On anticipation.

You had a little crisis in Asda today. You very nearly broke and started buying holiday food. After all, everybody else was.

But you need to be a bit canny about these things. Your big cooking days are 31st December (Soviet Christmas) and the weekend closest to 7th January (Russian Orthodox Christmas). Buy your ready-made brandy butter now and it will have gone off before you even make it into the New Year.

Theoretically this should be a good thing. You can get presents in the sales and nobody can accuse you of being excessively cheap. You can buy up the half price salmon in Tescos on Boxing Day and not have to salt it away in the freezer  until Easter. That kind of thing.

The problem is that last year you left it too late. By the time you had got back from your parents’ there was nothing worth cooking left in the shops. Gammon to make a ham was in particularly short supply. And woe betide anyone looking for chestnuts on the 27th.

When your holidays only start on the 24th December, there you are, full of the glad tidings of the season ready to bound around the shops picking up your festive bits and bobs, and yet there everybody else has stopped. No more Christmas music. No more bells and snow motifs on TV. No more Santa hats on the supermarket elves. No stocking fillers on the shelves either. Nobody pressing you to a complementary glass of mulled wine. Some places even have the decorations down by the end of the 24th. It’s a real buzz killer.

What’s most irritating is that even though this dissonance is brought about by your family being caught up in trying to celebrate customs from elsewhere, it shouldn’t. It is, after all, only a little longer than the twelve days of Christmas. You are the authentic one.

However, trying to bring Anglo-Saxon capitalism to its knees by the power of your disapproval is clearly not going to work, so you have decided this year to start a bit earlier, even if this does mean that by the time you get to the Star’s yolka* on the 8th you will be twitching of you do catch sight of anything red, green or jingly.

But not until ooooooh tomorrow at least.

*A cross between a pantomime and a nativity, except not really. The Star will be a cockerel. You are quite looking forward to finding out whether this is like scoring the pat of one of the Kings or more equivalent to being third sheep from the left in the school Christmas play.

On Christmas and New Year.

OK, so technically the holiday season is not yet over as Russian Orthodox epiphany is not for a few days yet.

Still, although you held out until Old New Year, even you have taken the decorations down now and nearly finished the Christmas chocolates, so clearly it is time to get on with blogging.

The holidays were fun. There was snow in the Ancestral New Town and the Star was introduced to proper tobogganing. There was goose for the big dinner and even B liked it. You did not fall asleep before 12 at New New Year, probably because the tradition of celebrating Russian New Year (9pm British time), European New Year (11pm British time) and British New Year (12 midnight British time) keeps the party poppers active. Your life was also qualitatively improved this year by the lack of the annoying downstairs neighbours, who therefore did not play exceptionally loud music from 6pm until 10 pm and then again from 3am until you hammered on their door at 3.10.  Your view is that if people want to listen to exceptionally loud music for New Year, they can damn well find a pub party to scream the night away at.

The only downside is that you haven’t quite worked out how to fit the Star into New Year yet. 12 is really to late for him to be staying up, but this is the big Russian family celebration. British Christmas is easy. The programme hasn’t really varied since you were a kid yourself, so you are comfortable sliding the Star into that routine. Stocking, breakfast, church, presents, frantic cooking, Christmas dinner, snooze while the Star vandalises his new toys, the Doctor Who special, Christmas tea, the Top Gear special, bed. Works for everyone, especially if you give B a DVD he can disappear and watch in the afternoon. Which these days you do. But what do Russians do with their children at New Year? When, for example, do they open their presents? Admittedly the build up to the midnight feast takes all day, partly because there’s a lot of chopping to be done, partly because it’s a good time to fire up the Skype and see how some of your friends are getting on and partly because there are traditional New Year films to watch on TV. Not to mention the all singing, all dancing shows that come on particularly early here as the Russians begin their countdown in earnest. Unfortunately, B cares not for comforting routines and rituals, and so doesn’t seem to have a schedule in mind for the Star based on his own fond experiences. So you are making a note to self for next year. Make one up. And while you are at it, establish a birthday plan too. Sometimes you are really reminded of the fact that the Star is really quite young still, and mostly those times are when you realise you don’t have a family tradition to adhere to at significant times of his year.


On the entertaining both the Star and his family note, however, Russian Christmas was particularly successful this year.

Firstly, the church held a Yolka for the kids after the Christmas Day service. Yolkas are traditional children’s entertainments at this time of year. Well, for New Year really, but hey, what’s seven decades of mandatory atheism to an organisation which has survived 2000. You have never been to a Yolka before so you do not know how typical this one was, but there was a puppet show involving a fairy story about how the Christmas/ New Year tree (which is also a yolka in Russian) came to be decorated*, some traditional songs, a young violin prodigy strutting his stuff and an organised dance and sing a long.

