As we approach the New Year, we have asked the heroes of this article to share their memories of celebrating this popular family holiday and to reflect on the role that it plays in their lives today.
“We used to always celebrate New Year together as a family. My parents had five children of whom I am the eldest. On this day, the children gave performances. Together with my sisters and brother Gena, we sang, danced and recited poems. Our home turned into a concert hall, and we all rejoiced. Then all the children sat down near the wood stove and listened to dad reading poems and mom singing beautiful songs.
Over time, our family grew, and I had my own children, who in their turn also had children. I even have a great-grandson, Nicholas. Eventually, the family became so large that two huge dining tables could barely accommodate it while celebrating the New Year. We were a close-knit family.
There was always so much love and beauty in our home! Later, I wrote a song in memory of my father and called it "Beauty". Dad always told me that when he is gone, I would be consoled by the amazing beauty of God's creation where everything around represents the beauty of His love.
Today, I feel that my job as a religious sister is to preserve the warmth and beauty that my family gave me and pass it on to others.”
“For me personally, celebrating the New Year lost its former joy after I started going to church and joined the Sisterhood. My New Year Joy was mostly brought by preparing gifts for family and friends and hiding them under the Christmas tree, while the celebration itself started giving me a feeling of emptiness inside. This day turned into an empty wrapper: the cover was still beautiful, but there was no miracle inside. Everyone is waiting for something to change for the better with the New Year, but life continues as usual.''
My soul was still waiting for something real, while the New Year frenzy was causing too much fuss during the Nativity fast, draining the energy that I always wanted so save for Christmas.
Even before I entered a convent, my soul was already eager to celebrate the New Year in church. I could not afford it, however, since my son wanted to be with his family, so I stayed at home to be together with everyone else. Joining the Convent, I acquired every right to spend New Year's Eve in worship. On the night of December 31, we have a prayer service in the church of the Reigning Icon, after which we serve a Divine Liturgy. This way, our year begins with prayer and Eucharist, which we celebrate as a large family of sisters, friends and parishioners. This is real beauty and real fullness.
In my family at home, I often felt like something was missing, and I was not happy on New Year's Eve. Now I feel complete.
On Christmas day, there were also presents always waiting under the tree for my family to return from the festive service. Once I even managed to fit a bicycle there for my son. I wanted him to see miracles and joy on that day. Now, it is my turn to be receiving Christmas gifts together with other sisters of the Convent. Our mother abbess leaves them on our beds for us.”
“When I was little, I loved the New Year very much. The whole family celebrated this holiday together. My mom once made me a bunny costume. I remember her sewing ears to the hat and stuffing them with cotton wool. It only happened once, but I still remember it.
New Year is the best holiday left from my Soviet childhood. It is impossible to describe how we waited for December 31st. Unfortunately, today we seem to have lost this feeling of a wonderful celebration. We buy more and more of those plastic trees, but they will never replace the natural ones from my childhood, with their smell of fir and self-made lights. My dad made them with his own hands, painting the bulbs with ink from writing pens. I remember these wonderful multi-colored outlandish lights and the tinsel electrified by the colour TV.
When I became older, I developed an interest in pyrotechnics. At that time, rockets and firecrackers were not yet sold in shops, and I made them myself. That was fun!
Last year we celebrated New Year in Montenegro, next to the sea. There are no live Christmas trees there, only artificial ones. Instead they decorate the palm trees in the city. I went to the mountains not far from our house and found a juniper bush. I hung it upside down on the chandelier and made a pretty nice “inverted Christmas tree”. Snow is also rare in that part of the world. That year it snowed only for one night. In the morning the snow began to melt quickly, falling off the olive trees in large flakes. I had to quickly take pictures of the children before it completely melted away. Those were rare photos.
I like the idea of celebrating New Year in a new way every time. This year, our family will celebrate at the night service in the church.
My eldest son is eighteen. The tradition of celebrating Christmas in our family is about the same age. While the New Year remains a magical holiday, Christmas, the birthday of our Lord, is filled with a deep sacred meaning. Christmas is a personal, heartfelt holiday. For my children it is becoming more important than the New Year…”
“I think that Orthodox people do not view the New Year as an important holiday. On this day, my older grandchildren Masha, 11 and Misha, 7 want to see me near them. They live with my eldest daughter and son-in-law near the city of Brest. Their house is filled with the smell of pine needles and the warmth of a fireplace. This makes the atmosphere there special, much different from a city apartment.
I always come to visit my daughter with bags full of presents. I always make sure to bring one for each family member. This time I will give the children Christmas pyjamas and sweets, and of course there will be gifts from the Convent workshops. The older children know that their grandmother works in a convent. They have visited me here during the Joy festival and now they understand everything. Granny is the only one who takes them to Communion.
My youngest granddaughter Euphrosyne is five, and I will see her at Christmas. Euphrosyne still believes in magic, so the gifts that I have prepared for her are also magical. I know that she enjoys listening to audio stories about Dunno. As a responsible grandmother, I wanted to buy her a toy Dunno, and was surprised to discover that we do not seem to produce any toys with this character. I have been able to find only a book with drawings and a mug with his image, Instead of Dunno, so I bought her a gnome instead. We consider gnomes to be friends of our family, and I have made up dozens of stories about them.
My older grandchildren will also come to visit me for Christmas. My birthday is January 8, but I do not celebrate it separately, focusing on Christmas instead. On January 8, we go to church and try to take Communion.
