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On This Day in 1699, Tsar Peter the Great Changed the Day the New Year Was Celebrated

20. December 2012 by Lorena 0 Comments

Once, Russians celebrated the end of the old year on September 1st. This was the date the Orthodox Church considered consistent with the Nicene Canons, which became more important as Christianity took hold in the lands ruled by Russia.


However, in 1699, Tsar Peter the Great decided it was time for a change. That year, he moved the start of the new year to January 1st, as part of an effort to modernize the country.  He also shaved several thousand years off the date, taking Russia from 7208 to 1700.


The tsar’s decree stated that Russians should decorate with fir and pine branches, fire off canons and rifles, light up the streets, and congratulate one another on the new century. The festivities were to last seven days.


A further change would come to the time of year that Russians and Ukrainians celebrated the New Year. Under Tsarist rule, Russia followed the Julian calendar. In 1918, Lenin decreed that the Soviet Union begin using the Gregorian calendar used in the West. To this day, FSU countries continue to use the Gregorian calendar as their civic calendar. However, the Orthodox Church has reverted to the Julian calendar for keeping religious holidays. 


Ukrainian families today celebrate the family today in ways that go back to that era. Because of the ban on religion under Soviet rule, New Year’s has assumed the level of importance for families in the FSU that Christmas does in western countries. New Year’s Eve is a huge holiday in Ukraine; families gather together every year to celebrate. A holiday tree is decorated. People exchange gifts. Families enjoy a large holiday meal. Many Ukrainians watch special holidays shows on TV as part of their New Year’s Eve tradition. At midnight, people light off fireworks and toast with champagne.


Public offices are closed to New Year’s Day so that people can spend the day with their families. Schools and universities are generally closed for many days so that students can go on a winter break. 


Photo: sxc.hu