Новый Год (New Year) is celebrated in over fifteen countries. In English, the word Slavic is added to the beginning of the phrase to acknowledge the distinct traditions of countries in Eastern Europe. Each year, the Russian-speaking team brings Slavic New Year celebrations to the library. The team includes people from various countries, including Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine and more.
Slavic New Year occurs on December 31, marking the beginning of the year with promises of a better and happier life. Celebrations center around family dinners, with tables covered with signature dishes. On the table you might find a Slavic potato salad (olivier salad), caviar sandwiches, dressed herring (a dish with sliced pickles, eggs, and vegetables) and jellied meat.
Yelena Stone, a clerk at Gresham Library, shares that eating sweets was the highlight of this holiday for her. “In Belarus, we got a lot of New Year candy around that time. We looked through all the candies and chose the prettiest ones to hang on the New Year tree.”
The New Year tree is a decorated pine tree similar to the Christmas tree. It is put up in homes for the Slavic New Year celebration, and decorated with toys, plastic snowflakes, chocolate figures and garlands.
Just like Santa Claus is a symbol of Christmas in the United States, Father Frost (also with a white beard and red coat) and his granddaughter Snegurochka (a girl made of snow) are well-known in Slavic New Year celebrations as the gift givers of the season.
Although there are similarities in the way that Slavic New Year is observed throughout Eastern Europe, each country also has its festivities. In Russia, at midnight, people quickly write a wish, burn the piece of paper, let the ashes fall into their champagne glass and drink it, hoping their wish will come true.
In Armenia, Slavic New Year is a time to visit relatives and friends. Marina Nersesian, library assistant at Gresham Library, says, “We would stop by for at least a few minutes and bring candy and alcohol with us. With numerous relatives, we would visit them from dawn to dusk on January 1 until January 14. Every relative visited would then sit you at the holiday table and let you try various dishes. It was about showing respect to older relatives and neighbors.”
In the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine bordering Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, winter festivities begin on December 19 (Saint Nicholas's Day). Oleg Karpynets, temporary library administrator at Central Library, shares how the unique geographic location created distinct traditions.
“In my hometown in Ukraine, the tradition was for kids to clean their winter boots and place them on the windowsill in the evening of December 18, and the next morning, there were presents in them,” says Oleg. Another common tradition is to sing carols door to door.
This year, holiday celebrations in Eastern Europe differ from those in previous years. The ongoing war has affected access to heat, water and other essential human services. Presents and lavish dinners may not be commonplace everywhere this holiday season, but the Slavic New Year, or Новый Год, theme of hope for the future is something many hold dearly.
In Multnomah County, the library is a place where members of the Slavic community can unite to keep their cultural heritage alive through conversation and celebration. To learn more about Slavic New Year, check out the children's Russian-language collections at Holgate, Midland, Rockwood or Gresham libraries. Patrons can also browse the newly added Ukrainian collection available at Central Library.