Fireworks On Sale at Osh Bazaar

Жаңы жылыңыздар менен! С Новым годом!
Happy New Year!

Жаңы жылыңыздар менен! С Новым годом! In Bishkek, Новый год (New Year’s) is not just a holiday but a season, culminating in a celebration that begins on the morning of December 31st and lasts a whole сутки (24 hours). It’s the perfect holiday, as far as I’m concerned. As a Jewish-American with a fanatical appreciation for snow, twinkling lights, and the smell of Christmas trees, I grew up feeling a little bittersweet about Christmas. Новый год brings together ёлки (holiday trees), food, presents, and decorations into a secular holiday I can rightfully celebrate. Plus, there are fireworks, champagne, and Russian fairy-tales involved, too!

Skating and Holiday Cheer at Bishkek Park Shopping Mall

Skating and Holiday Cheer at Bishkek Park Shopping Mall

It’s been Новогодний сезон (New Year’s season) in Bishkek for at least a month now. Bishkek’s bazaars have reached a fever pitch of holiday spirit. There are tables overflowing with holiday cakes, shiny garlands, candy, and boxes upon brightly-colored boxes of fireworks. Маркет Народный (National Market), the ubiquitous chain supermarket in the city, hung ornaments and put out holiday candy weeks ago, and their cashiers are wearing red caps that in this part of the world are шапки Деда Мороза (Grandfather Frost hats). Cafes and malls are decked out in lights and ornaments, and I was lucky enough to ride on the most festive маршрутка (scheduled taxi minivan) I’ve ever seen – it was wearing its very own Дед Мoроз costume.

I asked two friends to tell me about some of their Новый год traditions. Whether or not you’re lucky enough to be in Bishkek for Новый год, here are some ways to celebrate the holiday по-бишкекски (Bishkek-style).

Clean the house

“My family gets ready for the holiday by cleaning the house starting in the morning, in order to greet the New Year in a clean home,” says my friend Aishola.

Spend time with family and friends

Новый год is traditionally celebrated at home with relatives and friends. Galya’s favorite way to celebrate is “to meet the New Year with my closest friends, to hang out all night and then sleep until the afternoon.” Aishola says, “On Новый год, I’m usually with my cousins. We have snowball fights, go sledding, spend half the day outside in the snow and then watch New Year’s cartoons, have a New Year’s Eve disco, and sing songs.”

Shop, Cook, and Eat – and Eat and Eat

Good Business for Korean Salads on Новый Год

Good Business for Korean Salads on Новый Год

Bazaars and grocery stores were packed the morning of December 31st this year. Shoppers carried bursting bags of produce and prepared salads, while discussing the day’s chores and plans on their cell phones. The лепёшка stand where I buy a hot loaf of round, fluffy bread every morning sold out just as I arrived – the shopper before me bought the last six loaves.

“We have characteristic, richly-laid tables,” Galya says of her Новый год celebrations. After cleaning, Aishola’s family “puts various snacks out on the table – most importantly, of course, оливье.” Galya’s family’s signature dish is “a fruit salad dressed with honey and cinnamon. It’s a good alternative to the heavy snacks that sit in the fridge for days.”

Lots and lots of закуски (snacks) are one popular way to cover the table with food on the holiday. Оливье, винегрет, and селедка под шубой, three Russian holiday salads, are on the table in most Bishkek homes on Новый год.

Have drinks on hand for toasts

Champagne is part of almost every Новый год celebration. I also recommend introducing some глинтвейн (mulled wine) into your holiday. This drink is easy to find in cafes and restaurants around Bishkek, but it’s even better homemade.

“The most epic drinking happens on Новый год,” according to Galya. Whomever you celebrate with, make sure to go around your table at least once, with each person toasting the group and the New Year in turn.

Listen to presidential speeches

This is a common answer when I ask people about Новый год traditions here. Aishola explains: after eating, “the whole family gathers around the table and watches our president’s traditional address, and then we wait until 3 a.m. to see the traditional address by the president of Russia.”

Set off fireworks!

Pre-New Year's Fireworks

Новый Год Fireworks

Fireworks have been bursting in Bishkek’s courtyards in the late evenings for weeks now. But the night of Новый год is one enormous fireworks display. Galya describes it wonderfully: “Like lots of people, we like to set off fireworks and rockets. Around 12 o’clock, the city turns into a bubbling pot, boiling over with flashes and explosions.”

Make a night of it

After listening to President Putin’s speech at 3 a.m., “the dancing and fun begin,” according to Aishola. Bishkek’s residents take their revelry seriously: “They say that January 1st doesn’t exist, and it’s true,” says Galya. “If you go out on the street on January 1st, you’ll see practically no one. The Новый год celebration is like a zombie invasion here. In the beginning, everyone wants to gorge and drink, so they buy up all the stores and bazaars. Then we have to stuff ourselves with it all in two days, until we practically die from overeating! We ‘come back from the dead’ sometime around the 3rd.”

Do it all over again

Galya points out that Новый год happens more than once a year in Bishkek. Not only is midnight celebrated twice – first by Bishkek time, and then by Moscow time – but Старый Новый год, or Old New Year (which was created by Russia’s belated shift from the Julian to the more modern Gregorian calendar – read more about that here) is celebrated as well. Galya likes that this second Новый год, the night of January 13th, allows her to “celebrate with the people who couldn’t be with us on December 31st.”

So practice your recipes, fireworks displays, singing, and dancing on the 31st, and you’ll have it down perfectly in two weeks when you get to do it all again!

Sophia Rehm

Sophia Rehm

Sophia Rehm graduated from the University of Chicago in 2012 with a BA in Russian Language and Literature. She studied Russian in St. Petersburg in 2010 and is currently in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan as SRAS’s Home and Abroad: Translate Scholar. She hopes to pursue graduate studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures, as well as literary translation.

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