Новогодние пожелания и урок географии / New Year’s Wishes and a Geography Lesson

people dancing outdoors in front of lights and tree

Audio content: Lots of New Year’s wishes and hopes.
Visual content: Images from the Far East to the westernmost regions of Russia of all varieties of public New Year’s celebrations.

New Year’s Eve (Новый год) is probably Russia’s most important and beloved holiday, the centerpiece of a long work- and school-break that extends until after the Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Most students of Russian know that this holiday features a fir tree (ёлка), Grandfather Frost (Дед Мороз) bringing gifts and families gathered around a well-laden table until the wee hours of the morning. And no Russian celebration would be complete without lots of warm wishes for all the good things in life! In the videos below you’ll hear many examples.

Today’s post offers what could be considered the “official” image of Russia’s New Year’s Eve festivities. Our source for the videos is Channel One (Первый канал), a widely watched federal channel that presents the Kremlin’s preferred spin on domestic and international events in a polished production style. People want to feel good about themselves and their country on the New Year and they want to mix a festive spirit with the warmth and familiarity of tradition. In Channel One’s news reports they see an idealized, wholesome, ethnically Slavic version of themselves and their holiday celebrations — with several “useful” official messages thrown in.

Geography features prominently in today’s videos. Russia’s vast size is a source of national pride and the nation’s huge extent is highlighted every year by the eleven different time zones that ring in the new year (see this useful infographic). Excitement builds as the nation watches the celebration march from the Kamchatka peninsula in the Far East to Kaliningrad. Be sure to find all the locations mentioned in today’s videos on a map.

Here are a few other themes you’ll see in the videos.

  • Demographic crisis: Russian’s birth rate fell sharply in the 1990s, and although it has since partially recovered to near replacement rate, the state is still intent on encouraging childbearing. It’s probably no accident that the videos include several people happily anticipating the birth of children.
  • Chiming bells (куранты) and fireworks (фейерверк, салют): Two key elements of civic celebrations. The most famous of these is the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower (Спасская башня). Its midnight chimes are featured in the president’s annual new year’s address to the nation.
  • Year of the Dog / Год собаки: Many Russians take note of the Chinese zodiac. Much of Russia of course lies in Asia, and fortune-telling of many kinds has deep roots in Slavic folk culture, so it’s no surprise that some Russians are happy to borrow the rich horoscope system of their Chinese neighbors.
  • Public decorations: Lavish public decorations seem to have become the standard for major holidays in Moscow lately. They draw on Russia’s abundance of creative talent. Not everyone is happy with the huge sums of money spent on these projects. Photos of impressive light-studded arches and hanging garlands can be seen here.
  • Nationality: Video two features some foreigners who are very excited to be visiting Russia, but the actual Russians presented in the videos appear to be of mostly Slavic ethnicity. About 20 percent of Russia’s population is made up of Turkic, Uralic, Caucasian and other non-Slavic groups.
  • Other elements of Russia’s winter holiday culture as seen in these videos are the ice skating rink (каток), the sauna (баня) and dips through a hole in the ice (проруб), sparklers (Бенгальские огни) and street theater.

Немного о языке

  • The verb “желать” means “to desire, to wish” and is most commonly used in the sense of wishing something for someone else, as in a birthday or holiday greeting. In this meaning its governance pattern is: желать кому (dat.) чего (gen.). That is, the thing (noun phrase) you are wishing goes in the genitive case. (This makes some sense because the genitive case is associated with absence, and if you are wishing something to someone the implication is that it is not yet immediately present.) This fact explains the numerous genitive case forms we see in the comments featured below. Even if the speaker does not explicitly say “желаю вам…” / “I wish you…” the verb “желать” is implied, so we see the genitive forms “здоровья” (nom. здоровье), мира (nom. мир), доброты (nom. доброта), любви (nom. любовь), счастья (nom. счастье), etc.
  • But what if you want to wish someone something more complicated that requires a whole clause with a verb? These sorts of wishes use the conjunction “чтобы” followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood (the subjunctive looks just like the past tense in Russian). You’ll see a construction like this at least twice below. Remember that the verb in this case is not in the past tense. E.g. “[Я хочу / я желаю,] чтобы каждый ощущал себя нужным” = “[I want / wish] that every person would feel wanted/needed.”
  • Holiday greetings are expressed with “с” + instr., as in the ubiquitous “С новым годом!” = “Happy New Year!” Remember that phrases like this are a truncated form of the full construction “Я вас [acc.] поздравляю с… (праздником, новым годом, днём рождения).” There is no natural-sounding literal translation of this construction into English, but the idea is something like “I greet/congratulate you on the occasion of (the holiday, the new year, your birthday).” It all sounds very normal in Russian, at least!
  • Although the usual verbs for “marking” or “celebrating” a holiday are “отмечать” or “праздновать,” the expression for celebrating the New Year is “встречать / встретить Новый год,” lit. “to meet the New Year.” Note how at the start of video one the anchor lets slip the more natural-sounding word “встретят” before correcting herself to follow the script with the word “отметят.” (News language often aims for expressive variation rather than colloquial style.)

