Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Things I don't do anymore: Celebrating New Year with pomp and circumstance

The earlier posts in this series are: kite-flying, skiing, skating, fishing, archery and mushrooming.

Remember: I grew up in the communist Soviet Union where Christmas was forbidden, and those who celebrated it, like my family, could only do it secretly. All celebration was therefore shifted onto New Year: tree, presents, gastronomic excesses, street decorations, hangovers. Preparations would go on for weeks: hunting for delicacies, arranging who would bring what, who would make the salads, who would slice the sturgeon, who would cook the duck, who would come earlier and help set the table. When all food was ready on the New Year Eve, we would take our beauty nap before dressing up in the very best. A good omen was to wear something new, if only a pair of underwear.

Guests would arrive around ten. There was no tradition of preprandials, and there was typically no space for mingling so people would fill the table as they arrived, and then the meal began. Before midnight, we would say farewell to the old year with cold dishes: herring, smoked salmon, sturgeon, caviar, cold meats, jellies, pickles, salads, pies. People would share what the year had been like. We would put wishes inside pies, copycating fortune cookies, and these would be read outloud, for everyone's amusement.

By midnight, the first round of plates would be cleared away, and, depending on the tradition, either mulled wine or champagne poured out. A good omen was to hold a nut in your fist during the chimes. Then everybody would hug and wish each other a happy new year.

Duck or turkey would be served for the main dish, stuffed with apples. Then came the time for presents, usually small, funny gifts accompanied by funny verses. There may be dance, or party games or just happy chat. Some people might go home before two, when the underground closed on this occasion, but most would stay until it opened again at five. Sometimes we would move to somebody else's party.

Everybody was very tired in the morning, but there would be some kind souls to stay on and help with washing up. There was also plenty of food left, and it would be consumed during the day which could develop into another, quieter party.

For a while, after I had moved to Sweden, I would spend Christmas with Staffan and then pack the kids and go to Moscow for the New Year. Then it wore off.

Now I cook lobster thermidor for dinner, and we go to bed half past midnight. Swedish time. 

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