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December 13#: Red Square – Moscow and Russian New Year Yolka

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From its Puritan roots to complaints of rampant commercialism, Christmas around the world is been filled with traditions, old and new. Some date back to 16th-century Germany or even ancient Greek times, while others have caught on only in modern times.

And, among them, Christmas trees are one of the most popular, now all over the world.
Their tradition is long and rich, and has resulted in some modern trees that run the gamut from breathtakingly beautiful, encapsulating everything that Christmas stands for, to something simply weird.
Thus, If you need a little help to get into the holiday spirit this year, get yourself a winter drink with some holiday treats and a tour of the world’s best or most unusual Christmas trees. These towering pines (or sand or bottle piles, in some cases) are decked to the nines and shine brightly for holiday season, from Florida, Brazil, Mexico all the way to Lithuania.

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Moscow, Russia’s capital city, is the most populous city in the country.
With lighted arches, designer Christmas trees and giant Christmas balls, it has a long-standing tradition of decorating city streets for the New Year and Christmas.
Over 300 Christmas trees and more than 4,000 light fixtures and decorations will be installed across the city by Dec. 16, giving Muscovites plenty of time to take in the atmosphere before New Year’s.
For example, the pedestrian zone on Lubyanskaya Square is traditionally adorned with a total of 200 garlands with a 30-metre tall New Year tree in the middle while, a similar illuminated structure can be found on Manezhnaya Square, where people can see a whole pine forest inhabited by magical creatures.
And, as part of a tradition, in the city centre, on Red Square, there’s a skating rink decorated with garlands and an amazing Christmas tree.

In Russia, the classic fir known to the world as the Christmas tree goes by another name: the New Year yolka. The history behind this tradition encompasses pagan rituals, tsars and tsarinas and Soviet anti-religious propaganda.
The pre-Soviet history of the yolka/Christmas tree is shared with much of Europe, and begins with a pagan tradition, possibly a “tree of life,” which came to be adorned with ribbon and candles in the dead of winter.
When Peter the Great announced that the New Year would be celebrated on 1 January in accordance with the Julian calendar, he also pronounced that the streets of the country should be decorated with fir, pine, and juniper branches, as they are the hardy evergreens that populate the forests. The tradition matured and was modified in innumerable ways until ornamented trees regularly stood in front of the village parish.
In the 19th century, Tsar Nicholas I’s Prussian wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, brought a pine tree into their home at Christmas and several gifts were given to both royal and poor children.
Alexandra imported many traditions from her native Darmstadt, including the tree, which marked the beginning of Christmas celebrations in the home.
By the late 1800s, lavishly decorated yolki were central to the holiday celebrations and gift-giving to children became commonplace but, above all, no longer would the trees grace only the halls of the wealthy, as they would be made public and be adored by all Soviet children, topped with a familiar red star.
Since then, the Russian fairytale character Ded Moroz (or Grandfather Frost), has delivered the gifts with the help of his beautiful granddaughter, Snegurochka, together with a trio of horses pulls their sleigh to visit children across Russia and deliver the gifts.
A little taller, cutting a finer figure, and less corpulent than his Western counterpart, Ded Moroz is a delightfully religiously ambiguous character with his roots in Slavic mythology, who lives neither in the North Pole nor any other mythical location, but in a town that actually exists: Veliky Ustyug in the northwestern Vologda region.

For much of 20th century, however, Christmas disappeared from the public sphere, as state-sanctioned atheism was enforced.
Moreover, Christmas trees were criticised as a bourgeois tradition imported from Germany, Russia’s enemy during the First World War, and Ded Moroz was exposed as a collaborator with the church and the rich peasants.
Bolshevik policy aimed not only to dismantle the state church but also to convince the people of their total folly in celebrating religious holidays.
Newspapers exclaimed that Christmas was based on a pagan mid-winter celebration and that the birth of Jesus had simply been confused with peasants’ sun worship and, now that the people were educated in the scientific laws of nature, it would be foolish to go on celebrating old false legends. Moreover, they argued, if the Virgin Mary had really lived, surely someone would have unearthed her bones by now.
As a result, without religious holidays, New Year’s Eve became the chief celebration of the year.
The yolka, which had been consigned to history just a few years earlier, made a comeback in 1935 when high-ranking officials convinced Joseph Stalin that the tree could be utilised as a symbol of Soviet children’s happiness and prosperity. And, once again, no longer would the trees grace only the halls of the wealthy, but they would be made public and be adored by all Soviet children, topped with a familiar red star.
Since then, the New Year yolka, has been a symbol of hope for the coming year and public celebration, a cornerstone of community revelry that ignore religious differences and cultural divides.

In the 1990s, even after religious holidays had been officially re-established, Veliky Ustyug began marketing itself as the home of Ded Moroz, whose Slavic roots were now being promoted by the government to push back against the encroachment of the western Santa Claus.
In 1998, the mayor made it official and even set up a postal address where children can send their New Year’s requests.
Traditionally, on the 26 December, the Kremlin will unveil this year’s New Year tree.
Despite Russian business may, of course, fall for the charms of western Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations these days look increasingly similar, the yolka remains a distinctly Soviet tradition.

Images from web – Google Research

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