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Video one has the most cohesive language practice and is fully transcribed, video two combines a visual tour across Russia with my transcriptions of several interesting comments that are scattered throughout the video and video three is included just for the visual and cultural interest.

(Scroll down for transcripts)


Video One: This report came out just as the New Year was passing through Russia’s Far East. Residents of Владивосток and Хабаровск share their wishes and hopes for the new year.


Video Two: This video is from New Year’s Day and shows images of the prior night’s celebration from across Russia. We start in Moscow with fireworks and revelers from many cities in Russia and even from abroad. A series of people tell us what their wishes are for the new year. After 2:00 we jump to the Far East (Хабаровск) and gradually begin marching back west. The next segment from the Siberian city of Благовещенск highlights international friendship: residents gather on the banks of the Amur River, which marks the border with China, to watch fireworks being sent up by their Chinese neighbors on the opposite bank. Then we see some sledding in the Central Siberian city of Красноярск, a sauna and dips through a hole in the ice in the Volga River city of Ульяновск, palm trees in the Black Sea resort town of Сочи, the illuminated Winter Palace (Зимний дворец) in Санкт-Петербург and some people dancing in Калининград, the Baltic Sea enclave that is not contiguous with the rest of Russia. In the closing sequence several people tell us what they hope for in 2018.


Video Three: In this video the correspondents magically pass new year’s symbols from Moscow to St. Petersburg to Kazan. In Moscow we see the large tubing track installed at the exhibition center ВДНХ followed by the city’s elaborate decorations, street theater, holiday treats and glass blowing. In St. Petersburg we experience an ice sculpture exhibit and a skating rink. And in Kazan we find Grandfather Frost’s headquarters complete with reindeer and a cozy house, plus more street theater, including a troupe from Paris with huge polar bear puppets.

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Russian Transcript

Video One

Ведущая: Итак, в Россию пришел Новый год. Только что на Камчатке и Чукотке куранты пробили 12 раз. Менее чем через час праздник встретят — отметят в Восточной Якутии и на Северных Курилах. Затем — в Приморье, Хабаровске, Магадане, Биробиджане. Сейчас на центральных площадях Дальнего Востока многолюдно. Торжества в самом разгаре. Небо то и дело раскрашивают фейерверки. Все вспоминают о том, что было в году уходящем, строят планы на будущий — все готово к его встрече.

Девушка: Собака верный, хороший друг. Значит, и год будет хороший.

Мужчина: Было бы здоровье, а деньги сами прилипнут.

Женщина: Чтобы каждый ощущал себя нужным, на своём месте.

Женщина: Здоровья всем, терпенья. Ааа… доброты побольше, любви.

Прыгающий мужчина: Благополучия всем! Мы вас любим! С новым годом, друзья!

Дети: С новым годом! Ура!

Ведущая: Дальше на очереди Сибирь, Урал, центральные регионы. Последними Новый год будут встречать жители Калининградской области. Всего в нашей большой стране 11 часовых поясов. Еще больше — 15 раз — праздник отметит экипаж МКС. Модули украшены, елка, естественно, наряжена, космический рацион сегодня будет особенным. Вдали от родины сейчас не только космонавты. Так, моряков Тихоокеанского флота наступление 2018-го застанет на боевом посту.