It was fab. And you, sorry, the Star, got a box of chocolates at the end.

The Star was really very impressed. So impressed that he couldn’t resist joining in. He was particularly fascinated by the fact that the puppet theatre had people hiding behind it, but the disco lights simulating snowfall also got his enthusiastic vote. He tried to catch them. Needless to say that your son, the half English boy, was the only child tempted to bound out of his seat. Never mind, in years to come, the congregation will have forgotten a time when the annual Yolka does not begin with the words ‘Sit down, the Star.’ It will have become traditional. You might have to train him not to shriek with delight at crucial moments in the service itself though. He was shushed. By more than one babushka.

And finally, a tradition which is by now fairly firmly established it to have friends round for dinner at the nearest weekend to Russian Christmas. It’s always nice to have people, especially these people, round. You do like your friends. And it’s always nice to give a dinner party which requires very little actual cooking ability at all. Plus people give you more chocolate. Your only regret is that you forgot to insist that everybody drink lots of vodka, judging by the amount you had left at the end of the evening. Still, you like to think you were just saving everybody a big headache the next day, if not doing much for their post-Christmas diets.

Roll on next year. Only three hundred and fifty something shopping days left.

*Because the Yolka was mortified that she didn’t have anything to give the Baby Jesus for His birthday, whereupon woodland creatures (or an angel. You forget.) took pity and found sparkly things to make the tree pretty for Our Lord. Of course.

On getting into the holiday spirit.

You decorated for Christmas today.

A little late, perhaps, but then your holiday season only starts on the 25th. Still being thrilled by the twinkly tree lights on the 7th Jan, or, this year, the 9th, when people are coming round to celebrate the Orthodox church’s lamentable inability to count,* is a challenge. Your plan, then, was to decorate, and before taking off for the Ancestral New Town, have no time to become bored before you return for the Hogmanay blow out, or, as B thinks of it, the real mid-winter celebration.

The Star was gratifyingly over excited by the process of sellotaping homemade snowflakes to windows and draping the usual paper chains made out of old magazines**over the taller bits of furniture. He was likewise thrilled by the hanging a couple of somewhat squashed foil Woolworth specials and the attaching of all of your many ornaments, so much tinsel you can barely see the needles and  a rope of lights wrapped at least three times round every branch of the worlds smallest tree, chosen for its ability to be situated somewhere well out of the Star’s reach.

You have a book on child rearing which says that taking notice of changes to surroundings is the mark of an exceptionally bright small person. Shame it’s a book written for the under ones and the Star didn’t seem to register the presence of shiny shiny things in the flat at all last year. Of course, he also hasn’t stopped exclaiming over his new snowmen slipper socks yet either. It’s amazing what 50p in Primark will do for a one and a half year old.

It does bode well for the excitement levels come present opening time this Christmas Day. You are quite looking forward to it.

That said, even the prospect of watching the Star gleefully savage wrapping paper will have a hard time competing with the hunt for the tree. Because no sooner did you and B step out of the door than the rain turned to sleet and the sleet turned to snow and by the time you had trudged up to your third DIY superstore, it was whirling out of the sky in big fat clumps and sticking like it meant it. There was that special wet crump of treading on soft new snow that you’d really really missed, and that sudden deadening of sound that makes any moment, even walking through along the local multi-lane highway, seem intimate and slightly romantic.

It even cancelled out the irritation you gave in to when you realised that the stores which have been peddling Christmas tat since October have, a good three days before the big day, removed every trace of festive fun from their stores. They weren’t even playing carols any more.

But then you stumbled across the man selling tress out of the back of an abandoned warehouse*** And so you trailed happily after B, catching snowflakes on your tongue, as he hefted your snow-covered choice over his shoulder and you both tramped contentedly home past the commuters trapped in what was shaping up to be London transport hell, a proper snowfall.

Except that the minute you got through your front door it started to rain, which rather spoiled you plan of introducing the Star to his birthright.

Not to worry though.

Babushka had filled two buckets up with snow from the balcony for the Star to play with, which he was busily emptying over the floor and eating when you got back.

*Assuming that you actually remember to invite people. What date is it today again? 

**You are not sure it counts as recycling if you had to go out and buy some magazines specially though. Which you did.

***Undoubtedly scheduled to be bulldozed in favour of luxury riverside flats next year.

On Merry New Year (Orthodox) Christmas.

It’s the 7th January.

If anyone wonders why you don’t, as a rule, get that Christmas tree up until the last possible moment before (British) Christmas, then the fact that in the Solnushka household you are still deep in the holiday season should be reason enough. The midwinter blowout won’t be over until Old New Year on the 15th. If you last that long.

