How To Celebrate The New Year In Russia As A Local

I started my new year with a beautiful display of grace and generosity.  Not mine.  I was a recipient.

A local teacher from school, who lives on the other side of the lake behind where my flat is located, invited all six of us foreign teachers to her place to ring in the new year.

You have to understand why this is a big deal.

First of all, the New Year celebrations here are much like Thanksgiving is to Americans and Christmas is to Jamaicans.  That is to say, it’s a family holiday.

Families get together to have dinner, exchange gifts and ring in the new year together.  She didn’t need to invite us into her family celebration.

Additionally, although she’s a very warm, friendly and inviting person, I would say that most of us are acquaintances to her, not friends.

But, knowing that we’re far away from our loved ones, she didn’t want any of us to be alone or lonely over this holiday.  Five of us accepted her invitation.

Grace: favour or goodwill; kindness, love.

Our host is a single mother of two.  Another local teacher from school, who happens to be our host’s best friend, would act as co-host.

She’s a single mother of one.  So our gathering would consist of seven adults and three children ringing in the new year together.

Our host asked that the five of us bring something to add to the food offerings, so the day before, I roused myself from my flat and popped out to the supermarket and the liquor store to get some snacks and a bottle of Georgian (the country, not the state) wine to bring with me.

She asked us to be at her place for 8 pm.  I arrived a few minutes late because I was picking up a bottle of fizzy water for her in a nearby shop.

When I got to her flat, only one of the other foreign teachers was already there.  By this time it was after 8 pm and the other three should have been there but hadn’t arrived yet.

She and her co-host had prepared a large, delicious-looking dinner and all was ready to go.  She had spared no expense in ensuring that we would have a lovely meal.

Generosity: readiness or liberality in giving; freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.

We started messaging and calling them but none of them responded to the messages or answered their telephones.

Unfortunately, even though they had accepted her invitation, they apparently decided to just not show up.

As I write this days later , I still can’t believe the galling discourtesy of their behaviour.

Our host had spent money, time and effort preparing to help them have a beautiful New Year’s experience and they basically spat in her face.

I wish I had even half of her grace and generosity of spirit.  I admit that I was low-level angry and offended on her behalf.

Meanwhile, she was hurt but still wondering if something had happened to them or if she had done something to offend them in some way.

We briefly discussed it then put it aside so that their unfortunate behaviour wouldn’t taint our night.  Honestly, in my opinion, barring death or a catastrophic illness, there’s no excuse for that kind of thing.

They could have easily said that they had found something better to do or didn’t want to spend their new year with people from work so she could have scaled back her efforts on their behalf.

I mean, she’s a single mother with two children.  Time and money are precious commodities!

Whatever.  We put them from our minds and plunged into our night.  We opened the bottle of Georgian wine, filled our plates with the delicious food that our hosts had prepared, and had conversations that helped us to know each other better than we already did (which, for me, was quite a bit since I work with them both everyday and have had personal conversations with them).

They told us about their high school days in Oxford and how they’ve been fast friends through all of life’s ups and downs since then.

We also played with the children for a while, entertaining them when they got tired of their own company.

From as early as 6 pm, people had been setting off random fireworks around the city, so occasionally, whenever someone set some off on the frozen lake just below our host’s kitchen window, we would gather around and “Oooohhh!” and “Ahhhhh!”

The fireworks were illegal but really pretty.

As it got closer to midnight, our hosts had a few family calls, wishing their loved ones a Happy New Year.

Just before midnight, we filled our glasses with champagne and the second it struck midnight, we toasted, kissed and hugged each other and I felt truly happy to be where I was in that moment.

I didn’t feel like there was some place else I should have been, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything elsewhere.  That’s the mark of a good New Year’s celebration.

I was at a loss a couple of minutes later when our host and her friend presented the two of us with New Year’s gifts – delicate pins made of Yakutian silver.

Mine is beautiful and I wore it all through the holidays.

The fireworks also really started at midnight, all across the city.  We had a perfect vantage point from the kitchen window.  It continued unabated for a solid thirty minutes.

All across the city, we could see fireworks going off, including on the lake just below us.  They were all beautiful.  They gradually petered out but many continued for the full first hour of the new year.

Once the fireworks at our lake ended, we went back to distracting the children while our host put Russian Santa’s gifts to them under the Christmas tree.  Russian Santa is called Father Frost, or Dyed Moroz (pronounced “D-yed Mah-roz”).

After a while, one of the kids wandered out to the living room and saw that there were new gifts under the tree.

He immediately started shouting that Dyed Moroz had come.  The other two children raced off and I finally, finally got what the big deal is about Santa.

The joy that was exploding out of the children was beautiful to see.  They jumped around and shouted and clapped before they even picked up the first present to open it.

We hung out for another couple of hours before we decided to call it a night.

We left her place just before 3 am on January 1st and I walked home across the frozen lake with joy in my heart and a prayer of thanksgiving on my lips.

What better way was there for me to end 2017 (my third consecutive life changing year) and begin 2018 (my fourth consecutive life changing year, I’m sure) than with these two women’s demonstration of love in action?

By 3:05 am I was wrapped up in bed watching a Hallmark Christmas movie.  It was a perfect ending to a the best New Year’s I’ve had in more than a decade.


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