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.