Sadly, you have mixed feelings about today. No sooner had you got the Star sleeping though the night – twice is a routine in your book – than you, well, B, decided to introduce him to the delights of an evening Orthodox Service to mark Christmas Eve. Although not, you would like to point out, the midnight one.

Luckily, the church was warm with the sound of singing, bustling with people some of whom were even ready to stop and coo, and lit up with candles reflected in shiny things, all of which is the Star’s idea of a really fascinating place to be. And they have a room in the back where when even this fails to sufficeyou could go and have a comfortable chat with another mother of a small infant whilst being soothed by the industrious flower arranging and cake baking that the women of the parish were doing in preparation for the main event later on. 

However, it was getting on rather by the time you got home, and so the Star, whilst obviously refreshed in soul and chewing quite contentedly on his Piglet toy, was not in the mood for settling down for a full night’s sleep. Although he did keep the wakings down to two and was reasonably amenable to being put firmly back down again once soothed.

Mind you, the restlessness could just as well be the result of bananas. These seem to block the Star up somewhat. Unfortunately, you only identified bananas as the probable cause of the problem – delving with gritted teethinto the baby books you reluctantly keep on hand for just this kind of eventuality – after you had given the Star banana for breakfast again this morning. Ah well. Prunes tonight for both of you. Well, if the caffeine seeps into the milk, then surely the prune juice does too?

Thankfully you aren’t doing much today, as you are having yours and his families over for dinner on Saturday. Actually, thinking on that, you probably should be doing much. Tidying anyway.

That’s OK though as you have been quite energetic previously this season.

Christmas was spent at your parents’ house. If you were in a bitchy mood you would liken cooking for the Star in your Mother’s kitchen to participating in some kind of extreme sport, but in fact you will reserve that comment for the description of getting from A to B in a suburban semi which now contains not only all your parents’ furniture but quite a lot of you (Paternal) Granny’s and (Maternal) Grandad’s as well. And you have the bruises to prove it.

Still, despite yours and the Star’s colds doing their best to keep you down, you both managed to have a good Christmas Day. The Star enjoyed the wrapping paper, you enjoyed his presents and everyone enjoyed the food. You know you are getting old, though, when you are the one snoring in front of the TV in the afternoon.

New Year you spent at home, also watching TV. Which was more entertaining than it sounds because you now have Russian TV (via satellite) as well as the standard British channels. 

So you first had a warm nostalgic feeling watching the Russian equivalent to the Christmas Bond film/ It’s a Wonderful Life/ Mary Poppins. Called The Irony of Fate or With a Light Steam, it’s about a man who gets very drunk on his stag do and ends up in St Petersburg instead of Moscow. He, of course, doesn’t realise it so sets off home and as there is a street with exactly the same name as his and a lot of Soviet apartment blocks look alike, he still doesn’t get it until after he has gatecrashed some woman’s intimate New Year’s dinner with her boyfriend. With hilarious consequences. And he gets the girl in the end.*

Then you did Russian karaoke, as the Russian New Year countdown program has singalonga words across the bottom of the screen. You were appalling at keeping up with the Russian songs unless the choruses came round a lot, but particularly pleased with your attempt to sing literally the rendering of the transliteration of the songs in English. “Halo, Dolee, yess, halo, Dolee; eets so nice to haf you baak vere you belonk.”

Then you celebrated New Year in Russia by watching Medvedev’s Address to the Nation and letting off party poppers on the balcony to the strains of the (Russian) National Anthem, shouting a lot and going inside to eat salad.

Then you watched a bit more Russian TV, ate lamb and celebrated New Year for what you assume was the satellite feed to Germany by watching Medvedev’s Address again, letting off party poppers on the balcony to the strains of the (Russian) National Anthem and shouting a lot.

Then you watched Jools Holland and had cake and celebrated New Year in the UK by letting off party poppers on the balcony to the strains of the London “There isn’t supposed to be music. The music is in the rhythmnicity of the fireworks going off. No really. It’s better like this. Music is so last year” Firework Display and shouting a lot.

Then you went to bed and listened to the neighbour’s techno music until 2.30, when they turned it off and woke up the Star.

Anyway, a Happy Orthodox Christmas to everybody out there. And Happy New Year. And Happy Christmas. Etc.


* This is not your favourite Russian New Year film, however. Your favourite Russian New Year film is Peculiarities of the National Hunt,which is about a gang of Russian men going hunting with a Finnish guy. Nobody gets the bear, but it does feature a cow pissing on an officer out of a bomber plane hatch, and it doesn’t get much more amusing than that in your book.