Happy New Year 2023: Belarus

As in Moldova and Russia, Christmas in Belarus often takes second place to New Year’s Eve celebrations, a holdover from Soviet times when ideology demanded the abandonment of “Western” and religious holidays. However, Belarus does have a historical connection with Christmas, and the observance has become increasingly popular. Even if New Year’s is the bigger holiday, the run-up to January 1 incorporates many of the same Christmas rituals and traditions in other countries of Eastern Europe.

Prior to Christianity, the darkest period of the year was associated with the winter solstice and in Belarus two weeks were set aside for this time, a period which was called Kaliady. These traditions are somewhat remembered, although Christianity eventually replaced paganism. Members of the Orthodox Church celebrate Christmas on January 7, while Protestants and Catholics celebrate on December 25.

Customs for Kućcia, or Christmas Eve, are similar to those in neighboring countries. The table may be spread with hay before the tablecloth is draped over it, reminiscent of the hay that padded the manger where Jesus was born. Traditionally, the Christmas Eve dinner is served without meat and consists of at least 12 fish, mushroom, and vegetable dishes. The number 12 signifies the 12 Apostles. Bread is broken between family members rather than cut with a knife, and after the dinner is eaten, the table remains as it is so that ancestral spirits may partake of the meal at night.

With some differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Christmas foods, the typical dishes are made of meats (baked goose), dairy, vegetables, grains, and dough. However, Belarusian Catholics are not as strict as their Polish neighbors in terms of Christmas dinner, and it can have more variety from family to family, while the New Year’s table for any Belarusian family has at least several typical dishes.

Caroling is also a part of the Belarusian Christmas traditions. As in other countries, this tradition has its roots in older, pagan traditions, when troupes of carolers would dress up as animals and fantastic beasts to scare away evil spirits and collect money or food in return for their services. Today, usually only children go caroling, though now even that is not so common.

Many of the traditions that serve as New Year’s traditions in Belarus serve as Christmas traditions elsewhere. For example, the New Year’s tree is essentially a Christmas tree decorated for a different holiday. People may also exchange gifts on New Year’s instead of Christmas, depending upon family tradition. Those who do not have a Christmas Eve feast will instead have a large New Year’s Eve dinner.

The main New Year’s dish is “Olivier” salad – a mix of mayonnaise, potatoes, green peas, pickles, and some other ingredients. Don’t be deceived by the French-sounding name – the French people have never heard of such a salad. The children have winter holidays; they eat tangerines and watch New Years’ movies on TV. Russian TV can be received by most Belarusians and many of them watch Putin’s speech at 11:00 pm (Minsk is an hour ahead of the Moscow time zone). At midnight, Alyaksandr Lukashenka — the first and only president of Belarus since the establishment of the office on July 20, 1994 — appears on the screen to deliver his annual New Year’s address to the nation.

When the New Year arrives, people pour “Soviet Champagne” into their glasses and attack the food. Children run to the New Years’ tree in order to find their presents. By 1.a.m. everyone is completely full. Nevertheless, many people find the strength to go for a walk downtown. Such New Year strolls are especially favored by Minsk citizens. The main avenue of the city is closed to vehicles, allowing huge crowds to wander around, drinking beer out of bottles or champagne out of plastic glasses while listening to Belarusian pop music from the street loudspeakers and waiting for some miracle to happen. They come home late after midnight, exhausted, tipsy, with running noses and shiny eyes. The New Year has begun.

The Republican Unitary Enterprise of Posts “Belpochta” (Белпошта) released a two-part Santa train design as its Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! stamp issue on October 10, 2022, in a variety of formats. There is a lavender-bordered four-stamp miniature sheet containing two se-tenant pairs as well as two additional sheets of six stamps each. The red-bordered sheet features the front of the train and is inscribed “Happy New Year!” while a green-bordered sheet includes the rear of the train and includes the legend “Merry Christmas!”.

The stamps were designed by Yauheniya Biadonik and were printed at the Republican Unitary Enterprise “Bobruisk Integrated Printing House named after A.T.Nepogodin” using the offset lithography process on chalk-coated gummed paper. They measure 52 x 29.75 mm each with the mini-sheet of four sized at 125 x 80 mm and the panes of six measuring 125 x 109 mm each. There is a total print run of 60,000 copies of each design — 8,000 se-tenant mini-sheets of four and 10,000 sheets each of the red- and green-bordered sheets of six were printed. They are comb-perforated 13 x 13½ and bear a no-value indicator of “A” which had a face value of BYR 0.62 on the date of issue. This is the postal rate of a letter up to 20 grams within Belarus.

The special first day of issue cancellation was designed by Yauheniya Biadonik, was applied with blue ink at the main post office of Minsk. There were also two maximum cards for this issue, also designed by Biadonik.

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