I always prepare for Chrisrmas very thoroughly. This year, I will make a wreath with my own hands, bake a Christmas cake, and decorate the table with a Christmas bouquet of fir branches with orange peels, cinnamon sticks, balls and bells. And, of course, I always tell my children and grandchildren about why we all gather together on this day. I ask the children to prepare for meeting the Savior by making gifts for Him with their own hands, or preparing a Christmas meal for the Lord. I would like this holiday to become as important for my grandchildren as it is for me, so that they understand the whole meaning and universal importance of this event, the Birth of our Saviour.”
“New Year is a kind family holiday for us. I remember it from childhood. The tradition of celebrating it comes from the Soviet era. We celebrate it every year with my elderly mother.
In disputes about whether or not we should celebrate this holiday, I always think of an example of faith given by Father Andrey Lemeshonok. He once shared a story of a schema-nun forced during the Soviet times to stay in a family. When that family watched TV, she sat quietly with everyone else and silently prayed.”
“In our large family, the New Year has always been a family holiday, when parents and all the children gather at the same table. At the same time, at Christmas we have always had a festive dinner at grandma's. Since the New Year was all about gifts and fun, somehow it has become associated with the most pleasant of memories. New Year's Eve was always magical.
When we began to attend church, my mother suggested that we should start receiving gifts for Christmas, and not for the New Year. There are seven children in our family, and together with older sisters, we said that we would like our younger siblings to have the same New Year's joy and magic as we used to have. In other words, we were able to defend our tradition. If we had been brought up from childhood in an atmosphere where the main winter holiday was Christmas, it would have been different, but this place had already been "occupied" by the New Year.
Now we have already grown up and left our parents' house. When possible, each of us tries to come visit them for the New Year, so my dad and mom are never alone on that night. When we celebrate the New Year in Minsk, my sister and I go to the Convent for the night Liturgy, and after that we get together with friends and celebrate. We try to celebrate with meagre dishes, but we have lots of fun communicating heart to heart.
When visiting our parents, we try to attend the evening church service in a neighbouring village, and then celebrate the New Year to the sound of the chimes at the family table. To me, this is a combination of the secular and the spiritual traditions. At the same time, it is a holiday that we love from childhood, and this cannot change.
The most remarkable thing about this holiday is the preparation. I remember when I was a child, I used to go with my dad to the woods to cut a Christmas tree. The fir trees there were covered with snow, and we had to go deep into the forest, shaking it off and choosing the right tree for the holiday. This became my favourite pastime and remained a bright and warm memory. Today I am still always ready to go to the forest with my dad and look for a Christmas tree. Now my parents have an artificial spruce, because they are trying to save the trees. We also try to preserve nature, so this year my sister Dasha and I rented a Christmas tree in a bucket. Our cats love to watch us decorating the tree and never knock it over.
Although we always knew that our parents were the ones putting gifts under the Christmas tree, they were so good at trying to convince us of the opposite that we half believed that Santa Claus himself could have been doing it. There was no way to tell for sure who it was. We always waited for the gifts, but then gave up and fell asleep. When we woke up in the morning, the first thing everyone did was to go see what was under the tree. We all have a sweet tooth, so our parents have always given us sweets besides the individual gifts, prepared for each of us.
Although we were brought up in a poor family, I do not remember not having something. I am grateful to God for everything and I am also grateful to our parents who always tried to fulfil all our expectations. We enjoyed receiving "useful" gifts, especially in adolescence. We were glad to have our own shampoo or some other goodies. We always had everything we dreamed about: toys, puppies, even a computer...
We also loved the "Samaritan" gifts that Father Nicholas brought us. Children make these gifts and place them in decorated shoe boxes. You never know what you are going to get. It was a kind of a lottery, but every time it turned out to be just what I needed. Father Nicholas is the Dean of the Bykhov District, Archpriest Nikolai Pavlovich. He serves in Bykhov and takes care of the village where our parents live. He and his wife Galina are our “guardian angels”. Thanks to them all of us in the family started going to church.”
“My parents left me in the hospital because of my diagnosis. I have cerebral palsy. I spent almost all my life in boarding homes. I spent the first seven years of my childhood in Borisov, where we celebrated the New Year during the daytime, since we were still small children. Then, for two years I stayed at a boarding home in Cherven. I remember receiving gifts in small bags. Then I spent ten years in the town of Ivenets. In that boarding home, the New Year was always celebrated on a large scale. Our sponsors gave us gifts, and we visited New Year's masquerade balls, the circus, and the governor's New Year parties. I was also in Logoisk for ten years. There, we celebrated modestly on our own. We watched TV, and our neighbours treated us to salads. I only spent 11 months at the boarding home in Minsk, and I did not get to celebrate the New Year there.
In 2007 and 2008, I spent New Year's Day in hospital No. 6 in Minsk. These holidays were the best for me! They were organised by good people, who were not indifferent and who did not forget about children. They put on performances for us and congratulated us in a beautiful way.
Recently I moved into my own place and started working in the Good Works studio at the Convent. Now I live with Alenka, whom I have known for many years, since studying in Ivenets. Alenka is my soulmate. I cannot imagine my life without her. She is my consolation, and she treats me with more love than any parent would. Last year, on New Year's Eve, we arranged a concert for ourselves. What about this year? Well, perhaps we can have some cake and drink tea. Alenka is very sick, she cannot be overworking herself.
On the eve of the New Year and Christmas, I would like to wish all people health, so that no one finds themselves in hospitals, and so that everyone can celebrate with their families. May the Lord keep you for many happy years!''
Recorded by Vadim Yanchuk
Photos by Ivan Gomza and from our heroes' personal archives.
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