This year I decided to spend New Year, for the first time, in Kazakhstan. Since starting my studies of Russian, I knew that December 31 was the big winter celebration and not December 25 as in the UK.
Houses are decorated the same, with tinsel and ‘New Year’ trees and on this day families and friends get together to celebrate the New Year and give each other presents. Children wait expectantly for Ded Moroz to come and bring them them their gifts! In fact, I saw an interesting advert on the information board in my block of flats offering personal visits of Uncle Frost and his helper Snowgirl to your house-though the price wasn’t stated he had left his mobile number!
I spent a lovely Christmas in the UK visiting friends and family, all be it one hampered by floods and cancellations! Having left Astana in temperatures of -44°C (of course the plane took off on time, with no problem!) it was a nice surprise to arrive in the early hours to -15°C and clear skies! All the city was lit with lights and Christmas trees and on many street corners stood ice sculptures and winter decorations.
The next day, the view from my flat was a frozen river covered with people! Some playing football, some jogging, others ice skating, others ice-skiing, pulled by a snow mobile! For me the strangest thing was seeing alongside all these people, men running from the sauna on the banks of the river and jumping into the small hole dug into the ice so they could take a dip in the river!!
On December 31 my Russian flatmate and I went along to the bazaar to buy things for that evenings celebrations! There was a real holiday atmosphere as everyone had gone along to do the same thing. The market traders were selling Christmas gifts and decorations and along the streets outside were rows of fireworks for sale and people were wishing each other all the best for the coming year!
Back at home we put on the television and started preparing the food for the party we had been invited to. The music to Jingle Bells and We Wish You A Merry Christmas were playing in the background on most channels and New Years Eve concerts were starting!
Apparently,for the last 30 years, two films are traditionally always shown around New Year- “С лёгким паром” (Irony of Fate) and “Москва слезам не верит” (Moscow doesn’t believe in tears). The film Irony of Fate is from 1975 and one of the most successful TV films ever made. It is a comedy about a man who wants to spend New Year’s Eve with his fiancée but somehow ends up at his address, but in a different city. He is found asleep in the flat by the actual tenant and they eventually fall in love.
The other film won the academy award in 1980 for best foreign language film. It is about a student who becomes pregnant by a rich guy but he leaves her. Many years later he returns and wants to be part of her life again but she has found a new love. Everyone seems to know the film and the dialogue off by heart. It reminded of the same situation in Germany, where, each New Year’s Eve for the last 40 years the short, British, black and white comedy sketch from 1963 ‘Dinner for One’ is shown!! I had never heard of Freddie Frinton (the comedian who stars in it) or this sketch until living in Germany but did laugh all the way through!
By the time we had prepared the food, on New Year’s Eve, it was already 11pm and we made our way quickly over the road to my friends, stopping in to the late night shop to buy some Shampanskoye (to be told by the shop assistant jokingly “You’re leaving it a bit late!!”).
We got to my friends, only to find them still preparing food and laying the table with traditional Russian beetroot and fish salads and Kazakh rice dishes. We finally sat down at 11.45pm just in time to see the president’s New Year’s Eve address, in both Kazakh and Russian and then we lit sparklers and toasted in the New Year with sweet champagne!
No one seemed to know Auld Lang Syne but they wished each other all the best for 2013 and gifts were exchanged. Outside it sounded and, also looked like, the start of World War Three due to tall the fireworks being set off and exploding across the city. We stayed inside (although it was surprisingly ‘warm’ for New Year at -8°C), chatted and watched the New Year’s Eve concert from Moscow, which strangely included a cartoon version of the Queen dancing and singing and plenty of versions of Gangnam style! Even though we had a lovely evening, due to the jet lag, I only managed to stay up until 4am – although they all kept going until 7!
Now, we still have January 7 and the celebration of Russian Christmas to look forward to!!
All the best for 2013!