Holidays Last and Last

1999 > Russia

I love my twenty-five days of paid vaction!

Moscow Times January 11, 1999

At Last, Holidays Approach An End

By Julia Solovyova Staff Writer

Holiday-weary Russians are nearing the finish line of their Christmas-to-New
Year’s marathon, with the normal workday rhythms of rush hour and open stores
and offices returning Monday morning. But for those not yet tired of toasts,
feasting and hangovers, there is one last sprint to the finish: Old New Year’s,
which falls on Jan. 14 and is celebrated beginning the evening before.

Most factories and offices shut down for four days over New Year’s and again
for three more days around Orthodox Christmas, which falls on Jan. 7. Sunday,
Jan. 10, was supposedly a regular working day to make up for the Jan. 8 post-
Christmas day off, although clearly not everyone had to work.

Some are exhausted by partying and look forward to getting back to their
places of employment, but others are glad to have two New Years, a holiday
bounty caused by the Soviet government’s decision to switch to the Gregorian
calender used by the rest of the world in 1918. Andrei Bodrov, manager at
the French cosmetics firm L’Oreal, complained that over the long holiday
period he “forgot what working is like.”

“It became kind of a routine,” he said. “People got drunk and sobered up,
and then got drunk again and sobered up once more.” He said he was not planning
to celebrate Old New Year’s, though he acknowledged many of his friends will
raise a glass to “put an end” to the holidays. Artist Vladimir Morozov was
eagerly looking ahead. “I can’t get enough of celebrating and wouldn’t get
out of this process until the 14th,” said Morozov, woken up by a telephone
call Sunday at 3:30 p.m. “And then Feb. 23 will draw near” when Russia celebrates
Army Day, he said.

But many private shops and kiosks were open the entire time, disregarding
the holidays as their owners could not afford to stop operating. Some businesses,
however, were closed much of the holiday season.

Even the news media took a prolonged Christmas vacation that will last in
some cases until mid-January. The popular Itogi news analysis program at
NTV f a must for news junkies f returned to the air Sunday after a holiday
break, and Kommersant newspaper will reappear Jan. 19. Sunday was on paper
a working day f which occasionally happens due to the government’s habit
of moving days off to create blocks of time off, enabling people to desert
Moscow for their dachas.

The city streets had a near-deserted holiday look Sunday. The number of closed
shops played a part, said Alexander Mantsevich of the Moscow traffic police
press office, where music blasted at high volume early Sunday afternoon.
Mantsevich added that some drivers may have been wary of driving on roads
coated by ice after colder weather hit Moscow two days ago.

All told, 36 people died from accidents, fires and the cold just in Moscow
from Dec. 31 to Jan. 10, Interfax reported. Road accidents took 15 lives,
and Mantsevich said 140 people were injured in 117 accidents. He said roughly
900 people were detained for drunk driving, adding that these numbers are
average for weekends. Monday should see a return to heavier morning traffic,
he said.

Even though the weather was unusually warm and snowless at the beginning
of the year, with people in-line skating rather than ice-skating around Moscow
in the first days of January, the cold took its toll, killing four homeless
people on the streets. Other casualties included 401 people turning up for
medical help with hypothermia, burns from fireworks f often homemade f and
from New Year’s trees that caught fire. Six Muscovites injured by fireworks
were hospitalized.

On Wednesday, Eastern Orthodox Christmas Eve, churches opened their doors
for festive Christmas services, with bells ringing in Christmas Day in the
early hours of the morning. Churches, decorated with fir tree branches were
crowded with believers both days. Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian
Orthodox Church, officiated at nationally televised Christmas services at
the Church of the Transfiguration in the basement of the Cathedral of Christ
the Savior, with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Deputy Prime Minister
Valentina Matviyenko attending along with other VIPs.

Alexy delivered a Christmas address filled with references to the country’s
tough economic times and urged his flock to “accept every ordeal with faith
and hope that God the Almighty will help us to overcome them.” “I wish you,
dear Russians, patience and reason when dealing with these difficult social
problems,” Alexy said. “They should be settled only by peaceful means.”

The Russian Orthodox Church marks the birth of Jesus Christ on Jan. 7, like
the other Eastern Orthodox churches using the ancient Julian calendar. Alexy
also appeared at the Christmas concert at the Rossia concert hall, a gala
production at the Bolshoi Theater on Sunday and another celebration at the
Maly Theater branch.

An alternative holiday party with a political flavor was held at the State
Duma on the initiative of the Communist faction. Even though Communist leader
Gennady Zyuganov didn’t show up, his comrade and Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov
spoke to orphans from Moscow’s children’s homes, who received calendars with
both Gennadys’ portraits along with candy in their gift packages.

Moscow Times January 11, 1999

EDITORIAL: Russia Must Push Reform Of Holidays

It has been a brutally tough time. Personal savings are depleted. People
are exhausted from the forced inactivity of being out of work. And it is
going to get worse before it gets better.

