New Year’s Celebrations at School and Work

Posted on 22. Dec, 2014 by in Culture

We have talked about the traditional New Year’s celebration in Russian homes, with an abundant meal, elaborate toasts, watching TV, and the midnight countdown. However, New Year being the biggest holiday in Russia, it is also celebrated outside the home — at school and at work. Let us go over some celebrations Russian encounter throughout their lives.


The word утренник comes from утро, so this type of celebration traditionally takes place earlier in the day. It is a celebration typical for Russian детские сады (literally kindergartens, actually daycare centers for children aged 3-6). Children dress up (наряжаются) and prepare skits (сценки), songs (песни), or dances (танцы). Parents often are invited to watch the show. This type of celebration is not limited to the New Year and may take place at the beginning of the school year, for public holidays, etc. Many утренники end with a чаепитие (tea party) when children bring sweet dishes (сладости) to share and have tea at a long common table.


Ёлка is the short for ель – spruce or any Christmas tree. It also refers to the winter celebrations organized for children either by local community centers, their parents’ workplace, or as a paid entertainment event by theaters and other concert venues. Ёлки usually involve skits by Дед Мороз (Father Frost) and Снегурочка, group activities in a хоровод (moving, dancing, or playing a game in a circle), and, finally, gifts (подарки) for the children — paid for the by the parents, of course.


Many школы (middle and high schools) will host concerts stages by the students. Each class (класс) — as you remember, everyone in a класс takes all of their subjects at the same time — will put on its own show. These concerts tend to be mixed-genre, featuring singing, dancing, acting, poetry, and other performance arts. In my experience, they tend to be more “amateur” and DIY and less choreographed and big-production-like than their US counterparts. (People from other countries, chime in! What are school concerts like in your country?) Participation is often not competitive, and there are no auditions. Theoretically, everyone gets a chance to participate, although you may end up being the tree in the background.


Застолье (за столом – at the table) may describe any festive meal, usually with a lot of invitees, often potluck-style (вскладчину). People often have this type of celebration at work, and New Year’s is certainly one of the most important occasions. People bring food, often sweet, and alcohol, and celebrate the upcoming holidays during the last days before the winter break.


Корпоратив is a company party, often at a rented venue. These tend to have catering and entertainment, but the word корпоратив may have negative connotations in Russian. It evokes the image of a Western-style company that’s trying too hard, while its employees would rather be home than attend the obligatory festivities. Not everyone shares this impression, of course.

Have you been to any of these or any other celebrations in Russia? What’s your favorites? Does you country have anything similar?


How to Give a Gift to Russians

Posted on 16. Dec, 2014 by in Culture, Russian life, Traditions, when in Russia

With the holiday season upon us, many of us have already begun to purchase gifts for our family and friends. Exchanging gifts can certainly be exciting – provided you know the kinds of things the other person likes. Some of you may find yourself in the position of having to give a gift to a Russian person – maybe at an office party or some other social event; perhaps you are visiting the home of a family that emigrated from Russia for a celebration. Each culture is somewhat unique with regards to the kinds of gifts that are exchanged. Our subject for today will be a general outline of gift-giving etiquette for a Russian man or woman.

Should you be invited to a party at the home of a Russian family, you certainly will want to bring a gift for the host. Your host(s) will definitely be spending much time, energy, and money to prepare for the party and they ought to be rewarded with a token of your appreciation. Keep in mind that gender certainly makes a difference with regards to the kind of gifts that are considered appropriate – I suppose this is the case everywhere though.

If the host is a female, many gifts might be appropriate. You might wish to give her some type of fancy chocolate – not Hershey’s. Many Russian women are fond of quality chocolate. Depending on the woman, flowers may be a great option; the type would depend on the occasion and preference. It is important to remember that with flowers, bring an odd number; an even number is appropriate at funerals. Wine may also work depending upon your host’s preferences. Food dishes can be a good option – try to make sure that the dish chosen is acceptable to the host. Should your host be a man, a nice bottle of vodka, cognac, or perhaps whiskey will do the trick; beer could also be appropriate. Tequila is also becoming more popular with Russians. Of course, all ideas contained within this blog depend on the host’s preferences. Wine, chocolate, and flowers tend to be gender specific gifts and would not be proper to give to men.

