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New Year’s Eve in Russia, 1965

It’s getting close to 6:30 PM in Moscow, and no doubt some seriously entertaining festivities are already well underway as Russia concludes quite a memorable year. But will the Russians ring in 2008 with the same energy and apprehension as 1965? I found this entertaining tidbit from the TIME magazine archive which shows a rather remarkable government-planned New Year’s Eve celebration from more than 40 years ago at the height of the Cold War: Nothing, in Soviet doctrine, is much more reactionary than Christmas, combining as it does “bourgeois” religion with capitalist commercialism. But the New Year is something else again. For years, the Communists have emphasized this ideologically safer holiday while downgrading or disguising Christmas (which in the Russian calendar falls on Jan. 7). With beaming approval from the Kremlin, Moscow last week was feverishly preparing for the biggest, brassiest and most bountiful New Year’s blowout in Communist history.

From TIME Magazine, Jan. 1, 1965

S Novym GodomNothing, in Soviet doctrine, is much more reactionary than Christmas, combining as it does “bourgeois” religion with capitalist commercialism. But the New Year is something else again. For years, the Communists have emphasized this ideologically safer holiday while downgrading or disguising Christmas (which in the Russian calendar falls on Jan. 7). With beaming approval from the Kremlin, Moscow last week was feverishly preparing for the biggest, brassiest and most bountiful New Year’s blowout in Communist history.On sale throughout Moscow were 325,000 freshly cut Siberian fir yolki (formerly Christmas but now New Year’s trees), plus another 100,000 artificial trees and 200 boxcars of tinsel, lights and colored balls. Lavishly decorated trees appeared by the hundreds in restaurants, shops, public buildings and even in the Kremlin’s Tainitsky Garden. State stores advertised “everything for the New Year’s tree.” On the streets, resplendent in long white beards and bright red suits, dozens of Grandfather Frosts exacted kopeks from the crowds.Holiday shoppers found an unprecedented variety of gifts-thanks to the Kremlin’s ever-increasing emphasis on consumer goods. In record numbers they jammed into department stores, shops and the barnlike discount houses called “market halls.” Fifty new stores opened this month for the holiday season. In the huge but usually drab GUM department store, counters were piled high with everything from Winter Fantasy perfume ($4.44 an ounce) and 400 kinds of watches to luxury food baskets at only $57. To cope with a turnover of hall-a-million customers and $11.5 million in sales during the holiday week, GUM reported that it had sharply increased its sales staff from a few hundred to nearly 3,000. Moscow’s new twelve-story post office initiated helicopter service to try to deliver greeting cards, most of them bearing the same printed inscription: S Novym Godom (Happy New Year).To add to the liquidity of the season, the Kremlin has lifted the midnight liquor curfew, and on New Year’s Eve Muscovites can get oiled until a highly reactionary 5 a.m. Hotels, coffeehouses and restaurants (there are no bars as such) are booked solid and have laid on massive spreads ($13.75 a plate at the Moskva restaurant) and lavish shows (seven different dance bands at the Ukraine). For home celebrators, 8,000 tons of fresh fruit and 1,000,000 bottles of Crimean champagne and wine have been shipped to the capital’s markets, and a new state catering service called “Spring” advertised in Vechernaya Moskva that it was available for private parties, formal or informal.The spirit of S Novym Godom even extended to Nikita Khrushchev. Reportedly, the deposed Chairman has been granted the handsome pension of $660 a month-twice what top Soviet functionaries normally receive—and has been allowed to keep his chauffeur driven Chaika limousine.