We are speaking, of course, about the holidays. A casual observer might be
tempted to think that they finally come to an end on Monday. But a closer
examination of the facts reveals the chilling truth that there is one more
holiday to get through, albeit an unofficial one: the so-called Old New Year,
on Thursday, Jan. 14. Then it’s just 53 days until March 8, International
Women’s Day.

What’s truly disheartening is how little is being done to end this abominable
state of affairs. Yevgeny Primakov has been in office for months, yet his
government has taken no action. How much longer must Russians suffer from
stuffed bellies, hangovers and the company of irritating relatives?

There is still time. An omnibus package of legislation on urgently needed
holiday reforms should immediately be submitted to the State Duma. Such
legislation should address the following:

  • There is a homemade dish called kholodets. It is basically meat in an aspic
    jelly. It is usually brownish. It must be stopped.

  • The Soviet-era propiska system must be revived, but with an eye to returning
    all relatives immediately to their homes f and keeping them there. Law
    enforcement authorities should be assertive and decisive in launching an
    immediate sweep of all apartments. If extra police officers and vehicles
    are needed, Primakov must find the money.

  • All efforts to turn Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day in the West, into a Russian
    holiday must be crushed. Russia already has March 8; it does not need another
    lovey-dovey holiday. It will not be easy for State Duma deputies to challenge
    the greeting card-florist-red heart-shaped box of chocolates lobby. But we
    call on them now to summon their courage and to do what is right for the

Finally, a few words about this Old New Year f the one according to the Julian
calendar. It’s ridiculous. OK, we’ll give you Orthodox Christmas on Jan.
7, that’s more or less logical. According to Orthodoxy, Christ was born on
a certain day; arguably he’s important enough to merit twisting the calendar.
We’ll even concede the Great October Revolution on Nov. 7 on the same grounds.

But the New Year is an entirely arbitrary and manmade date. Unlike the
anniversary of Christ’s birth or Lenin’s victory, it is a construct of the
calendar. If you change the calendar, you change New Year’s day. Period.

This holiday carnage must be stopped. The long-suffering Russian people deserve

Jan 12 (AFP) via Johnson’s Russia List
Russians wake up to massive hangover after year-end festivities

MOSCOW – Millions of Russians who have been spending the last week drunkenly
celebrating the end of the year now face the inevitable enormous hangover.
According to the Julian calendar still used by the Orthodox Church, Christmas
fell on January 7, while New Year’s Day is January 14.

Newspapers have been full of advice on how to prevent morning-after pains,
usually involving consuming large quantities of oil, lard or bread and butter
to delay the effect of alcohol on the body. But these have only limited effect
against the imbibing of glass after glass of vodka, and remedies also abound
for eliminating the headaches and other consequences of over-indulgence.
These are often traditional, going back generations and widely described
in Russian literature.

Experienced tipplers swear by several glasses of brine in which guerkins
and tomatoes have been pickled for coming back to the real world, while others
prefer “solyanka”, a bitter soup whose ingredients restore reserves of vitamin
B used up by alcohol. Solyanka appeared in Russia about the same time as
vodka, and was originally known as “hangover soup,” according to the
authoritiative dictionary of cuisine compiled by Viliam Pokhlebkin.

Other remedies include fermented cabbage or kvass, a slightly alcoholic drink
made from rye flour or bread with malt, which is reputed for its restorative
qualities. Some Russians like to plunge into a steam bath, but they risk
the temptation of falling back down the slippery slope, as vodka, beer and
smoked fish are seen as natural accompaniments to such relaxation. In
the most serious cases, specialist doctors can be called on to pull a sufferer
out of a coma induced by over-absorption of ethyl alcohol. Someone like Yuri
Sivolap, who charges the equivalent of 35 dollars, the cost of a dozen bottles
of vodka, per visit.

A dozen half-litre bottles represents 24 days’ consumption for the average
Russian, who swallows 14.5 litres of pure alcohol per year, buying two-thirds
of it from underground distilleries. The produce of such illegal sources
can be of extremely dubious quality. According to official figures adulterated
alcohol killed 43,000 people in 1997. For the government, the answer is to
step up production of approved vodka, pledging last October to increase output
by 60 percent in 1999 from last level of 820 million liters of vodka and
other alcohols.

As well as the problem of adulterated alcohol, distillers complained of an
influx of foreign brands on the Russian market. The previous month Prime
Minister Yevgeny Primakov announced that the government was restoring the
state monopoly on alcohol sales, in a move criticised by the industry. “This
cannot fail to make the situation worse and provoke a new outbreak of
alcohol-induced illnesses,” said Pavel Shapkin, director of the producers’
lobby group, the National Alcohol Association, at the time.

