I haven’t written an installment of “Things I Like About Russia” in a long time, mostly because I’ve been in Sweden since August and have spent a good deal of time enjoying the ways in which Sweden is not like Russia.

But it’s 9:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, and while I’ve got a glass of wine in hand and am about to get ready to go out and meet some friends and drink champagne on the town square, I have to say that I miss the Big Russian (New Year’s) Soul.

New Year in Russia is the uber-holiday. When the commies stole Christmas, they moved all of the Christmas traditions to New Year: the tree, the decorations, the old guy with the beard handing out presents, the chocolate, the overeating… In addition, New Year has all the elements of a western new year: staying up past midnight, getting really drunk, making and breaking resolutions, kissing strangers. Plus it’s got all these other elements thrown in: kids dress up in costumes, as rabbits or wolves or princes and princesses; and everyone watches one particular movie, “The Irony of Fate”.

In the U.S., I typically found New Year’s Eve anticlimactic. In high school and college there were way too many New Year’s Eves spent at home with my parents watching Dick Clark. In my 20s I had a lot of weird, random New Year’s Eves due to waiting til the last minute to figure out what to do. I’ve had a handful of memorable New Year’s Eves, I’ve done the obligatory (but only once in a lifetime, please!) Times Square, but mostly I associate New Year’s Eve with stress about not being cool enough to figure out the right place to go.

In Russia such pressure does not exist, at least not for most people. People naturally gravitate toward one another, make mountains of olivye salad, salami and salmon sandwiches and get drunk and cheerful. New Year’s Eve is the one time in Russia when strangers on the street talk to each other, wish each other happiness, and even smile. And if you’re in a big city like St. Petersburg, the fireworks start going off intermittently early in the day, building to a thunderous climax at midnight, and finally taper off at about 4 in the morning. If you’re concerned that your New Year’s Eve is going to be lame, you just have to walk outside.

I’m so stupid. Why did I stay in Sweden while Kostia headed off to Russia for New Year? Well, I’d better get dressed. Appropriately enough, the friends I’m meeting up with are from post-Soviet countries: Azerbaijan and Ukraine. And I’ve got a bottle of Sovetskoe Shampanskoe. Maybe New Year will be sufficiently festive after all.

And I can hear a constant crackling of fireworks out my window already… in safety-obsessed Sweden, they allow sales of fireworks to the general public. Slava bogu!

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