New Year and Christmas traditions in Russia re-appeared not so long ago. In times immemorial, this holiday was celebrated in the spring, then, after the baptism of Rus, a Byzantine calendar was established in Russia. Tthe New Year was celebrated on September 1 according to this calendar. Since 1700, by order of Peter the Great, this holiday is celebrated in Russia, as in other European countries, on January 1. If earlier the years were counted from the Creation of the world, now the chronology went from the Nativity of Christ. It should be noted that the new chronology existed for a long time along with the old one. In the decree of 1699 it was permitted to write two dates in documents – from the Creation of the world and from the Nativity of Christ.
However, the tradition of placing a coniferous tree in the house and decorating it was brought to Russia by another member of the royal family. At the same time, the tradition of decorating houses also began on the order of the Tsar-reformer Peter the Great. On Red Square on December 15, 1699, the Tsar’s clerk, under a drumbeat, notified the people that, as a sign of the beginning of the new century, after “thanksgiving to God and prayer singing in the church, it was ordered along the big streets, and noble people in front of the gates to make some decorations from trees and branches pine, spruce and juniper “. Poor people should at least put on a branch above the gate. And “in order to be in time before the 1st of 1700 and to stand that decoration until the 7th of January 1700”.
The Russians were not too keen on the idea of ‘you WILL enjoy yourselves’. This reluctance is not unusual for traditions do not always take root on new soil right away. But, the royal family itself has always shown an example of how to have fun. Despite the royal encouragement, after the death of Peter I, the decree on decorating houses with branches of fir and pine trees was almost forgotten.
The main thing at the New Year’s celebration in Peter’s times was not a feast but mass festivities. Moreover, Peter not only took no part in such amusements, but also obliged the nobles to this and not only in Russia. For example, New Year’s entertainments and decorations came to England even later, and only with Prince Albert, the beloved husband of Queen Victoria. Only then did the British people slowly begin to adopt German customs.
“On the first day, as a sign of joy, congratulate each other on the New Year, and do this when there will be shooting on Red Square and fiery fun begins.” The decree also recommended that everyone in their courtyards “fire three times” from cannons or small guns and fire several rockets, as well as from January 1 to January 7, at night, light fires from firewood, brushwood or straw. Tsar Peter the Great launched the first rocket with his own hand, which heralded the New Year and the beginning of festive festivities with a fiery spiral.
In Imperial Russia, Catherine II was a great enthusiast for New Year’s fun. Semyon Poroshin, one of the educators of Grand Duke Paul, described in his memoirs that the games took place in the audience room, which was called the Throne Hall. It was here that entertainments for the courtiers were arranged, in which “Her Majesty herself took part in all the games, and danced.”
The favorite game of that time was Russian spillikins (wooden sticks that had to be pulled from a heap without touching others).
Afterwards, there was dancing and were played various folk games, “linked long ribbon and stood in a circle Rukobivka game (this means the game to beat someone’s hands) lasted for an hour and a half, then all the guests sang Russian folk songs.” Braided fence “, and danced Russian and Polish dances.
Then seven gentlemen, disguised as ladies, emerged from the empress’s chambers: “they all wore women’s sweaters, skirts, caps as directed by women. As soon as they entered, they seated them at the table with snacks and their brought punch. Then they laughed, joked and danced. ” Among the mummers were Count Grigory Orlov, the Empress’s favorite, the chief of the Cavalry Corps, in the 1760s. he played a prominent role at court, as well as Count Alexander Stroganov, a brilliantly educated nobleman who was highly esteemed by Catherine II.
The celebration of the Nativity of Christ and the New Year was accompanied by a series of balls, masquerades and feasts. Since the time of Empress Catherine II, it has been customary for a New Year’s dinner to be arranged in a crystal tent erected in the hall of the court theater. Following this tradition, the royal family dined in a luminous tent made of patterned glass on the first day of the New Year in the 19th century. Source
But New Year’s festivities in Russia acquired a real scope only in the first half of the 19th century: it was from this time that New Year trees in houses, guests, New Year’s dinner, balls, champagne, which became popular after the victory over Napoleon, became fashionable.
What were the Christmas trees at the court of Emperor Nicholas I
The first tree was ordered to be installed in the Moscow Kremlin by the wife of the future Emperor Nicholas I, Alexandra Fedorovna, on December 24, 1817. In Germany, this tradition has existed for a very long time, and with the light hand of the daughter of Frederick Wilhelm III, it has taken root in Russia. Russian families adopted from the imperial family the tradition of arranging children’s New Year’s holidays with a Christmas tree.
Whole Forest of Christmas trees
Nicholas and Alexandra were then expecting their first-born, the future Emperor Alexander II, who was born in April. Since then, it has become a tradition that in the family of Nikolai Pavlovich and Alexandra Feodorovna, Christmas trees were arranged every year, first in the Anichkov Palace, and after accession to the throne in the WinterPalace.
In 1828, Alexandra Feodorovna organized the first children’s party for her five children and for the daughters of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich. In subsequent years, they were all carried out according to the established order.
The celebration took place on Christmas Eve, December 24, in the evening, after the all-night service, in the chambers of the Empress, who herself directed the celebration. Alexandra Feodorovna gave a signal, and the children were allowed into the hall. Each child had a separate table, his own tree, hung with gingerbread and sweets, and gifts.
Separate tables and trees were prepared for the emperor and empress. “In a word, a whole forest of fir-trees,” recalled Anna Tyutcheva, the maid of honor of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of the heir to the throne, soon – Emperor Alexander II.
