History of New Year in Russia

  • Fri 12 2018
  • by intermark

Origin of New Year

After the adoption of Christianity and until 1700 the Byzantine system of chronology (coincides with the Julian calendar) operated in Russia . “From the creation of the world” or from 5508 BC New Year was celebrated in March, and from the XV century – September 1. On this day, the Cathedral square of the Moscow Kremlin hosted a solemn ceremony “on the beginning of the new summer” and a Church service with the participation of the Tsar, Patriarch, clergy, nobility, servants, etc.


Peter I & New Year decrees

December 29 and 30 (December 19 and 20 in the old style), 1699 Peter I issued two nominal decrees on the introduction of a new system of chronology and the celebration of New Year. The documents prescribed to count the years from the Christ’s birth (the current 7208 “from the creation of the world” thus became 1699) and celebrate New Year following the example of European Christian States on January 1. At the same time, Peter I did not introduce the Gregorian calendar, adopted by most European countries. Until the XX century, Russia continued to live by the Julian calendar, celebrating New Year 11 days later than the European States.

By the decree of December 30, 1699 Peter I ordered to decorate the main streets of Moscow, as well as the houses of the nobility with coniferous trees and branches. As an example he offered to use the fir-trees installed in Gostiny Dvor. The Tsar adopted this custom from Europeans who lived in The German Quarter. Citizens had to congratulate each other, to burn fires in the streets, to shoot from guns and muskets. In the Red Square, where the main celebration took place, by decree of the king the fireworks, cannon and gun salutes were organized. New Year holidays lasted seven days.

However, during the First World War Nicholas II interrupted the tradition. In 1915, German prisoners of war in the Saratov hospital organized a Christmas holiday, which caused an extremely negative reaction in the Russian press. As a result, Emperor Nicholas II banned the installation of Christmas trees.


New Year after the October Revolution

After the October revolution of 1917, the new government lifted the ban. On December 31 of the same year, they organized the first public “Christmas tree” celebration in Saint-Petersburg. In the Kremlin, affected by the shelling in November 1917, the holiday was not arranged.

On January 24, 1918, the Council of people’s Commissars adopted a decree on the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Russia. According to the document, the next day after January 31, 1918 was prescribed to be not February 1, but February 14. The difference between the old and new style was 13 days. The Russian Orthodox Church did not recognize these innovations and preserved its chronology according to the Julian calendar. Therefore, the Curch celebrated the Orthodox Christmas not on December 25 (according to the Julian calendar), but on January 7. On January 14 there was a new unofficial holiday called “Old New Year”.

In the first Soviet years, the tradition of Christmas and New Year holidays remained. For children of state and party leaders celebrations were held in the Grand Kremlin Palace. However, in the mid-1920s the country launched a campaign to combat religious prejudices. 24 Sep 1929 the Council of People’s Commissars forbade the celebration of Christmas. Then there were proposals to reschedule New Year from January 1 to November 7 (October revolution day). This did not happen, but they cancelled the official New Year celebrations as “bourgeois” remnants.


Revival of the celebration during the Soviet period

December 28, 1935 newspaper “Pravda”: “Let’s organize for children a good New Year celebration!” The author proposed to put an end to the “wrong condemnation of New Year celebrations”. “In pre-revolutionary times, the bourgeoisie always arranged a celebration for their children… Why do we have schools, orphanages, nurseries, children’s clubs, palaces of pioneers but we deprive of this wonderful pleasure the children of workers of the Soviet country? Some, not only the leftwing, decried this children’s holiday as a bourgeois idea”.

The next day “Pravda” published the resolution about carrying out celebrations on January 1 for Komsomol members and pioneers New Year, “cheerfully and without boredom”.

Since the 1970s, there was a tradition of annual New Year’s television addresses of state leaders to the Soviet people. For the first time Central television broadcasted Leonid Brezhnev’s speech on December 31, 1970.



For the first time a live spruce was installed on the Cathedral square of the Kremlin in December 1996 on the initiative of Russian President Boris Yeltsin.  The main New Year’s performance – the all-Russian “Christmas tree” celebration, also called “presidential”, is held in the state Kremlin Palace. Every year more than 5 thousand children from all regions of the country visit this beautiful event. Among them there are winners of competitions and Olympiads, pupils of orphanages and boarding schools, children whose parents died in “hot spots” and so on.

On New Year’s Eve, the Russian President addresses the residents of the country with congratulations. After the speech of the head of state, television and radio broadcast the chiming clock of the Kremlin’s Spasskaya tower at midnight, marking the beginning of the New Year. Then the national anthem of the country sounds.


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