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Christmas trees, a symbol of the Russian new year

Two weeks ago, I saw a long line of shoppers patiently waiting to buy their Christmas trees outside of the Harrington Hundreds supermarket. It made me smile as I remembered what it meant to me to find a tree.

I was a child in Irkutsk, Siberia. Snow was falling in gentle, slow-motion flakes, and I could hear the crunch of my father’s footsteps ahead of me as we wound our way through the frozen streets. We were on an important mission, and I leapt from boot hole to boot hole, trying to keep up with his long, purposeful strides.

“Come, Ninichka!” he called over his shoulder, the words muffled by his thick woollen scarf. ”There is not a moment to lose!” We had to find a tree.

Christmas trees were challenging and sometimes impossible to find. Although we were surrounded by endless forests, in Soviet Russia you were not allowed to cut one down for yourself. Penalties were harsh and the risks were high. After the communist revolution in 1917, Christmas and Christmas trees were forbidden till 1954.

Instead, the tree became a symbol of the new year. To this day, New Year is the most important of all holidays in Russia. We firmly believe that what happens on New Year’s Eve will dictate your entire good fortune for the coming months.

We must have a tree for the new year, no matter what. It was the first question that people asked each other during December. “Did you get a tree?”

There were no markets or stores where we could go and choose a tree we liked. Instead, finding a tree became a quest. No one knew exactly where or when the trees would appear. We trudged on and on.

I was cold and tired, yet happy. I had complete faith in my father and I loved being part of this vital adventure with him. Occasionally, he sang and his strong voice led me on like a tether, pulling us closer.

Wrapped in the soft pastels of the winter twilight, we wound our way along a dimly lit street. At the bend, a huge, battered truck squealed to a halt. Stern, bearded men with weathered faces jumped down and slammed the heavy doors.

Their voices were gruff, their faces were red and they smelled of vodka. They climbed up on back and rolled open the canvas top in a cloud of powdery snow.

Trees! Trees! Trees! They were jammed side by side and sticky sap was frozen to their bottoms. They hauled the fresh green Christmas trees onto the sidewalk, and my father picked me up, whirled me around and kissed me!

I will never forget my exhilaration and happiness when my father and I proudly dragged the frozen tree to our door. We felt like he was Santa Claus and my mother and brother screamed with delight, jumped up, and hugged us.

In the closet was an old suitcase full of decorations wrapped in newspapers. It was my wonderful duty to decorate the tree, although there was one rule: the top of the tree must have a huge, red five pointed star as a symbol of the revolution. This was the case in every Soviet home.

The next morning when I awoke and before I opened my eyes, I breathed in the fresh, tart sting of pine. I inhaled the fresh winter scents of the boreal forest with its wolves and starry skies.

I smiled as the morning sun turned the frosted windowpanes to silver mosaics, glinting with snow melt. I knew that the holidays were close and I was warm in bed with my heart full of joy.

My dear readers, close your eyes and think back to your childhood. Hidden in our hearts are gifts. Unwrap one and hold that treasure near and close. Share it with someone you love.

Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com

Christmas trees are an important tradition in Russia every New Year’s Eve (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 10, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 09, 2020 at 12:43 pm)

Christmas trees, a symbol of the Russian new year

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