My Life Without Christmas

We did not celebrate Christmas in the Soviet Union. It all started with the revolution. Vladimir Lenin eliminated Christmas. Under Stalin‘s regime the Christmas tree was outlawed. This was always difficult for me to imagine – December with no Christmas spirit and no tree. But understandably, Christmas had no place in the atheist society.

Later, Stalin lifted his ban on Christmas tree and declared the New Year’s a national holiday which eventually became one of the biggest holiday’s of the year.

In fact, the New Year was what Christmas has become in the Western world –  a time for family to gather together and celebrate, share gifts and food. The attributes of Christmas such as a lighted tree and gifts, were assigned to New Year’s Eve. So, essentially it was a sort of substitute Christmas stripped of all Christmas meaning.

I know for sure that a lot of people still celebrated Christmas even when Christmas was outlawed. Except that these celebrations were not public, in the open but underground, in the dark, not talking about it to anyone, constantly looking over their shoulders to make sure no one knew.

Of course we had Santa Clause. But our Santa Clause was called Grandfather Frost (somewhat a direct translation from Russian). He would come from Siberia and bring gifts to us on New Year’s Eve. Grandfather Frost also wore a long beard and a red hat. He always would be accompanied by a beautiful Snow Maiden who would help him to distribute gifts to children. Essentially, you could get one gift per child (not to go overboard and spoil a future humble and modest communist generation.)

Ironically, it was December in 1991 when the Soviet Union ended its existence. Gorbachev resigned on Christmas day and the Soviet Union was officially dissolved the next day. In Lithuania, because it is a Catholic country, we finally were able to celebrate Christmas in December. Russia (because it is a Russian Orthodox country that follows a Julian calendar) started to celebrate Christmas again in January.

I ended up having a few Christmas celebrations: Christmas in December with one part of my family and some of my Lithuanian friends, and later, in January, with another part of my family and Russian friends. I think I replenished all uncelebrated Christmases then.

New Year’s Eve was a national family holiday for many, many years. It was my favorite holiday. As a kid, and later as a grown-up, I always got excited about New Year’s. I love Christmas too. I think I like the spirit of Christmas in spite of its huge consumerism, high expectations, overspending and TV and radio commercials that drive me crazy. But somehow, even now, I always look forward to New Year’s Eve.

Old habits die hard, I guess.

36 thoughts on “My Life Without Christmas

  1. Jessica07

    Oh, wow. I can’t even imagine in which Christmas must be hidden. Whether one celebrates it or not, you’re right that the western world is simply engrossed by it. The day after Halloween, stores begin to sparkle with Christmas decorations (good luck finding Thanksgiving decorations). Thank you for sharing this history with us. I had no idea that Stalin had declared Christmas illegal. That’s truly interesting.

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      Stores start selling Valentine’s stuff, I think, pretty much one day after Christmas. LOL I figured a history lesson would be interesting. Not everyone realizes that Christmas is not celebrated everywhere.

      Reply
      1. Jessica07

        When I took World Civilization up to 1500 (no worries– I took Modern World Civ, too), I was astonished how many people didn’t realize this. Then again, Stalin making it illegal is a pretty big deal, and I wasn’t aware of THAT! I’m always amazed at how much we take for granted as being mainstream knowledge. Then, we turn around to look at that ignorance, only to find ourselves staring at a mirror.

        Reply
  2. retirebyforty

    Thank you for sharing a great interesting story. We didn’t know about Christmas until we moved to the US (I was in 7th grade.) In Thailand, we have a big New Year eve party just like you described. All the relatives get together and exchange gifts and shoot off fireworks, it was great fun. I’m really looking forward to Christmas this year and I’m even listening to Christmas songs on the radio.
    I’m a Buddhist, but still love the American Christmas holidays.

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      Christmas songs on the radio? They drive me nuts sometimes. LOL But there are certain songs that I really like. My very good friend is a Buddhist too, and she loves Christmas. I think Christmas gets into your blood here, in the US. You just end up loving it no matter what.

