If you happen to be on a tour of St. Petersburg at New Year then you have the perfect excuse to celebrate twice! Not only is there a public holiday on th 1st of January, the rather oddly named Old New Year is also a time of good cheer for many locals, falling on the 13th/14th of January. The reason for this? Well, you can thank the Russian Orthodox Church.
Officially, Russia switched to using the Gregorian calendar in 1918, the same calendar used for many years prior in most of the rest of the world. However, the Julian calendar is still in use by those in the Russian Orthodox Church and so Christmas and New Year can cause a little bit of confusion for those visiting Russia during winter. Our suggestion is simply to celebrate whenever the occasion arises!
To see in the New Year on the Gregorian calendar, there are firework displays in St. Petersburg on the eve of the 1st of January, and many residents have big family get-togethers with lots of great food and merriment. Some families combine traditions and sing orthodox Christian carols at their Novogodny Ogonek (New Year’s Party), while a television special features celebrities partying to welcome the coming year, with a presidential countdown and a speech on New Year’s day itself.
Anyone visiting Russia at this time of year might be lucky enough to get their fortune told as this is a traditional activity for women and girls at New Year. Being welcomed into a family in St. Petersburg is a great way to experience Russian customs, including more than a little alcohol consumption, singing, and a bevy of pickles at every meal. Although most in the west will be taking down their Christmas trees and trimmings by January 6th, the tradition of New Year’s trees (Novogodnaya Yolka) means that many homes still have these up long into January. And, can you blame them? After all, it was only in the 1930s that the ban on Christmas trees in Russia was lifted.
Most kids are out of school until the 14th or so of January and many people take vacations during this time and so the restaurants and hotels are likely to be very busy. Traditional tourist hot-spots in St. Petersburg are not always so busy, however, as the majority of the merrymakers live locally.
Should two New Year celebrations not be enough, consider paying homage to the time before Peter the Great while in the city that took his name. About 300 years ago New Year was celebrated in September but Peter the Great decided that January 1st made more sense and thus celebrations were pushed back a few months. The take-home message is that while on a city tour of St. Petersburg, you’re bound to find something worthy of celebrating, and more than a few people willing to raise a glass, whatever the occasion.