Artem Sedov 2018-01-01
The Tower of Babel in Moscow under the Fireworks

New Year’s Day is a family holiday for Russians. Dinner starts in a close family circle on December 31 and lasts during the night. Traditional meals are on the table. The Russian national anthem begins at midnight and people congratulate each other and exchange presents.

Moscow is a unique city where many cultures collide. International students are coming from all over the world to study in the city and some of them are celebrating their national holidays surrounded by local culture. Is it the right time to redesign the Tower of Babel?

Daniel Lengyel 

«Christmas in Austria, like all the traditions and celebration in my country, differs a lot by region. Some traditions are common in all of Austria, like the Barbara branches and the Advent wreath. Barbara branches are branches from fruit trees, like cherry trees that are placed in a vase on December 4th, so that by Christmas Eve, on the 24th, they blossom. The blooming flowers symbolize the birth of Christ and it means the luck for the New Year. The Advent wreath is made of evergreen, and it holds four candles, one for every Sunday in December before Christmas. You light a new candle on each Sunday and on Christmas all four candles are lit. We celebrate on the eve of the 24th, and celebrations continue till the 25th and sometimes even till the 26th. The presents are brought by the Christkind (Christ the child). Families usually have a traditional menu that they prepare – often with certain dishes for specific days, like a grilled fish or a roasted festive meat. Or like a turkey or a goose with cooked or grilled sausages and lots of Sauerkraut» 

«For the New Year I would like to wish everybody personal happiness and success, as well as for the world itself to be more peaceful and open»

Martin Bogdanow 

«For Christmas I travel 200km to my hometown and the place where my mother lives. A typical Christmas day (24th of December) starts as usual with breakfast. Sometimes pretty late, because it's the time of the year when all my friends from school are back in town and I try to hang out with them as much as possible. Then my brother and I start to prepare the dining room. We change positions of the furniture, bring chairs, fire the chimney. My mother is usually preparing the food and sometimes she needs my help as well. I wrap all the presents that I got for my family, and then we all get well-dressed. At 4 or 5 p.m. my grandparents come and we go to the table. We don't go to church and we have no traditional food. We eat and talk for a pretty long time – I would say it's typical for Russians too – with salads, soups, some alcohol and grandmother’s sweets, with tea afterwards. After dining we start unwrapping the presents, one after the other. After that we sit down and try out all the new stuff, sometimes playing games or just continuing talking.

Later in the evening, when my grandparents leave, my brother and I go to local bar (always the same place) where we meet all our former schoolmates. Everyone we grew up with are there and everyone shares their stories of the passing year with each other. We mostly stay there up to the early morning hours. And on the 25th we go dining at my grandparents’ home. It's, once again, with some really nice food (my grandmother usually cooks this time). And during that we also make some Skype calls to my relatives here in Russia.

On the New Year’s Eve I always meet my friends. It's a typical party that is not really special, but it certainly feels special. The last years we went to the Wilhelm-Kaisen-Bridge in Bremen for the firework at 00:00 because there it’s just amazing. When I used to live at my hometown, I mostly watched the fireworks in Norddeich, on the dike at the North Sea cost»

Bianca Pataki

«Usually, 24th of December is spent by cooking and setting the Christmas tree. We start to prepare the food in advance, on 23th, because we eat and drink a lot during these three days. We decorate the Christmas tree, and usually we put a lot of candies on it (Szaloncukor – special Hungarian ones). In Hungary we have a different day for Santa Claus, it's December 6th, and when the Christmas comes, Little Jesus brings the gifts for us. It happens on the Holy Night. We sit around the Christmas tree and exchange gifts between each other. Our family has a tradition – either it’s my aunt and her family who come to our house during this night, or we go to their house ourselves.

We spend the next two days together either in our house or their house, and have some huge Christmas lunches. Typically it consists of schnitzel, rice, mashed potatoes and salads – huge variety. So, basically it’s a huge family gathering. New Year’s Eve is spent with lots of parties, but sometimes we just stay at home and celebrate in a calm, peaceful manner. We stay up to late, count back and shout BUÉK to each other (which is short from «Boldog Új Évet Kívánok»). It means «I wish you a happy New Year». At the midnight we eat toasts with champagne and watch the fireworks on TV and listen to the National Anthem. After that, of course, dinning comes with sausages and, typically, aspic – It's like a jelly soup with chicken. Alternatively, we can go to the main square and watch concerts there. It all has very nice and happy feeling»

«If we look around in our world, we see many tragedies – for example the Paris one. So I wish all the best for the entire world. Peace and harmony. I wish success and recovery for everyone who needs it. After 2015, I have my fate in a wonderful, amazing and happy 2016! Happy New Year!»

Elsa Mikaélian 

«In France, we celebrate both the New Year and the Christmas, but the way we celebrate Christmas is very similar to the way Russian people celebrate New Year. We usually gather all the family and prepare a nice meal. Yet, there is no special dish that we prepare. In my family, it varies every year. Usually, we have an "apéro" before the meal, where we drink some champagne and eat canapés. After the meal, there are two options: either we wait for midnight and open the presents under the tree, or we go sleep and open them next morning, very early. When I was little, we would open presents in the morning (this is how it should be done, according to tradition), but for a few years now, we have opened them straight after midnight.