Grand piano under the Christmas tree
The Empress herself led the child to the table intended for him. Grand dukes and princesses received albums with drawings, books, drawing kits as gifts, and young men received tools for carpentry work, the training of which was part of their upbringing.
Older children usually received dresses and jewelry as gifts. Parents tried to fulfill their desires. For example, the youngest child in the family, Grand Duke Mikhail, dreamed of learning to play the cello and once received this instrument as a gift.
The middle daughter, Olga, received a desk with an armchair as a gift when she was given a separate room for her studies, and the next year she received a piano, dresses for her sister’s wedding and a bracelet with a sapphire. Later, she wrote that the treasury allocated a certain amount for children’s outfits, but this money “would never have been enough if Mom did not help us with gifts for Christmas and birthdays.”
Children also prepared gifts for each other and their parents. These were homemade items, drawings, embroidery, and the boys could give their sisters doll furniture made in the carpentry lessons. They gave each other little things, bought “with our pocket money,” Olga Nikolayevna recalled.
The crowned spouses also gave gifts to each other. “The Empress received an infinite number of bracelets, old Saxe [ie Saxon porcelain], image, dress, etc. The emperor received from the empress several dozen shirts and scarves, a uniform, paintings and drawings, testifies the maid of honor Tyutcheva.
By the way, the lady-in-waiting also received gifts and could herself make a gift to the lady whom she served, for example, to give a small icon.
The holiday was considered childish and family, but sometimes courtiers with children were invited to it. For the guests in another room, a lottery was arranged: the guests drew cards, then the sovereign called out them, the winner came up and entrusted the gift from the hands of Emperor of Russia Nikolai Pavlovich himself. These were valuable items such as porcelain vases, lamps, or tableware.
A dangerous tradition
Emperor’s Daughter Olga Nikolaevna recalled that in the children’s part of the palace they put up another tree and lit candles on it. Therefore, when the Winter Palace caught fire on December 17, 1837, her father decided that the children’s chambers were on fire. “He has always been against Christmas trees,” Olga Nikolaevna writes about this.
Following the ruling surname, noble families began to arrange for the displays of Christmas trees. The custom quickly spread, and in 1852 the first public Christmas party for adults was organized – at the Yekateringofsky station (in those years not a railway station but a large building for public entertainment, usually musical ones) was called a station.
But the coming of the new year was not celebrated by the imperial family. The maid of honor of the Empress Anna Tyutcheva recalled: “I spent the New Year’s Eve with the Empress, where they talked about the war and pinched lint for the army. At eleven o’clock champagne was served, congratulated each other, and the empress let us go: it is so customary in the royal family that by twelve o’clock everyone retires to his place.
The first of January was set aside for official visits, and the ruling emperor and his wife received congratulations from ambassadors and dignitaries.
New Year’s holidays in Russia in the 19th century included Christmas, Christmastide, New Years and Epiphany. The royal family on these days happily forgot about worries and had fun. In the palace they skated, sledged, built ice towns, sewed masquerade costumes. Several trees were installed (from five to ten, in different rooms), but candles were lit on them only twice – on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, and then the trees were removed. In the rooms next to the Christmas trees, gifts were laid out on the tables. By the way, the idea that magic creatures give them to children also appeared later, but in the 18th-19th centuries everything was more “transparent” in this matter.
At first, the Christmas trees were decorated only with candles. They began to hang toys and sweets on them only at the end of the 19th century. At first, Christmas decorations were made of cardboard, and then, around 1900 in St. Petersburg, in Gebgardt’s store (on Nevsky, 88), and at Petto’s store (on Karavannaya, 16) real New Year’s toys began to be sold: “… beads, snow and cupids made of non-flammable cotton wool , monkeys, flags, gold leaf, glass balls, bonbonnieres, diamond powder, sparklers, incendiary strings, indoor fireworks. ” The glass balls familiar to us were first of German production, but then they began to be produced in Russia.
The tradition of staging the Nutcracker ballet for Christmas has existed in Russia since 1892, when P. I. Tchaikovsky’s ballet was first shown at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
In 1866, trying hard to be like Western Europeans, Moscow nobles decorated huge and lush Christmas trees with expensive German toys, handmade sweets and lanterns. At endless balls, theatrical performances, home dinners, tables were laden with food and drinks. Walking in troikas in the moonlight, balls in the building of the Noble Assembly – all these secular entertainments were mixed with old Christmas rituals: fortune-telling, carols, Epiphany bathing in the Moscow River in order to wash away sins, etc.
In 1916, the atmosphere in Moscow during the New Year period was not particularly festive. The Great War (1914-1918) was in full swing, the government was preparing an attack on Turkey; hospitals, schools, almshouses and simple houses were overwhelmed with wounded. The industry stopped, there was no money for feasts and balls for a long time. Moreover, the Holy Synod even banned the New Year tree as an “enemy German element.” However, Muscovites continued to plant and decorate Christmas trees in their own homes, sometimes even in public institutions, to create at least a minimal sense of the holiday. It’s hard to believe, but 100 years ago, Santa Claus was already the main hero of the holiday, and “A Christmas tree was born in the forest” was a New Year’s hit.
This is how the New Year came to Russia, with Christmas tree decorations, lights, creaking of snow in the cold, winter children’s fun: sledges, skis, skates, snow women, Santa Claus, gifts … Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, edited by Michael Walsh.
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