It is also important that you get something small for the children if there are any.

Should you need to get a gift for a Russian man or woman at a work party or some other occasion, some of the aforementioned gifts will work well too. For women, fancy chocolate, wine, and maybe perfume will work. Perhaps you could give her a household item such as a candle or tea cups would be an option. Avoid jewelry, make-up, or anything noticeably cheap – this is true in most cultures I believe. For men, again you could give him a nice bottle of hard liquor, perhaps cufflinks, maybe even beer.

In my opinion, you’d never give a Russian person a Matryoshka – or stack doll. This may be like giving an American flag to an American – they’ve seen thousands and while they may appreciate them, they don’t necessarily want them as presents.

The best rule of thumb is to consider your relationship with the person and proceed accordingly. The better you know the person, the more information you’ll have regarding their personal tastes. Russian people, like most others, will appreciate any gifts that you give them; however, it should be our goal to help the recipient to not only appreciate the gift, but to really like it. Should you have any questions about gifts to give Russian people, I’d love to help.

Russian New Year’s Music

Posted on 15. Dec, 2014 by in Culture

image by Amanda Munoz on

image by Amanda Munoz on

The weeks before Christmas in countries where it is the main winter holiday — and you know in Russia it’s not — are marked by the incessant playing of holiday music. It may be endearing for some and set the mood for the upcoming holidays, while it may drive others like myself up the wall.

While Russia does not have an obligatory laundry list of winter songs that will be playing in every shop and public space — unless you’re in Starbucks, but that’s a whole different story — there is, indeed, Russian winter and New Year themed music you can add to your playlist. I will be highlighting winter-related vocabulary and giving translations after each song.

Три белых коня

This song comes from the 1982 New-Year-themed film Чародеи (Sorcerers).

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Остыли реки, и земля остыла*,
И чуть нахохлились дома.
Это в городе тепло и сыро, x2
А за городом зима, зима, зима.

Привет (Chorus):
И уносят меня, и уносят меня
В звенящую снежную** даль
Три белых коня, эх, три белых коня –
Декабрь, январь и февраль.

Зима раскрыла снежные объятья,
И до весны всё дремлет тут,
Только ёлки*** в треугольных платьях x2
Мне навстречу всё бегут, бегут, бегут.


Остыли реки, и земля остыла,
Но я мороза**** не боюсь,
Это в городе мне грустно было, x2
А за городом смеюсь, смеюсь, смеюсь.

* – cool down
** – snowy
*** – fir trees
**** – frost


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You may recognize the performer, Edward Khil (Эдуард Хиль), from the Internet sensation Trololo music video.

У леса на опушке жила Зима в избушке.
Она снежки солила в березовой кадушке,
Она сучила пряжу, она ткала холсты.
Ковала ледяные* да над реками мосты.

Потолок ледяной, дверь скрипучая,
За шершавой стеной тьма колючая.
Как пойдешь за порог – всюду иней**,
А из окон парок синий-синий.

Ходила на охоту, гранила серебро,
Сажала тонкий месяц в хрустальное ведро.
Деревьям шубы шила, торила санный*** путь,
А после в лес спешила, чтоб в избушке отдохнуть.

* – icy
** – frost (on the ground)
*** – сани – sled

Кабы не было зимы

This song appeared in the popular Russian cartoon Зима в Простоквашино (Winter in Prostokvashino).

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Кабы не было зимы
В городах и сёлах,
Никогда б не знали мы
Этих дней весёлых.
Не кружила б малышня
Возле снежной бабы*,
Не петляла бы лыжня**,
Кабы, кабы, кабы… x2

Кабы не было зимы,
В этом нет секрета –
От жары б увяли мы,
Надоело б лето.
Не пришла бы к нам метель***
На денек хотя бы.
И снегирь**** не сел на ель,
Кабы, кабы, кабы…

Кабы не было зимы,
А все время лето,
Мы б не знали кутерьмы
Новогодней этой.
Не спешил бы Дед Мороз
К нам через ухабы,
Лёд на речке не замёрз,*****
Кабы, кабы, кабы…

* – snow woman
** – ski trail
*** – blizzard
**** – bullfinch, associated with winter in Russia