January 1st. This tradition has persisted to this day, and today, Russians celebrate this main winter holiday on the night of December 31st and January 1st.

Russian customs for New Years involve a lot of similarities with European and American versions of winter holidays: families will decorate a tree, light a fire in the fireplace, and will hang stockings for gifts. A big New Year’s tree is usually placed on the main square of each city, though now often artistic installations in the shape of a tree (made of anything from cactuses to nails) are used.

One of the most enduring Russian traditions for New Year’s is the Olivier salad. Russians say that this salad, made with mayonnaise, pickles, potatoes, peas, eggs, and onions, was created by a chef by the name of Olivier, though many Europeans call the salad Russian salad. Another popular salad is dressed herring, also called herring under a fur coat, which is herring covered with layers of vegetables, onions, and mayonnaise. When the Kremlin’s bells strike midnight, people will open a bottle of champagne and make a wish as they drink their glass.

New Year’s, as with many traditional Russian holidays, is a time to give gifts. Winter is high time for sales of corporate gifts, home wares, souvenirs, and greeting cards. Especially notable are Pavloposad scarves, which because of their large size and beautiful patterns, are a practical and warm gift for women in the winter. Russian children’s customs say that there must be sweets or winter fruits as gifts, such as mandarin oranges or chocolate.

Another tradition that only came to be in Soviet times was sitting down to watch The Irony of Fate. The movie starts with men going to the sauna, as they traditionally do on December 31. Because of this movie, going to the sauna is now a Russian custom for New Year’s.