Old New Year??

Well, that sounds like a paradox, doesn't it? Not for the Russian-speaking world! Give us all a reason to get a three-week holiday and celebrate two holidays twice! Winter holidays continue through January 14th, which is when we celebrate the Old New Year, or Staryi Novyi God.


It is not as big of a celebration as the "New" New Year, but we still get together with the family. According to tradition, the Christmas tree is not taken down until after January 14th. Now how did we come up with the Old New Year?


As some may know, there are two calendars in Christianity: the Julian, which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, and the Gregorian, which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. It was determined that about 13 days were lost in the year from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars. This difference caused a lot of distress with the Catholic Church because they thought they were celebrating all the important religious holidays on the wrong days for centuries. Therefore, Europe switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. As a result, Easter, Christmas and New Year moved back two weeks, which continues to this day.

However, the Russians would not have it this way because they had been using the Julian calendar for thousands of years, and the Russian people during the Imperial era were very devout orthodox Christians. Yet, when the Soviet Union came into power in 1918, all holidays were cancelled because it was thought that if old customs and traditions are eliminated, the Soviets can start off fresh. Though about 20 years later, the Soviet government decided to re-introduce New Year's Eve, but only on December 31 because the old Julian calendar meant a return to the past. As a result, the Russian society secretly began celebrating the holidays based on the Julian calendar.

This kind of uprooting of thousand-year-old traditions and the alienation from religion was too much for many Russians, so the traditions survived the Soviet times. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian people were finally officially allowed to celebrate Christmas and New Year as based on the Julian calendar, but the Soviet tradition of December 31 became a part of tradition as well.


In present-day Russia, "New" New Year is an official holiday, and the one that involves a lot of planning and celebration. It's the "Big Bang" of celebrations! The Old New Year is more of a relaxed time for the families. Some see it as a nostalgic holiday and spend it at large family gatherings where they eat traditional holiday foods and sing old Soviet songs. Others see it as simply another reason to go out and party with their friends and colleagues, especially if it falls during a weeknight.

Now even though the Old New Year has a special place in the contemporary Russian culture, a lot of former Soviet countries, such as Kazakhstan, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, and others, continue to recognize this holiday in some way. In addition, other countries where the Orthodox Church is the prevailing faith, such as Macedonia and Serbia, observe this holiday as well.


I was also interested to learn that some of the Scottish Gaelic communities have January 12 as the day to celebrate and promote Gaelic culture. In South Uist and Eriskay, it is known as Oidhche Challaig, and in Glenfinnan as Oidhche Challainn. In Gaelic tradition, the New Year begins on January 12, with candles lit in each window the night before to welcome in the new year. It’s not a tradition much observed anymore, but those who do celebrate it have much of the same customs as during the "New" New Year with ceilidhs, which are Scottish dancing, and first footing. First footing is a custom that goes back to the Viking times, when the first person to cross into your home after the clock strikes midnight at New Year is seen as the bringer of good fortune for the coming year. They also tell old stories and sing songs.

In northeastern Switzerland, some of the German-speaking areas observe the Old New Year, but they call it alter Silvester. Who knew?!

Well then, Happy Old New Year! :)

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