What's the deal with these spinny thingies?
Both my husband and I grew up with presents, a jolly, bearded man in a red suit, and a festively decorated pine tree come December-time.
The only difference was, he was a little African-American boy in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. And I was a little Jewish girl in Odessa, Ukraine, then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (You might remember it as Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire, while Sting wondered, “Don’t the Russians love their children, too?”)
Unfortunately, at the time, the Russians – who, full disclosure, do, in fact, love their children, too – had a bit of a problem. Communism had banned all religious practices, religion being an opiate of the masses and all. But, darn it, if the populace didn’t still want their symbols and their holidays and their celebrations, to go along with owning the means of production and throwing off the tyrannical yoke of capitalism.
So the trappings of Christmas: Santa, trees, gifts (themselves originally pagan, but I’m really getting off topic here) were summarily moved from January 7, Russian Orthodox Christmas, to December 31 and January 1, New Year’s Eve and Day, the biggest party on the calendar.
Little Soviet children went to sleep on December 31st with visions of Napoleon desserts dancing in their heads, and awoke to community celebrations featuring Santa and presents and a big, green “yolka” festooned in tinsel and twinkling glass orbs.
All little Soviet children. Even Jewish ones. Because this, remember, was a national holiday, not a religious one. Read the rest of this entry →