In Russia, Santa Clause is a bit different. He goes by Ded Moroz and while he looks similar to other holiday gift givers, older, white beard, often depicted in red, he has a unique helper, his granddaughter, Snegurochka. According to my brief research on the subject she is indeed a uniquely Russian holiday character. There is more than one story of how she came into being, but one of the versions is oddly similar to Frosty the Snow Man. She is very popular today as a part of New Years Celebrations (especially with little girls) and is always depicted with Ded Moroz.
Also similar to our holiday traditions, many kindergartens put on performances for parents, but in the ones here the little girls dress as Snegurochka and the little boys as bears or rabbits. It is usual to show some dances and recite poems. Andrey's Mom still has a photos of him dressed as a bear for his holiday show.
On New Years Eve it is traditional to have a big dinner with ones family, in front of the TV. The menu, of course, changes from family to family, but for most people it will include caviar sandwiches, champagne, clementines or tangerines, and olivier salad, a Russian potato salad. For the adults at the table, like New Years celebrations around the world, the dinner involves a fair amount of drinking. And of course as a Russian celebration it would not be complete without toasts. At the dinner people say goodbye to the year that is coming to a close.
When midnight strikes, it is time to welcome the New Year and wish luck and new opportunities to friends and family with a glass of champagne and sometimes a sparkler in hand. The President always makes a televised speech and then many people head outside to set off fireworks. I am told that at this point it will sound like a war is taking place. After the pyrotechnics the party continues on until morning with more drinking, eating, toasts, and the television as a constant background. It is not that common anymore, but some people do dress up in costumes and go outside to continue the party, happily greeting everyone they meet.
Here in Omsk our holiday festivities will also include the ice sculptures and lights the city puts up in a park downtown. I am not sure if this is a very old custom, but it seems to be popular now. In Moscow they have a full-blown Winter Festival from December 25th-January 5th, which I am sure is more elaborate. Our little winter wonderland will open on December 26th. We went down there today and it is starting to look pretty impressive with huge ice sculptures, a giant New Years tree, and lights being strung everywhere. Here is a preview of one of the sculptures, more photos to come.