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  • Writer's pictureOlga Jarrell

Ёлка. Новогодняя или рождественская? Christmas or New Year Tree?

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

Unlike Americans who think of a decorated holiday tree as a Christmas tree (рожде́ственская ёлка), Russians always call it a New Year tree (нового́дняя ёлка). The tradition of putting up and decorating a spruce tree was introduced to Russia by Peter the Great in the 18th century, and the trees were decorated for Christmas at that time. Later, after the October Revolution in 1917, as a result of the anti-religious campaign, Christmas celebrations were banned, and Christmas trees were replaced with secular New Year trees. This is how рожде́ственская ёлка became нового́дняя ёлка. Since then, traditionally, all Russians have decorated a spruce tree for New Year’s Day, but not for Christmas.

Фотография @Бибичков Михаил

Ёлочные украшения или ёлочные игрушки

In many Russian homes, a tree is usually decorated during the first two weeks of December or even later, and it stays up to January 14th, which is known as Old New Year in Russia. Russians traditionally put a red five-point star (звезда́) on top of the tree (angel ornaments were not “popular” in Soviet Russia, and never made in any ornament factory). Some common tree ornaments (ёлочные украше́ния or ёлочные игру́шки (toys!) include:

шарыарики) = ball ornaments гирлянды = garlands мишура = tinsels бусы = necklace-like ornaments сосульки = icicles шишки = pine cones

Nowadays, holiday decorations in Russia are pretty much the same as anywhere, but it is still foreign to Russians to have wreaths, poinsettia flowers, candy canes, red bows, or Christmas stockings among New Year or Christmas decorations in their homes.

Ёлка в ГУМе

A giant 11-meter fir tree was installed and decorated in GUM, Russia’s most famous department store, which is located on Red Square in Moscow. The tree is decorated in a style popular in the Soviet Union in the 1960s: with candy, mandarins, holiday ball ornaments, retro postcards and holiday lights.

A traditional holiday fair is held at the base of the tree, where various seasonal presents, handmade Christmas ornaments, old postcards, and other retro Christmas decorations are for sale.

Огромная одиннадцатиметровая ель была установлена и украшена в ГУМе, самом известном универмаге России, который расположен на Красной площади в Москве. Ёлка украшена в популярном в шестидесятые годы стиле: конфетами, мандаринами, шарами, ретро-открытками и праздничными огнями.

У подножья ёлки разместилась традиционная новогодняя ярмарка, где продаются различные подарки, рождественские украшения ручной работы, старые открытки и другие праздничные украшения в стиле ретро.

Фотографии ©Бибичков Михаил

If you want to say a few sentences about decorating a tree, here is a little useful vocabulary:

ставить / поста́вить ёлку = to put up a tree украшать / украсить ёлку (чем?) = to decorate a Christmas tree (with) наряжать / нарядить ёлку = to decorate a Christmas tree (to attire) ёлка украшена (чем?) = The tree is decorated with (what?) В ГУМе украсили ёлку в стиле ретро. = In GUM they decorated the tree in retro style. ёлочные украшения /ёлочные игрушки = Christmas decorations / ornaments шарыарики) = ball ornaments гирлянды = garlands мишура = tinsels бусы = necklace like ornaments сосульки = icicles шишки = pine cones Чем украшена ёлка? = What is the tree decorated with? конфетами, шарами, старыми открытками, огнями, мандаринами, ёлочными игрушками и другими украшениями в стиле ретро.= With candy, ball ornaments, old postcards, lights, mandarins, Christmas ornaments, and other decorations in retro style.

Вы обы́чно ста́вите ёлку на Рождество́? Вы лю́бите украша́ть ёлку? Каки́е ваши любимые ёлочные украше́ния? У вас есть ста́рые ёлочные украше́ния?

Фотографии ©Бибичков Михаил

Ёлка и хорово́д

Новогодняя ёлка is not just a tree; it’s also the name of a New Year’s party for children, organized by all the schools, youth clubs, day care centers, and companies for their employees’ children. The celebration usually consists of an interactive performance, contests, gifts and a traditional dance called хорово́д. In "khorovod" everybody holds hands and moves around the tree in a circle. It is always accompanied by singing popular Russian New Year songs. In the Soviet times it was common (and still is) for kids to wear carnival costumes at New Year parties. Almost like what Americans wear on Halloween, but excluding evil spirits and dead creatures.

Evolution of the New Year Tree

In Soviet times when religion was frowned on by the Communist authorities, Russians called Christmas trees "New Year's trees". This graphic shows the evolution of this ever-green symbol, decorations and toys across time and different countries.

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