      Reply
      1. Beating Broke

        Despite the holiday being rooted in the Christian faith, it’s become so much more than that now. I always find it interesting to see all the non-Christian things that make their way into Christian things anyways. Humans take the best of whats around and meld it all together, which is likely what has made Christmas so very great!

        Reply
  3. Buck

    Interesting story and history lesson, too! My family isn’t too touchy, feely so we don’t gather around the tree like most familes. Bah humbug. ;( Maybe that’s why I like Halloween? I’ll try and get more into the spirit this year. Happy Holidays!

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      You don’t have to force yourself to get into the spirit of Christmas. It is either there or not. Last year, I did not feel Christmas-sie at all. We didn’t even have a tree. This year it is different. Christmas is all around me.

      Reply
  4. Suba @ Wealth Informatics

    Very interesting post! I wasn’t used to Christmas celebration until I came to the US either, but that was due to a very different reason. We were not Christians and until a few yrs ago, Christmas was not a very commercialized holiday in India. After coming here, something about the holidays make me love it everything seems a little cheery during the holidays.. may be its just me.. lol

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      I think that’s what gets me about Christmas – its cheery spirit, feeling of something exciting coming. Other than that I really like Thanksgiving. Sometimes even more than Christmas. Probably because it is less commercial.

      Reply
  5. LifeAndMyFinances

    I’m not much for history, but this post was so interesting! Just from that short post, I think I doubled my knowledge of the Soviet Union.

    It sounded like it was pretty tough and makes me appreciate the United States so much more!

    Thanks for the post!

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      It wasn’t actually tough. I didn’t know any better back then. We loved our holidays. In fact, I didn’t know about Christmas until early 1990s.

      Reply
  6. Lindy Mint

    I was just thinking this morning about other parts of the world that don’t celebrate Christmas. I find it so crazy thinking of “underground” Christmas parties. Shh, don’t tell the regime we’re meeting for dinner and exchanging gifts tonight.
    Thank you for sharing your story – we won’t blame you for soaking up as much Christmas as you want!

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      Hahaha… I used to soak up a lot of Christmas and a lot of spending. Just because it made me feel good and free… kind of. I guess I burned out by now.

      Reply
  7. Squirrelers

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the holiday. Many of us here in the U.S. don’t really take the time to look at certain things from a vantage point other than what our own. I recall reading such stories, and hearing whispers about such things in school, but you provided a first hand perspective that actually leads me to appreciate what I have grown up with a bit more, while appreciating an alternative view.

    Also, its nice to read that you can see through the commercialism that has dominated here. Personally, while I really do the holiday, its the family part of it that’s most meaningful.

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      After the Soviet Union ceased to exist, we started to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Halloween. It is funny because none of these holidays have anything to do with our culture.

      Reply
  8. Mark

    That’s wild. So, you celebrated a version of Christmas on New Year’s Eve. How does the U.S. compare to Lithuania in your opinion?

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      You mean Christmas in the US vs in Lithuania or in general? If in general – it is a very long story worth a series of articles (hmmm… that might be an idea!). As fas as Christmas goes – it is pretty much the same (gifts, celebrations, shopping, commercials, spending) with one exception. We used to have one week off! Not a day or two. A week! And we didn’t have to use our vacation time. It was awesome. LOL

      Reply
  9. Get Happy Life

    Hehe, I come from ex-Yugoslavia and I recognized the translation of Grandfather Frost However, where I have lived, there’s always been Christmas and New Year. However, New Year is always considered “more important” in a way, rather than Christmas. I believe that in the Western world, it’s the other way around.

    Great post anyway

    Reply
      1. Get Happy Life

        As a matter of fact, I wasn’t born back then (I was born 6 years after Tito’s death), but I asked my father and he says that they did celebrate Christmas, even though it wasn’t very favored holiday anyway in that mostly atheistic society.

