Christmas in Russia: New Year’s under Communism
The Communists realized, however, that people wanted to continue their wintertime festivities. So they made January 1, New Year’s Day, a legal holiday and shifted many non-religious Christmas customs to that day. Under the Communist government Grandfather Frost brought children gifts on New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas Eve. It is said that Joseph Stalin reincorporated the decorated tree into these winter celebrations by declaring it to be a New Year’s tree instead of a Christmas tree. Likewise, the Christmas dinner became the New Year’s dinner.
The government also instituted new holiday customs of its own. Communist officials created a “Festival of Winter” with special performances, parades, and children’s activities during the last two weeks of December. On New Year’s Day a fabulous children’s party took place inside the Kremlin, the walled compound that served as the headquarters of the Soviet government. Extravagant decorations converted this usually formidable location into a child’s fantasyland. Fifty thousand tickets were made available for this yearly event, which included the official arrival of Grandfather Frost and his entourage as well as a variety of entertainments provided by musicians, dancers, acrobats, clowns, and actors dressed as fictional characters.
During the Communist period Grandfather Frost was assigned two new companions, the Snow Maiden, and the New Year’s boy. While the Snow Maiden was a character from an old Russian folktale, the New Year’s boy was a new creation. At public events he was represented by a young boy in a costume with the numbers of the new year blazoned across it (see also Baby).
Ironically, New Year’s Day became Russia’s favorite holiday during the Communist era, partly because of the popularity of the old Christmas customs that resurfaced on that date and also because the occasion did not lend itself to political propaganda.