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The history of the New Year tree in Russia: From a symbol of a cemetery and a tavern to Stalin's favorite
The history of the New Year tree in Russia: From a symbol of a cemetery and a tavern to Stalin's favorite

Santa Claus, Snow Maiden, gifts and tangerines. And the tree. Today it is impossible to imagine New Year and Christmas without this fluffy beauty. It would seem that the tree from the very beginning of its existence was a festive winter tree, but this is not so.

Especially for Culturology, the correspondent of MOSGORTUR spoke with the experts of the Museum of Moscow and found out what difficulties the Christmas tree in Russia overcame before becoming the main tree of winter holidays.

Christmas tree as a symbol of the cemetery and pub

The tree of death, the guide to the world of the dead and the "decoration" of burial grounds - the traditional image of the Christmas tree among the Russian people, which existed until the 17th century, did not quite coincide with the modern festive idea of ​​the tree. Between two trees, suicides were buried, coniferous branches were thrown onto the road to the cemetery, the paws of a tree covered the grave in winter, and somewhere it was generally forbidden to plant spruce near the house - they feared the death of men. Otherworldly symbolism was also reflected in oral folk art, even one of the names of the devil sounded like "Yels".

The great New Year's masquerade in 1722 on the streets of Moscow with the participation of Peter I.Artist Vasily Ivanovich Surikov

The transition of the tree to the "bright side" began in the Peter the Great era. The royal decree of 1699 changed the chronology system - not from the moment of the Creation of the world, but from the Nativity of Christ - and moved the day of the “new year” from September 1 to January 1. Recommendations on how to organize a holiday were also applied. Decorating the capital with pine needles, launching rockets and lighting fires are the main points of the New Year's prescription. The Christmas tree gradually became a symbol of the holiday, but it was still being hampered by other "thorns" allowed for decorating buildings, and its location - Peter's decree demanded to put the tree not inside the room, but outside it.

Soviet postage stamp dedicated to the decree of Peter I

After the death of Peter I, the Christmas tree tradition was preserved only by drinking establishments. It was by the trees standing at the gates or on the roofs that taverns were identified. The coniferous beauties carried the fast all year round and gave way to their replacements on the eve of the next New Year. For the Christmas tree peculiarity among the people, the taverns began to be called "Ivans-Yolkin" and simply "Christmas trees".

A royal blessing for the Christmas tree

In Russia, the first Christmas trees appeared only at the beginning of the 19th century. St Petersburg Germans put trees in their homes for the holiday. Immigrants from Germany, for whom the tree was a symbol of Christmas, were not going to abandon their traditions. But the process of "assimilation" of the coniferous beauty was rather difficult. In the 20-30s of the XIX century, a tree was not yet allowed into the house and was perceived as a German fad.

New Year's ball, the beginning of the XX century

Nicholas I is considered a pioneer in the "introduction" of trees in Russia - in the late 30s, a Christmas tree appeared at the court of the sovereign, not without the participation of his German wife. The example of the royal family turned out to be contagious, and the tree penetrated the houses of the capital's aristocracy. However, few could afford a Christmas miracle - the price of a fully decorated Christmas tree reached 200 rubles. Then for 350 rubles a family could "hire" a peasant hut for a year! The Christmas tree excitement captured St. Petersburg by the mid-40s of the 19th century. They wrote about trees in magazines and newspapers, the tree appeared in the homes of the common population, and by the end of the decade they began to be sold at holiday fairs.

Christmas markets and robber children

In the middle of the 19th century, the Christmas trade developed into a separate industry. - says Maria Kalish, senior researcher at the Museum of Moscow.

Christmas tree, 1848

Fir-trees were sold in the most spacious and crowded places: in city squares and frozen rivers, near living rooms, and later at special Christmas-tree markets. Peasants brought them there. "Own" suppliers reduced the prices for trees, but until now not every family could buy a Christmas tree, because it still needed to be decorated, which meant that additional toys and gifts had to be purchased. The metropolitan nobility, not experiencing such problems, arranged Christmas tree competitions among themselves - whose tree is taller, richer and more elegant.

New Year's ball, the beginning of the XX century

By the end of the century, the St. Petersburg Christmas tree fashion went beyond the capital and spread to the estates and houses of landowners. And along with the tree came the German holiday traditions. The Christmas tree was considered a family, private event. At first, the mystery of the appearance of a tree in the house and its preparation for the holiday was available only to adults - the younger members of the family saw the result of the parents' work only on Christmas Day, but over time, the children began to take part in decorating the tree. Candy, gilded nuts and apples were hung on it. In Moscow, it was a certain kind of fruit - small Crimean apples, which were specially brought to fairs for Christmas. Toys and jewelry were bought or made at home - colored flags were cut out of cardboard, nuts were gilded, and firecrackers were designed. The decorated Christmas tree “lived” for only a few hours. According to the same German tradition, the tree was given to children for plunder - it had to be ruined. The tree was thrown on the floor, everything edible was removed and the toys were plucked along with the branches.

The fight for coniferous life

At the turn of the century, public Christmas trees for children became the norm. Holidays were arranged for all children, regardless of class and level of security of their parents. Charitable parties for the poor were held in orphanages and national orphanages, and holidays were also organized for the children of workers.

Soviet Christmas tree in the 20s of the XX century

The carefree and happy Christmas tree life ended with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks - they actively fought against "religious prejudices." Christmas was branded as "People's Day of Drinking" and the holiday was canceled in 1929. The tree was also banned. On the evenings on the eve of Christmas, patrols appeared on the streets looking for illegal trees hidden in houses, anti-Christmas evenings were held in schools instead of trees.

The disgrace ended in 1935 - the party accepted the proposal of Pavel Postyshev, a member of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, to organize "a good Christmas tree for the children for the new year." Christmas has been replaced by New Year. A stream of trees immediately poured into the country's markets, decorated Christmas trees appeared in educational institutions and on skating rinks. In a matter of days, the pre-revolutionary holiday was returned, and the tree came out of the underground as a symbol of a happy Soviet childhood.

A poster of the festive Christmas tree for children of railway workers, 1944

The Christmas tree became mandatory - all institutions, from kindergarten to the factory, had to hold New Year's events according to a pre-approved scenario and program. After the Great Patriotic War, the ideologization of the holiday intensified - books with Stalin's instructions for the New Year were published in millions of copies. The production of Christmas-tree decorations and decorations has sharply increased, but not simple ones, but correct and necessary ones. The Red Army, airships and submarines reflected the country's successes and strength. The semantic content of the toys was approved by committees and commissions specially created at the factories.

In the 90s of the XX century, the tree got rid of political coloring. Having gone through wars and a change of power, she was able to preserve herself as a “tree of joy and wonder”. A modern tree is a symbol of family celebrations and fairy tales. This is a symbol of the holiday. Let it be New Year's, not Christmas.

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