There is no special rule saying how we should celebrate the New Year. For young people, the Christmas should be celebrated with family and NY – with friends, but I have always celebrated NY with my family. We also gather our close ones, prepare a nice meal, make a list of our New Year wishes and resolutions, and eat altogether. The lunch of January 1st should certainly include some good food to meet the New Year properly»

Personally, I found all these stories familiar to certain extent – people always have a lot of similarities in celebrating major events in their lives, after all. And even the culturally different «East» confirms this thesis with a bunch of the following interesting and heartwarming Christmas and New Year descriptions.

«I wish everybody to make happy memories that they will remember forever»

David Damtar

«The Christmas season in Ghana has of late assumed a few changes in traditions, while the most significant aspects, including merry making, long holidays and parties, visiting friends, reunions with families and friends, and Christian conventions, are still intact.

There is a little difference between how the Christmas season is celebrated in the relatively smaller towns and villages as compared to the main cities like Accra, Kumasi, Cape-Coast, Tamale, Koforidua, Sunyani and others. In the smaller towns, things haven’t changed much with the usual communal merry making, sharing meals, visiting a lot of friends and sharing gifts with everybody. Yet in the major cities, things are growing quite different due to the assumption of big pool parties, Christmas conventions and festivals that result in heavy traffic jams, busy streets and markets which are making visits to friends and relatives sometimes quite difficult. Despite this, people still take time for their friends and beloved ones, and enjoy the festive season, sometimes earlier or later.

The Christmas ‘fever’ starts usually in late November or early December and peaks from 24th to 26th of December. On 24th, people decorate their houses or streets to welcome the festive occasion and you could see the usual drink up parties all over the place. Other people also take time for their religious commitments through church activities as prayer meetings and Conventions. 25th of December is the climax of these festive season, since that is when Ghanaians celebrate the Christmas, unlike what is seen here in Russia. 26th of December is usually called as «the Boxing Day», and it become the most enjoying period whereby food and gift sharing becomes much more interesting. During this time, one has to, as a matter of love and principle, dine with the other during a casual visit. Often, broken relationships are restored in this time. 31st of December is another moment worth mentioning. Everybody keeps vigil either at home, at Church or in a party to welcome the coming New Year. So, until midnight people hardly go to bed. The vigil is filled with music and dance, shouts of joy and praise to God for seeing us through the year. Sometimes, people celebrate such moments with mixed feelings, in case if they had lost their loved ones or relatives during the ‘journey of the year’. The following morning witnesses the usual greetings: ‘Afihyia Pa’ /афишиа па/ (in the Akan language) literally meaning «Happy New Year!»

«The world is a single system with diverse parts. It has people with different cultural outlook and views. However, peace and unity is what can make this system run smoothly, and we can make something great out of this season toward that goal. As the name implies, ‘Christmas’ is nothing more than understanding the purpose of Christ in this world – to offer us eternal life and the peace that cannot be gotten from anywhere but from him, ‘the Prince of Peace’. I therefore wish all humanity to turn to this Prince, and from him we would have peace to live in this world. In his teachings and his deeds lies love for one another, care, compassion and sacrifice. If we would follow him and his ways, I believe that the Peace, which comes from the God through him, would guard us and our world to make it a better place to live. In short, as Christ taught, I reiterate for us all in a celebration that commemorates him. ‘Love God with your all and love your neighbor as yourself’ and that would be your effort to make this world a little better in the coming year. I wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year»

Indeed, happy Christmas and New Year to everyone! As simple as that – and there is just no better way to end this story.

Samrat Sil

«For the Christmas celebrations in Kolkata we visit the St. Paul’s Cathedral for the midnight mass. People wear Santa hats and gather in huge number. Eating in restaurants feels mandatory during this time. Park Street – a popular street in the city – is all decorated. Fruit cakes are a must for celebration, and every family buys and cuts one together. Most of families go out for picnics and visits zoos too. The whole thing goes on from 25th of December till 1st of January. And then, you have parties, and celebrations, and fireworks. More or less this is basically «the winter» here, with carol’s cakes and candles»

«For the New Year, I would like to wish that the war in Syria will end as soon as possible. Hundred of innocent children are dying… People wake up to the sound of bombs each morning. And these kids, who will survive, now are uder risk of growing up into the monsters and unleashing their wrath on the world, as for them it was the world itself that destroyed their childhood and homes… So, love and peace should always overcome the hatred – and I wish the world exactly that»

Xiaoyu Huang 

«Generally, for the Christmas in China, only the young people celebrate it – under age of 30. It's often a good reason or even excuse for them to go shopping and purchase more stuff. Some people might have a dinner somewhere with their lovers. And as for the New Year, we call it the «Spring Festival». Most of the family members would gather, usually in the elderly member’s home, the grandparents' place, and have a meal together. Kids would receive pocket money from the relatives, light some firecrackers (sometimes causing some serious air pollution!). After the New Year people are starting visiting each other and wishing everybody happy New Year»

We can see that celebrations are much more similar than they are different. Hey, there are Santa hats in India! The world is a place filled with different kinds of people, no doubts on that. But even this doesn’t change the fact that we all have much more in common than it seems at the first glimpse. There is no «their Christmas» or «their New Year», it is always «ours» – our celebration, our Eve, and our hope for the things to come – and that’s the most important thing for all of us to understand.

And what do we usually do during such celebrations? We wish something to each other. So, let’s take a look at the wishes of our today’s storytellers for the coming year and to the entire world. And hope that all of them will come true as soon as possible.»

«I hope the economy is going to get better, since I didn't make any money this year…»