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New Year Celebrations

We did not celebrate Christmas in those days, it was not 'politically correct' to celebrate a religious holiday in a Communist country, so New Year was one of the biggest and merriest events of the year. The day at last arrived when our father told us that the cadets were going to the Taiga (forest) for some New Year trees and they would bring one for "their captain's children".

Our New Year Tree always reached right up to the ceiling, about three metres high, with hundreds of decorations. My brother and I had a game counting them. We would each count say the purple balls and write down our totals separately. Then we would compare the results, and if they disagreed, we would count them again together to find which one had been missed. The numbers were big, something like fifteen of the same decoration and the variety was really great, so we could spend nearly the whole evening counting them.

The celebrations usually started on the New Year's Eve and went on through the night until five or six in the morning. Children were allowed to stay up all night but we usually were off our feet exhausted and in bed by two or three o'clock in the morning.

The feast started at about 10 pm with toasts being made to all the good things that had happened in the passing year and the bad things should be left behind and forgotten. At midnight everybody stood up with glasses of (Russian) Champagne saying "Happy New Year" while the Kremlin Clock was striking midnight. More toasts followed, this time for the New Year, for the new hopes, plans and expectations. One tradition was to sing at the table, mostly old Russian songs.

We children usually had a separate little table with nice foods, sweets and lemonade. We played games and enjoyed ourselves, especially our freedom to stay up as long as we wished. It was well worth waiting for this magic night!

After midnight a big concert on television started with the people's most favourite actors, actresses and stand-up comedians. About 1am we would leave our homes and go outside into the snow where the main fun started! Children and grown-ups were playing in snow, sledging down the hills on their backs and bottoms with laughter. Grown-ups turned into children that night, rolling in snow, kissing, dancing. The traditional present for children was a big paper bag full of sweets.

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