Russia’s Old New Year explained: I SPI

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Photo/Anya Pinto“I SPI: Seeing culture through every eye” is a new series on iPatriotPost aiming to combat ignorance with cultural education. According to a survey conducted by the ActionPAKT club at our school, only 46% of students (53 out of 116 total respondents) were able to name and explain the significance behind a celebration outside of their own culture. I SPI will spotlight a different tradition in each article in order to raise awareness and acceptance. If you have an idea about something we could feature, please fill out this Google Form.

In Russia, winter break ends Jan. 14 in observance of the country’s “old new year.” Although the wording seems counterintuitive, this unofficial celebration owes itself to the 1917 revolution.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 involved two main uprisings. In the February Revolution, the people overthrew Tsar Nicholas II to create the liberal Provisional Government in its place. The October Revolution brought the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, into power.

In an attempt to modernize and conform to the standard “time-counting system” of Europe, the Bolsheviks made the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which was 13 days ahead. Overnight, Jan. 31, 1918 became Feb. 14, 1918 and the country “lost” two weeks of their year. 

Because of the controversy surrounding this, the Orthodox Church compromised with the Bolshevik government in that the Julian calendar could be used for religious purposes while the Gregorian would be used in civic life. This meant that Christmas on the Julian calendar was now Jan. 7, after the New Year on the Gregorian calendar.

Due to the Nativity Fast, an Eastern Orthodox practice of abstinence and penance leading up to Christmas, Russians would not be able to celebrate the Gregorian New Year drinking alcohol or feasting on their festive duck. This pushed them to observe the Old or Orthodox New Year, as well since it was after their feast had ended.

Junior Anastasia Smolentseva reflected on how her family’s celebrations of the Old New Year changed when she moved to the U.S. “I used to celebrate the holiday with all of my family, my friends, my grandparents and my godparents. It would end up being a table of about 30 people, full of traditional Russian food. Now, I get to eat dinner with just my parents, call my brother and wish him a happy holiday, and go to sleep,” Smolentseva said.

To her, the Old New Year is a smaller, family-based holiday. “I think the fact that it’s a religion-based holiday has a lot to do with it,” Smolentseva said. “Growing up in a post-soviet household, we don’t take religious holidays too seriously.”

The Old New Year may indeed be a thing of the past, for Russian-American immigrants at least. “I haven’t really met anyone in the U.S. who celebrates it, and even within Russia, it’s growing rare. There definitely are still people who observe it, but I think being so far away from Russia it’s a lot less likely,” junior Elizaveta Vinnik said.

In Russia, families traditionally celebrate the Old New Year with a feast. (Photo/Flickr)
Lights and decorations at St. Petersburg, Russia signify the start of a new year — two weeks into the Gregorian year. (Photo/Flickr)

Now a junior at American Heritage, Anya returns as co-Assistant Editor-in-Chief of the Patriot Post. With her passion for journalism, she is Co-Vice President of the Quill and Scroll Honor Society and President of the Current Events Club. As a Youth Ambassador for Bullets4Life, Anya advocates for gun control. She leads the student body as Co-President of SGA and competes nationally in Speech & Debate, Model UN, FBLA and Mock Trial. To relax, Anya hangs out with friends, swims, goes on walks and binge watches Netflix. She loves the beach, karaoke, good food and her lazy little dog Simba more than anything.