Earlier this month, The Moscow Times tweeted out this mysterious meme to its 53,000 followers:
Confused by this uncharacteristic display of attitude, we decided to investigate. And it turns out that the image is quite right. Russia’s big, festive trees aren’t Christmas trees at all.
The New Year tree tradition in Russia and several other eastern European countries came about for a couple of reasons. First, Christmas and other religious holidays were banned for much of the Soviet era, while 31 December was celebrated as a secular holiday instead. New Year is still Russia’s biggest holiday: the Russian version of Santa, known as “Ded Moroz” (which translates as “Old Man Frost”) visits on New Year’s Eve rather than Christmas Day. Unlike the reclusive Western Santa, Ded Moroz usually hangs out at New Year’s parties, handing out gifts.
Second, the country still celebrates Christmas on 7 January: a throwback to the Julian calendar, still adhered to by the Eastern Orthodox church. So trees set up in December have more relevance to New Year than they do to Christmas, as it falls a week earlier. New Year trees are also common in Turkey, where 95 per cent of the population are Muslim and so don’t celebrate Christmas.
In other words, in cities across the world this month, you’ll find all sorts of festively decorated trees that have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. To save you from any future embarassment (and the derision of the Moscow Times) we’ve put together a handy quiz so you can learn to tell the difference.
So, which are Christmas trees and which are New Year trees? You’ll find the answers at the bottom.
Image: Abraham PV via Flickr.
Image: Ali Subway at Wikimedia Commons
Answers (highlight to view): 1. New Year Tree, Moscow. 2. Christmas Tree, Mexico City. 3. New Year Tree, Tbilisi. 4. New Year Tree, Istanbul.
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