Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Years in Pinsk…

For those of you who do not know, New Years in the former USSR is the biggest party of the year, bar none. It is basically all of the US's winter holidays including getting dressed up in costumes and visiting houses singing and asking for candy. Everyone bundles up and goes out to play outside, some all night long, and drinking, sparklers, tasty treats and candies are everywhere. It is a great party and one of these days, the world's tourists are going to figure this out and when they do, Minsk and Moscow are going to be points of arrival for the season. Well, this is not to say that Pinsk outshines Edinburough, Scotland (I'll talk about Times Square later) for the party, but here is no slouch either.

Our family started the holiday when we went to one of the town's New Year's parties for children the other day. Very nice, really. The show was held at the Dom Kultura and consisted of a short stage production followed by the traditional Dadushka Moroz show. The kids loved it.

The former Soviet Union has their own version of Santa Clause in Dadushka Maroz (Grandpa Frost). There is a major resemblance in that both have a long white beard and they both bring presents to the kids, but really, that is about as far as it goes. For one thing, Dadushka Moroz does not come from the North Pole, but rather from a little house in a village of Russia. You can visit there any time you want, and at least according to the Russian TV news, people do. This little tourist attraction may not have as high a dollar value as Disneyland, but it is just as important to Russian children.

Another and perhaps much greater difference is that Ded Maroz does not have an old fat wife as Santa does in Mrs. Clause, but rather a slim, young, long-legged little hottie on his arm named Snegurochka, accent on the gu. When Ded Maroze comes to hand out candies for the New Year (He has nothing at all to do with Christmas), Snegurochka (probably "Snow Girl") is just as popular, probably even more so, and her arrival, as the real star of the show should be, is always after the big guy with the beard.

So this was the form of the holiday show for the kids. The stage show had some mild allusions to the magic of winter, there were dancers in the traditional Russian mode including girls in white tu tu's ala swan lake, a big beach ball was batted around and two young people sang some songs and then after, we popped upstairs for a dance around the yolka (A big decorated tree, but again, no Christian values, just a New Year's treat) with Dadushka Maroz and Snegurochka.

This was the first real outing we had celebrating the holiday but we intend to try and enjoy the holiday as much as we can. Tanya is planning a bit of a feast for brunch on the first, later that day we will go to another show; this will be basically the same I suppose though it will be made by a different community group. And of course we will be going over to Ploshad Lenina (Lenin Square) for the midnight watch and fireworks salute.

This will be only the second year that there will be a fireworks salute here in Pinsk. Up until last year, there simply wasn't enough money in the coffers to pay for such an extravagance. These last two years Belarus has enjoyed some mild prosperity and as a result there have been many changes such as a lot of new construction, new landscaping and house painting and such. And, for the pleasure of the people, there have also been many, many fireworks salutes during the summer. If you ask me there were probably a few too many salutes but obviously it was a case of release from firework starvation on the part of the town bureaucrats. In making up for 13 years without, the city this summer lit up the sky for any and every occasion possible so I am sure they have planned something very nice for us for New Years.

For the actually midnight moment, Egor, Anya, Tanya and I will most probably be out at the ploshad. There is a building just across from the square where the numbers of the current year can be seen and people gather here and celebrate in small and large groups, play on the teeter totters and ice slides around the yolka and toast and laugh and dance. Probably Egor and I might just continue our tradition of bicycling the New Year in. We did this the first time three years ago as an anti-drinking idea. Instead of drinking too much, the boy and I would ride around the town, looking for people lighting off their individual fireworks and generally being friendly with who we met. Yes, we did get a lot of funny looks, but at the end of the night we were pleasantly refreshed and tired rather than sick and drunk and the boy and I get a chance to do some bonding. Most probably we will do this again especially as we have had virtually no winter weather, no snow and no ice, since our October freeze; smooth and dry roads of course make better biking.

Back when I lived in New York I used to love going to Times Square for New Years. I was one of those people who would show up at about noon or before and drink a toast every hour to those countries celebrating around the clock ahead of us. New York City always put on a nice show and people were always friendly. In all the years that I did this I never heard of one person getting their pocket picked and never saw anyone throw a punch. But of course all of that changed after September 11th. Starting in 2002 all the rules changed and hanging out in Times Square turned out to be more an endurance test for your bladder (no more portable toilets due to fear of bombs) than it was an intimate party for you and two million of your closest friends. Friends from New York have told me that this is still the case and if this is so it is a real shame. New Years at Times Square to me meant that there was absolutely no reason to be jealous of any other place in the world; Time's Square in New York was the best, even without the city's sponsored show and everyone knew it. But you know, the world has turned a few times and now we simply don't have it any more. Such are modern times.

But as I have said we have our own style of wringing in the New Year out here in the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus. I suppose though that I am just as worried as anyone out here what will become of us in the coming year. There have been words from the Gazprom discussion tables that sound like Belarus will come out of it ok. But there are also noises, these especially from the western press, that says there will be deep problems. These last few years have certainly been better than the previous decade and change and I would hate to think of having to go back to the dark days of $40 paychecks. This is not to say that $150 to $250 is such golden comfort, but it is at least close to livable. So I, like everyone who lives here will have a little extra worry to take with us to the all night celebrations. I guess we will all just have to see how things go. But then again, maybe this is what New Years is supposed to be about anyway and that's why we all party like its 1999. In any case, we are going to try and start off this New Years in the best way we can and I hope al of you out there will have the chance to do the same.

So for all of the readers of the BEING HAD Blog, I would like to wish a happy, healthy and lucky New Year to us all. May the coming year be as the best of years and we me all become better, smarter and more well off than ever.

See you next year...


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