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

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