“Now most people drink cheap but decent vodka,” Shapkin said. “But this will
drive the price up so that only 20 percent of the population will drink quality
products, with the rest pushed towards consuming aftershave, wiper fluid
and moonshine.” Sergei Smirnov, spokesman for the Rosalka producer association,
added: “All talk today of anti-alcoholism and monopoly just don’t add up
for the simple reason that … Russia was, is and always will be a nation
of drinkers, and any efforts to change the use of alcohol are unlikely to

Baltimore Sun January 14, 1999
Toasting an uncertain future Russia: Economic despair is dampening Russians’
weeks of religious and new year holidays. But grudgingly they celebrate.

By Kathy Lally Sun Foreign Staff

MOSCOW — Few nations could take the punishment the Russian people have endured
the last three weeks. But Aslan Aslanov was preparing for one more
round last night. He wheeled a shopping cart up to a supermarket display
of approximately 6,000 bottles of Soviet Union brand champagne. Wearily,
he reached for a bottle.

Another party was about to begin in a country that has little to celebrate
and much to fear. Since Dec. 25, Russians have celebrated four holidays,
one of them for four days. The final one began last night, and economic crisis
or not, Russians valiantly rose to the occasion, laying their tables with
whatever food and drink they could afford. “We have had some breaks
between holidays,” said Yevgeny Danilov, explaining the five bottles of champagne
in his cart, “so it’s not as if it’s been every day.”

Still, many of his countrymen have started flagging. They’ve had too much
time to see too many friends whose lives have gotten much worse since the
last time they met. They’re ready to go back to work and resume normal routines,
if only they could. A year ago, Aslanov, 30, could tell friends how
well he was doing importing consumer goods from Korea. The crash of the ruble
in August brought an abrupt and complete collapse to his business. His
business is gone; his wife, who is Jewish, feels uneasy living here because
of a rise in anti-Semitism. The holidays have been long and painful for Aslanov.
He’s been saying goodbye. “I have a sister in Australia,” he said,
“and the papers are almost ready for me to leave, too.”

Today is New Year’s Day, according to the Julian calendar dropped in 1918
in favor of the Gregorian used by the rest of the world. And even though
it’s not a work holiday, Russians really feel they should be celebrating
what everyone calls the Old New Year. Hardship or not, they seem constitutionally
unable to ignore an occasion to gather around a table with friends.

The holidays began Dec. 25 — what Russians call Western or Catholic Christmas.
That celebration, once suppressed by the Soviet authorities, has come into
vogue over the past few years although it is not yet an official day off.

Then came New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — the big Soviet holidays. Then
came the Orthodox Christmas, Jan. 7, with celebrations beginning Jan. 6.
Friday, Jan. 8, was declared a holiday, too, because the government figured
no one would go to work with only one day until the weekend. Sunday was supposed
to be a regular workday in exchange, but many people stayed home.

“I’m very tired of the holidays,” said Yelena Zhukova, a 42-year-old housewife,
who also celebrated her mother’s 70th birthday. “We have been eating and
drinking and toasting. Our main toast is that things don’t get even worse
in the next year.” Alexander Tkachyov, 45, who works in public relations
for a bank, also saw friends for the first time in months. “We talked about
how life had changed for the worse,” he said. “It was the usual topic during
the holidays. We’re not sure of the future.”

Tatyana Dyachenko, 52, is a doctor — among the country’s lowest-paid employees
these days. That didn’t prevent a round of celebrations, with guests invited
to her home and invitations from friends. “I went to see my friend Yelena
whom I hadn’t seen for a long time,” she said. “We talked about the lack
of money. My friend complained that though she liked guests, she was sorry
she could not put out as much food and drinks as she used to. She worked
at a bank and lost her job in August.”

How anyone can afford even a little celebration remains a mystery in a country
in financial ruin, where even many of those who still have a job don’t get
paid regularly. People dig into the last of their savings rather than ignore
a holiday. And it’s still cheap to drink. Vodka can be found for as little
as $1 a half-liter — about a pint. Soviet Union brand champagne sells for
about $2.50.

With two opportunities to make resolutions, Russians might be expected to
have long lists of them. They don’t. The word “resolution” doesn’t translate
well in a country where individual action appears useless, where citizens
watch helplessly and hopelessly as those at the top do what they will.

So Russians make wishes, instead. Lots of them. Alina Melkumova, 22,
tried a new way of wishing this year that she heard about on television.
She wrote her wish on a piece of paper, burned it and poured the ashes into
a glass of champagne that had to be drunk as the clock struck midnight. “Some
people didn’t have enough time to burn it and had to swallow the clump of
paper,” she said, sitting somewhat incongruously in a display high chair
in the store where she sells children’s furnishings.

Among her wishes? “At least something better than we have now.” Tatyana Dyachenko
and her friends had several wishes. “To keep friendly relations no matter
what happens in this country, not to lose our jobs, to be healthy.

“And I had a special wish for the New Year — to buy a beautiful blouse.”