Each New Year is filled with hopes of prosperity and happiness. It’s a time of celebration, as people usher out the old and welcome the new. In Russia, the New Year represents more than that—it is a time for family, friends, gifts, great food and even fireworks.

While the New Year is marked on January 1, the next two weeks are part of the celebration, too. Russia marks the Old Style New Year on January 14.

Ded Moroz (Father Frost) & his granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden)

Father Frost (Ded Moroz) and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), arrive during this holiday period—they are the equivalent of our Santa Clause and his elves, bringing gifts and merriment to Russian children.

A traditional New Year tree, called Novogodnaya Yolka.

A New Year Tree, called Novogodnaya Yolka, is topped with a bright star and adorned with various sweets and treats. Big family celebrations that include gifts, lavish and elaborate foods, champagne, caroling, fairytales and fireworks displays are also part of the Russian tradition.

In marking the New Year, Russia says goodbye to the “old year” with the country’s president counting down the final seconds. The Kremlin clock bell chimes during these last seconds, which people listen to on the radio, watch on tv or see in person by attending the celebration on Red Square in Moscow—this is similar to the American tradition of watching the ball drop in New York City’s Times Square. Silence during this time is customary, as is making a wish with each chime.

Traditional New Year celebration on Red Square in Moscow.

Russians traditionally listen to the New Year Speech given by the president, too.

The history of the Russian New Year is quite interesting…

Centuries ago it was celebrated in September. This was abolished by Czar Peter the Great in the 17th century and a decree was later passed to move New Year celebrations to January, following the Gregorian calendar. The New Year holiday surpassed Christmas in popularity in Russia after the mid-1920s, when atheist Soviet officials essentially banned “all things considered religious.” Although some continued celebrating Christmas in their own homes, and despite the ban being lifted years ago, the New Year became and remains today a hugely popular Russian holiday.