The world holds a diverse expanse of cultures, each celebrating and embracing the New Year in different ways. How far does the language of a particular country affect the way in which New Year is celebrated? Popular British cultural makes it possible to refer to someone as a ‘scrooge’, a Dickensian reference to the fact that he or she does not like Christmas.
But what about New Year? What traditions exist at this time of the year, and how does our language support them? I am going to explore a few of these traditions and the language involved in celebrating them, drawing upon my experience of Russian and English New Year.
In British tradition, Christmas is more celebrated than the New Year. In Russian tradition, New Year is more celebrated than Christmas. The New Year is embraced in its old and new form; there is a standard New Year on the 31st December, and a second New Year, which harks back to old Orthodox tradition with people singing songs and telling each other’s fortune. In tradition, children are also expected to memorise a poem in order to receive a present.
In Western cultures, such spoken traditions are dying out. The tradition of the oral retelling of the Christmas story via the nativity is slowly being phased out of primary schools in a bid to embrace the diversified congregation. However, both nations still go to parties. In Russia, children might go to a ‘ёлка’, which is both the word for a Christmas party for children and the word for a Christmas tree.
What about the way in which we offer congratulations at New Year? In Russian, tokens of celebration are often started with the preposition ‘с’, or ‘with’. For example, С Новым Годом, literally meaning ‘with the New Year’. Another very common way to offer generic congratulations is to say ‘с наступающим’, or s nastupayishim, which literally translates as ‘with the upcoming’.
Moreover, when Russians congratulate their compatriots on New Year, it is very customary to issue such verbose phrases as ‘I wish you happiness and health’, or ‘I hope all your dreams come true.’ In the UK, we safely stick to ‘Happy New Year’. It is also quite usual for us to write down our New Year’s Resolutions, an example of how a holiday tradition affects the way in which we use language in a bid to be positive.
What about the way in which we celebrate New Year? For a lot of cultures, it is a time for a party. However, in many Slavic cultures, the language of positivity can be found in the tradition of ‘тост’, or giving a toast. At any time of celebration, toasting is a necessary component during which all those present offer compliments, speeches and affectionate phrases to their loved ones.
British toasting tradition tends to keep things a little briefer, whereas the Slavic tradition allows each person present to both give and receive the impassioned words of a speech. Rhetoric in the language can also be found in Mr.Putin’s Red Square speech on New Year’s Eve, a time when he encourages the nation to look forward.
There is also a tradition to be found in the absence of language or words. In Old New Year Russian tradition, silence in the last 12 seconds of the old year before welcoming in the new is often observed, as Russians make secret wishes for the New Year. In more Western cultures, silence marks a time of grieving. However, in both cultures, there is an understanding that what is not said is far louder than that which is said.
The language of both countries allows us to celebrate the New Year in slightly different ways, but ultimately we are the same. We want to be happy, and healthy.
So, Happy New Year, and ‘пусть все твои мечты сбываются’! May all your dreams come true!