“New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday.” – Charles Lamb
By Mariia Ginzburg
New Year’s Eve used to be my favorite holiday. The smell of mandarins and chocolates, which were rare guests on our tables during the rest of the year, made this day special, along with presents under the beautifully shining decorated tree, the long delicious family dinner, the cheering at midnight and making a wish… December 31 was always the important, logical switch between two calendar years, leaving the past behind and taking only the good, and moving into the next year full of hope.
And then growing up one day I learned that what had made total sense to me was just a secular version of Christmas made up by Soviets. Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) is basically known as Santa across the globe (at least Western Christian part of it), and he actually comes almost a week earlier. Even though historically they might have had different backgrounds, pagan roots and national fairytales (thus Ded Moroz comes with his granddaughter Snegurochka and doesn’t wear glasses), over time marketing made them look pretty similar with their red Coca-Cola invented outfits. We used to watch a lot of old “classical” Christmas Hollywood movies like Home Alone, but for me as a child this Hollywood Christmas had always meant New Year, and I’ve never distinguished those two.
Moreover, the fall of the USSR and Ukrainian independence brought some more holidays into my life. Church became officially allowed and encouraged, Easter and Christmas became red dates in the calendar. However, both the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Church, which play the main role in Ukraine, use different calendars compared to the rest of the Catholic world, so “our” Christmas takes place on the 6-7th of January and doesn’t effect the existing post-Soviet traditions of New Year’s Eve.
Needless to say, my family is completely secular and I grew up in the East, where the Christmas holiday is simply used as another free day and is usually part of the long holiday week (we used to have January 1st and 2nd officially off as well). Being a student and visiting the western part of Ukraine, I learned that Christmas Eve and Day have a lot of authentic Ukrainian traditions that people have been following for centuries, despite the hard anti-religious rules of the USSR. One of the remarkable traditions is having small street theaters organized by kids and adults (“Vertep”) that go from house to house or perform in the city square, telling the story of Jesus’s birth.
One more holiday that is not a day off, but is a very nice tradition to follow, is St. Nicholas Day, which is now also widely mentioned in the media and is celebrated in Ukraine on December 19th. Usually children will find some sweets under their pillows in the morning, and people visit or donate to orphanages and charities.
Does it all remind you of something? Indeed, there is Nikolaustag, Christmas and Silvester here in Bavaria and even January 6th – the Three Kings Day – has a very similar theater tradition! Whenever my German friends tell me how they celebrate Christmas for three days,, visiting family, cooking for five people as if they were hosting a party for a hundred, all the stress they face with the preparation and buying presents, etc, I just smile in return. I know it all very well, because we used to have similar traditions and routines, but almost a week later! In the beginning I even thought it is actually more practical to have Christmas for the family and celebrate New Year with friends, since we used to have only one night and it was always a trick to fit both in.
However, having a son now makes me find all these holidays with similarities and differences very hard to digest. Should we stick to our families’ traditions and wait to open presents until New Year’s Eve, when all his friends will get theirs earlier? Should we double it instead? How do we overwhelm him with holidays routines and uncountable presents? Obviously, Christmas itself doesn’t mean anything to us as we are secular family, but it might be different for my son in conservative religious Bavaria….
Luckily he is still small enough to give us some time to think, but next year we will have to be more specific about who is actually coming down the chimney and when!
Mariia Ginzburg is an IT-consultant with a strong technical background, but with passions and interests far beyond technology. Before starting a new career path and family life in Munich almost four years ago, she completed her studies in Computer Science and concurrently studied Media and Journalism. Back in Ukraine, she wrote articles for different publishers and edited a small community newspaper, worked for an IT company, fully engaged in multiple social organisations and even spent one year in Belgium on a the long-term volunteering project. She also has a passion for travelling, discovering, learning and meeting new people. She has currently paused her busy energetic life in favor of caring for her son, who was born last year, but is eager to start being active again, managing to balance a family of three, going back to work, and helping other moms to effectively deal with technology.