Video Two


Журналист: Улыбки и поцелуи. Эта ночь была наполнена волшебством, когда хочется, чтобы сбылись все мечты.

Женщина: Внуков хочу.

Мужчина: Я хочу квартиру купить.

Девушка: Мы хотим детей!

Девочка: Куколку!

Журналист: Большой карнавал на ВДНХ. Под залпы салюта праздник встретили на коньках.

Молодой человек: Мы первый раз в жизни встретили Новый год на катке. Для нас это чудо!

Девушка: Мне кажется, это чудо!

2:15: Женщина: Хабаровск передаёт привет Москве!!

2:50: Группа людей: С друзьями мы идём в проруб.

Женщина: Вода просто класс!

2:55: Девочка: Желаю нашим россиянам чтобы у них было побольше улыбок на лице!

3:10: Молодой человек: У нас чудо случилось месяц назад, когда мы познакомились.

Женщина: Мы переехали в Санкт-Петербург!

3:25: Мужчина: Вдохновения!

Женщина: Взаимопонимания.

Женщина: Мира!

Женщина в бане: Счастья!

Женщина: Деток побольше!

Женщина: Любви!

Мужчина: Добра.

Девочка: Здоровья.

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English Translation

(To assist language learners, I tend toward a more literal translation.)

Video One

Anchor: And so the New Year has arrived in Russia. Just now on the Kamchatka [peninsula] and in Chukotka the bells chimed 12 times. In less than an hour the holiday will be greeted — marked in East Yakutia and on the Northern Kuril Islands. After that – in the Primor’e [“Seaside”] region, Khabarovsk, Magadan, Birobidzhan. Right now on the central squares of the Far East it’s crowded. The celebrations are at their height. The sky is constantly decorated with fireworks. Everyone is recalling what was in the year that’s passing away and is constructing plans for the future [year] — everything is ready to welcome it.

Young woman: A dog is a loyal, good friend. It means that the year will also be good.

Man: If there would be health [i.e. “as long as you’ve got your health”], the money will come on its own.

Woman: [I hope / desire] that every [person] would feel needed, in his /her own place [i.e. in a place where he / she belongs].

Woman: [I wish] health to everyone, patience. Aaah… more kindness, love.

Jumping man: Prosperity to everyone! We love you! Happy New Year, friends!

Children: Happy New Year! Hooray!

Anchor: Next in line is Siberia, the Urals, the central regions. The last people to meet [i.e. celebrate] the New Year will be the residents of Kaliningrad region. In total in our large country there are eleven time zones. Even more often — 15 times — the crew of the International Space Station will mark the holiday. The modules are decorated, the fir tree, of course, is bedecked, the rations in space today will be special. Not only the astronauts are far from the motherland. The arrival of year 2018 will find the sailors of the Pacific fleet at their fighting posts.


Video Two


Journalist: Smiles and kisses. This night was filled with magic, when one feels a yearning for all wishes to be fulfilled.

Woman: I want grandchildren.

Man: I want to buy an apartment.

Young woman: We want children!

Girl: A doll!

Journalist: There’s a big carnival at the VDNKh [exhibition center]. Against the backdrop of the fireworks show people met [i.e. celebrated] the holiday on ice skates.

Young man: We met [i.e. celebrated] the New Year on the ice rink for the first time in our lives. For us it’s wonderful [lit., “a miracle”].

Young women: It seems like a miracle to me!

2:15: Woman: Khabarovsk sends greetings to Moscow!!

2:50: Group of people: With friends we go into the hole-in-the-ice.

Woman: The water is simply awesome!

2:55: Girl: I wish to our Russian citizens that they would have more smiles on [their] faces!

3:10: [People are telling what happened to them in 2017.]

Young man: A miracle happened with us a month ago when we met each other.

Woman: We moved to Saint Petersburg!

3:25: [A series of wishes–which may be wishes for themselves or may be wishes for the listener:]

Man: [I wish] inspiration!

Woman: [I wish] mutual understanding.

Woman: [I wish] peace!

Woman in the sauna: [I wish] happiness!

Woman: [I wish] more children!

Woman: [I wish] love!

Man: [I wish] kindness.

Girl: [I wish] health.

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