Russia is in a curious time of year right now. The holiday season is finally stumbling to a close, marked with the Old New Year celebration on January 14th. Yes that’s right, Russia has two New Years. The “New” New year is the same as ours – a product of the Gregorian calendar that Soviet Russia embraced in a post-revolutionary bid to align Russia with modernity.
Shifting time frames
The Soviets declared an official move from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the former being favoured by the Russian Orthodox church. Christianity (particularly) and religion (generally) had no place in the drive for a future Soviet Utopia, nor had any of the trappings, edifices and conventions of a “faith”, other than that of communism. Aside from the rejection of the church, to embrace the Gregorian calendar was to the synchronise the Soviet republic with the West and the rest of the developed world. Perfectly fitting for a system that strove to rebuild a society from the ground up, whilst elbowing its way into modernity on an equal footing.
However, just as Christianity was unable to eradicate Pagan beliefs, so the Soviets were unable to eradicate Christianity. Indeed, Stalin would later permit it’s official return during the decisive years of the Second World War (Russia’s Great Patriotic War), but that’s another tale. Old beliefs die hard, and in spite of the destruction, abuse and secular repurposing of former places of worship; the mindset of Orthodox devotees was much harder to erase. Indeed, it was a task that could not be completed. So Orthodoxy and it’s calendar survived, along with its New Year, although January 1st “stuck” as the main event and the Old New Year is not considered an official holiday.
Escapades on ice (and snow) are the in-thing at this time of year, unsurprising as there are plenty of both to contend with. A 24 hour period can see 20 cm of snow descend upon Moscow with relative ease. With a concerted attack from the weather; double that amount could equally fall in a single day, and Moscow is far from extremes in terms of the Russian Winter.
Meanwhile, in central Siberia, Lake Baikal sits capped with up to two metres of ice and the locals drive vehicles across its crystal surface. Misjudge the ice though and a weak spot will grant a 1600 metre (1 mile) descent straight to the bottom (at its deepest). It may look like a fairy tale landscape but grim reality is in charge, and you really have to know what you are doing, or have somebody with you who does.
Gone skiing (or skating)
It seems to be the done thing around this time of year, certainly amongst those with whom I speak. ‘Time to break out the skis and skim across the landscape one stride at a time. It’s “Nordic”, or cross country style (at least in our vocabulary), unless there’s a convenient mountain to assist with some downhill momentum.
“Forget about the popular ski resorts in Europe or the US. If you want to experience something different, and arguably better, you should try skiing in Russia. This place offers things that you cannot experience anywhere else!”
For those who prefer their blades a little more compact: ice skating is equally as popular, the authorities even facilitate a temporary annual ice rink in Red Square (courtesy of the Gum store) for the delight of the locals who can glide around to their heart’s content.