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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ummm . . . Happy New Year! . . . I guess . . . well, maybe not

Russians have a most odd set of traditions for observing holidays. On Sunday, La Russophobe reported that Russian oligarchs like to honor Russian Christmas by pimping out they ho's. Now today, we read about Russian New Year's celebrations, which last virtually idefinitely. Most normal nations, upon learning they had an average monthly wage of less than $350 combined with a declining adult lifespan and population would feel that they needed less vacation, not more. But Russia, as is often said, is not a normal country. The Seattle Times reports:

Most Americans have long resumed the daily grind after New Year celebrations, but millions of Russians only returned to work this week — stumbling back to reality after an official holiday whose length is the subject of parliamentary debate.

The same legislators who approved the 10-day holiday less than three years ago now are considering calls to cut short a break that for many Russians means an excessive intake of fatty food, hard drink and bad TV.

"I'm tired, I can't deal with it," complained Marina Kozhukhova, a Muscovite who said Friday that she was still trying to readjust to her daily routine.

The long holiday stems from Russia's mix of Soviet-era traditions with those of the resurgent Russian Orthodox Church.

As under communism, New Year's is the main winter holiday and the occasion for exchanging gifts, but a Christmas holiday was added after the Soviet collapse.

The Russian church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, having retained the Julian calendar when Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin switched the country to the Gregorian calendar.

In 2004, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that essentially links the two holidays, creating a break that cannot be shorter than 10 days.

For some Russians, it's even longer. Government officials returned to work Tuesday, but many others won't be back until Monday, extending their time off until after what is called the "Old New Year" on Jan. 14 — New Year's Day under the old Julian calendar.

One complaint about the long holiday is that it suits Russia's political and business elite but is of little use to those who cannot afford trips abroad. Family budgets, already strained by New Year gifts and holiday meals, are stretched further as they spend on keeping themselves and their children occupied.

With school out during the holiday, Muscovites scramble to find tickets for a yolka — literally a fir tree — a seasonal children's play featuring Grandfather Frost, Russia's answer to Santa Claus, and his female sidekick, the Snow Maiden.

Meanwhile, television, which is mostly state-controlled, feeds viewers a steady diet of Soviet-era movies and made-for-TV holiday extravaganzas that, even for fans, can get tiring after a few days.

Then there's the booze.

Critics say the holiday's length encourages alcohol abuse, aggravating Russia's drinking problem.

"If you drink, it seems to pass in one day," said hairstylist Valery Chesnokov, 43. "If you don't drink, it seems long."

Legislators are expected to discuss the issue this year, amid calls for shortening the holiday and adding time off around May Day. That would satisfy critics who say that in May they can use free time to sow potatoes in backyard plots, while time off in January is time lost.

Meanwhile, experts are offering advice for Russians trying to recover after 10 days off.

"To regain strength, one should go to bed early and get enough sleep, and also pay attention to one's intestines ... and stop eating too much," the New Region news agency quoted Mikhail Pertsel, the chief state psychotherapist for the Sverdlovsk region in the Ural mountains, as saying.

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