In this final scan of Russia’s broader low season, we take a glimpse at the most renowned and archetypally “Russian” time of year (for us Westerners at least); winter. It’s an oxymoron but the peak of the low season is undoubtedly the Christmas and New Year celebrations, both of which we have looked at in the past, in greater detail – and no doubt we’ll do so again.
Firstly an overview of Winter; as seen through the eyes of Tanya, a native Muscovite; just to put you in the picture. From her Understand Russia blog:-
“As for Moscow – … winter here is long and quite cold too. It gets colder every day, starting from September. November – March are usually the cold months. But it typically gets really cold (-25C or -13F) for only couple of weeks during the winter. All other time temperature fluctuates from +5 to -10C (41F-14F), hanging around zero Celsius (32 F) a lot”. Don’t forget that Moscow does not represent the whole of Russia; it gets a lot worse in Northern Siberia.
Don’t forget that Russian festivities start later than ours, with their Christmas day happening on our January 7th. Yes, in case some of you are wondering: New Year’s Day is the same as ours! We do use the same date calendar today, remember! Although until 1700, March 1st was the start of the Russian New Year. To confuse things a little, some may also observe/celebrate the Western Christmas on December 25th and there’s a second, “Old” New Year on January 14th to mark the date in the old, Orthodox calendar. The break officially runs until the 8th January, marking the end of holiday week, though Epiphany on January 19th marks the end of the winter festival season. That’s quite a stretch; they take their fun seriously.
The point is that it is still a busy (and attractive) period on home territory, so prices may not be quite as low as we may hope around those important dates. On the plus side there is plenty to experience: not least Russia in the snow, the New Year fireworks, characterisations of Ded Moroz and Snegurochka (Grandfather Frost and The Snow Maiden to you and me), carved ice figures in central Moscow, ice skating in Red Square and the extensive social aspect of the period. This is undoubtedly made more enjoyable (assuming that you like to participate in humanity!) by having Russian friends and/or family to connect with.
It’s also worth mentioning that the flavour of the period is renowned for being a markedly more respectful, and a good deal less grotesquely plasticised than our commercial, debt-ridden version.
The extra dimension to any trip is being on the inside of events, naturally, and experiencing the hospitality and customs (and traditional food) of your hosts; amplified during festival season/s and not something that you can experience by simply ticking a box on a trip itinerary. But if you do like to order/organise things by the box, then there are those outdoor activities to chose from that only winter can provide, as long as you take advice on the appropriate clothing and behaviour that is required for your own safety, frankly. It is the kind of cold that helped defeat both Napoleon and Hitler after all, but it’s also an environment that provides many with a gleaming visual spectacle and a host of activities that many enjoy annually.
It’s time to mention again such things as dog sledding, ice fishing, skating, skiing, troika rides (traditional 3-horse drawn sleighs/carriages), ice safaris, winter saunas, snowboarding, trips to frozen Lake Baikal, hot winter food menus in local restaurants, classical opera/music/ballet events and more. The ice awaits.
[Photo by John Kropiski]