For us living in western countries 1 January symbolizes the end of festive season. Christmas is behind us, and we can relax a little bit after the biggest holiday hassle of the year.
If you are talking to women from Russia or Ukraine, however, for them it’s just the start. New Year’s Eve is the first large celebration, after which they are preparing for Orthodox Christmas 7 January, and then the “Old New Year” 13 January.
The “Old New Year” holiday, which sounds rather contradictory, comes from the times when Julian calendar used by the Russian Empire pre-1918 was superseded by Gregorian calendar, used by other western countries.
Difference between Julian and Gregorian calendars
Gregorian calendar (which all western countries currently use) is 13 days ahead of Julian calendar.
In other words, the date of Julian calendar is Gregorian calendar (our date) minus 13.
- If it’s 1 January today on Gregorian calendar, it’s 19 December on Julian calendar.
- If it’s 7 January today on Gregorian calendar, it’s 25 December on Julian calendar.
- 31 December (New Year’s Eve) on Gregorian calendar means it’s 13 January on Julian calendar.
Now you understand why Russians and Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on 7 January. It’s 25 December in the old Julian calendar.
How Russia and Ukraine jumped ahead in time
The decree directing the calendar replacement (Gregorian superseding Julian) was a law of the Soviets, issued in January (February) 1918, following the Communist Revolution in October (November) 1917.
13 day difference moves events from one month to another! Thus, the Russian “Great October revolution” anniversary is celebrated on 7 November. It used to puzzle me when I was young.
The reason why the Russian Empire (which in 1917 included Ukraine as a province) was late to adopt the same dates as Europe was because of Orthodox Christian church’s dislike for Gregorian calendar. Orthodox religion was the official religion of the Russian state. The church and the state were united.
The difference in calendars was creating problems in relations with Europe. There was a necessity to move ahead with the times.
- 23 January 2018 (5 February in Gregorian style) the new Soviet government of Russia announced separation of the state from the church.
- The next day, 24 January (6 February) the Soviets issued the decree about replacing the old Julian calendar and synching the new Russia with the rest of Europe.
- The new decree was signed by Lenin (the leader of Bolsheviks and chief of the Soviets) on 26 January (8 February).
- Thus, in 2018 Russians missed 2 first weeks of February: After 31 January the next official date was 14 February.
There were some hassles, as you would expect, with paying interest on loans, payment of salaries, fulfilling contract responsibilities etc. The new law gave guidance how these issues would be dealt with.
Expectedly, the Russian Orthodox church felt scorned by demoting it to something insignificant for the state by the Soviets. Thus, they decided not to change its dates. Even today the Christian Orthodox Church of Russia keeps celebrating its holidays according to the old Julian calendar.
This is why Russians celebrate Christmas 13 days after the western world, and their Easter is usually on a different date as well.
The Old New Year
Since 1918, for already nearly 100 years, Russians keep celebrating the “Old New Year” on the night between 13 and 14 January. It is the symbolic end of the festive season, although not a proper big holiday as the official New Year’s Eve.
Isn’t it amazing, we are 99 years away from the event and the majority of Russian people for whom “the old style” made sense have already departed, but somehow the tradition of giving a nod to such historical hiccups still survives!