Officially speaking, Christmas was not celebrated in the Soviet Union. It didn't disappear altogether, just became converted into the New Year's celebration. The decorated tree, the presents, and the holiday table, set with the rather utilitarian dishes of Soviet cuisine, became the new tradition while Christmas went underground. Still, the holiday retained some of its magic, although in the tiny apartment where I grew up in the midst of the Siberian tundra the magic was mostly of the tacky kind.
Because our artificial New Year's tree looked more like a used bottle brush, we over-decorated it to cover up the scruffy branches. We hung shiny glass ornaments and tinsel; tossed little white puffs of cotton that pretended to be snow on the branches; and strung colored lights that reflected in the tinsel and the ornaments. We also hung tinsel from the ceiling. It made the living room, which doubled as my parents' bedroom, look like a place where silver rain fell continuously, never touching the scuffed floor.
If you switched off the ceiling light and left only the tree lights on, and if you squinted, the living room-bedroom with its pink wallpaper, worn red carpet, and a gurgling radiator under the iced window, disappeared. What you saw were twinkling fairy lights, which did make the place appear magical.
After the traditional meal of potato salad, fried chicken, pickles, and beet salad that didn't taste all that different from the potato salad, my parents would go out to celebrate with their friends. Alone in the apartment, I would sit quietly with the ceiling light off. The room would be illuminated only by the New Year's tree lights and the glow that seeped through the window ice.
I would squint and stare at the decorated tree and wait for something magical to happen. Perhaps a beautiful spirit would step out of the glow and take me with it, away from the dilapidated apartment where the radiators gurgled and the air faintly smelled like potato salad. I would wind up someplace with trees and flowers, someplace where true magic lived.
Of course it never happened and I never told anyone about my New Year's Eve vigils, because both my parents and my classmates would've made fun of me. Fantasies and deep feelings were acceptable in fairytales but not in real life in the Soviet Union. You could hardly even find any fantasy books in book stores, though science fiction was more common. Perhaps Soviet citizens were supposed to live firmly in the socialist present and dream of the future when communist paradise would become reality.
I didn't know it then, but my love for writing fantasy was born during my New Year's Eve vigils. I think Yaroslava, the heroine of my novel, A HANDFUL OF EARTH, had her beginnings there, too, because she knows about forbidden magic and loneliness and how to hide her feelings from people that wouldn't understand.
Check out Larisa's blog and her novel, A Handful of Earth, here: www.larisawalk.com
"More than a singular piece of historical fiction, it’s a saga of what it means to be female, a leader, and how deals with the devil are contemplated in the course of a struggle for freedom."
"It’s a saga replete with psychological tension and struggle, and is a top recommendation."
Thanks for joining me, Larisa! Best wishes :)