Guide to Russian winter holidays

Guide to Russian winter holidays
20 December, 2018

Winter holidays in Russia

The winter holidays season has already started. For religious Russians, this means that a 40 day fasting period which began on the 28th of November. Nevertheless, not least because of the influence of western habits, this time has been adapted more to the western Europe pre-Christmas habits, which is characterized by high consumption. If you plan on discovering the wonders Moscow and St Petersburg have to offer during this time of the year, then I hope to assist you by providing some helpful information about Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Russia, as well as useful phrases to get you through the festive period.


In Russia, Christmas takes place on January 6th and not on the 25th as most of us in Europe are used to. This is because the holidays of the Orthodox church correspond to the old Julian Calendar, which was introduced by Julius Cesar 45 B.C. However, nowadays most of the countries use the Gregorian Calendar, which was invented toward the end of the 16th century. That’s the reason why Christmas is celebrated after New Year’s on January 6th, even though the presents are unwrapped on New Year’s Eve.

Ded Moroz (Дед Мороз) and Snegurochka (Снегурочка)

For well-mannered children, Ded Moroz brings the presents with his granddaughter Snegurochka on a sleigh, which is pulled by horses. They both come from the woods of the Russian Taiga. Thus, the children in schools often dress as forest dwelling animals. As you can see in the picture, Ded Moroz looks with his corpulent statue and long white beard rather similar to the western European equivalent Father Christmas.

Ded Moroz with Snegurochka

New Year

Like in western Europe, New Year’s Eve is celebrated on the night from 31th of December to 1st of January. This goes back to the time when Peter the Great decided in 1699 that the turn of the year will take place on the 1st of January and not on the 1st of September like before.

Contrary to Western practices, New Year’s Eve plays a more important role than Christmas in Russia. So why is this the case? Well, the Russian Revolution in 1917, which lead to the rise of the Soviet Union, is where the answer lies: during the Soviet era all Christian traditions were prohibited and so non-religious holidays like New Year’s Eve became more important. Since rites and traditions have always been important to Russians, the people decided to shift their traditions from Christmas to New Year’s Eve. This special day is usually celebrated with friends and relatives and creates a relaxed and happy atmosphere across the whole country. Listening to the Kremlin chimes beating 12 and cheering with Champagne is a must! Click here for inspiration about movies for New Year’s Eve in Russia!

Useful Vocabulary

For Christmas, as well as for New Year’s Eve, there are several possibilities to express one’s wishes. Here are some examples.

  • С Рождеством – Merry Christmas!
  • Бой курантов – bell rings. This phrase stands for the Kremlin bell, which rings in the new year.
  • С Новым годом! – Happy New Year!
  • Желаю тебе/вам .. счастья / удачи / здоровья – I wish you happiness, good luck and good health
  • Пусть сбудутся все твои/ваши мечты! – May all your wishes come true
  • Весёлых зимних каникул! – I wish you nice winter vacations!

I hope you will enjoy the beautiful lights, decorations and music performances occurring all over the cities and wish you all a wonderful holiday season. Check out Alessandro’s Blog Fun Facts About Winter Holidays in Russia!

Увидимся в новом году!


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