        Reply
  10. Beating Broke

    I’ve always admired the older Soviet (Russian is probably the correct term now) Christmas art and decorations. It all seems so regal and beautiful. We’ve got good stuff here, but there’s such a difference between the cultures and that’s just one way to visually see that difference, and still see how similar we all are.

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      The most beautiful and unique Christmas decorations I ever had were those of my great-great-grandmother. She brought them from Moscow. Some of them dated as far back as 19th century. In the US, I guess, ornaments and Christmas decorations are mass produced.

      Reply
      1. Jackie

        Those sound like beautiful decorations. You’re right that a lot of ornaments and decorations are mass produced in the US, but there are many people who have handmade ornaments too (either handmade by their children, by themselves as children or adults, or by a craftsperson). Often these are mixed in with the mass produced ones, and with ornaments from other places.

        Reply
  11. Money Reasons

    Wow, I had no idea that the Christmas Tree was outlawed in the Soviet Union! I know the government wasn’t religious, but I didn’t realize to what level!

    Thanks, I really like to learn about different culture and practices in other countries both past and present.

    Reply
  12. Invest It Wisely

    I always find it sad and a little shocking at the efforts that the U.S.S.R and communist China went to stamp out culture and forge a “new society” — at the expense of the rich cultural history of the people. I also find it amazing that, in spite of decades of this, people still managed to hold on to many of their traditions, which came back out as communism loosened its fist.

    I think Christmas is a bit too consumerist here in the West, but it’s also a time to celebrate with family and friends, and that is also what I love about it.

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      I think no matter what regime you are under, what traditions and practices are being outlawed, people will always practice and cling to whatever traditions are important to them. It is a survival tool. You have to have hope, something to look forward.

      Reply
  13. Ken @Spruce Up Your Finances

    Thank you for sharing the story. Just like what the other commenters have said, Christmas here in the United States is not just for Christian faith anymore but has been observed by others as well. I have a co-worker who is Buddhist and yet she’s into the Christmas tradition of listening to Christmas carols and putting up Christmas trees, lights and decorations.

    Reply
  14. iamtheworkingpoor

    After a few decades working in retail, I’d be just fine if they outlawed christmas. Listening to the same songs all day and watching people fight over a stuffed animal will suck the holiday spirit out of you.

    Reply
  15. Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom

    A little surprised here that people would be surprised or not know that a communist, atheist country wouldn’t have Xmas celebrations. Here’s a wiki on Christmas around the world:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_worldwide

    Growing up German / Scandinavian Catholic, we do the present giving on Christmas Eve like the Germans do but don’t follow the “put the tree up on the 24th” tradition. Growing up, we’d also have lutefisk (poached cod) for Boxing Day to follow the Norwegian tradition.

    I like having our own family’s traditions too – that we don’t have to have turkey or ham, we can have a seafood feast if we choose. That’s what we’re having this year anyway.

    Reply
  16. Deidre

    What an awesome post! I especially love your perspective on things that people in North America take for granted.

    For a long time I did not celebrate Christmas due to many reasons, the commercialism being one of them. This year was the first time in 15+ years that I got a tree and decorated it. It was a good experience and it was nice having the tree smelling wonderful in the house. Next year, who knows

    Cheers!
    Deidre

    Reply
    1. Aloysa

      Christmas indeed is very commercialized. But consumerism and Christmas commercials do still manage to create a holiday atmosphere, don’t you think so?

      Reply
      1. Deidre

        LOL @ commericals. I have decided to live without cable, satellite or local TV so I missed all the Christmas commericals this year I do fondly remember some of my favorites from years past though!

        But yes, I agree that the atmosphere is there….all the decorations around town and all that. I moved into my new apartment this year days before Christmas and I did get a tree and put that up. Bought it on Christmas Eve and it smelled heavenly! I was sad to throw it out and if I had been able to get one with roots attached I would have planted it in a planter on the patio.

        Cheers!
        Deidre

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *