Home Away from Home Festivities
Christmas and New Year celebrations are one of the most important celebrations in a year and also in the world in general. It's a time when people get together with their families and loved ones to celebrate a year well spent and to welcome the New Year in grand style and unity. What then is the fate of an International student who arrived in Russia for the first time and is miles away from their families and loved ones? Will they be left out? Will the festivities be boring for them, because of the absence of their usual niche and habitat or will they be able to create a home away from the home celebration?
I am from Nigeria, one of the biggest countries in West Africa, and if you are a Nigerian, you should know that Christmas and New Year celebrations come with a lot of "extra". Parents buy Christmas clothes for their children as early as 2 weeks before Christmas, children travel down to the villages to meet their parents and extended families, people rent event halls for a large-scale celebration, others get their outfits sewn by the best seamstresses around, etc!! It's always a jolly ambiance. These moments are one of the ones I look forward to every year, however this year, I am over 8000 km away from my country, my family, my tradition, my origin, and my safe space. It was indeed a moment of mixed feelings as the festivities approached.
Moscow was already announcing Christmas in style, as almost all the major streets were decorated with Christmas garlands and shiny lights. Christmas trees were not left out and the 2023 symbol was already sitting pretty in the city center. These brought back nostalgic memories and some hot tears dropped down my cheeks. I missed my family, I missed home! I guess this must be how my family felt as well, without me. But there's a saying that always gets me back on my toes: When life gives you lemons, you make a lemonade out of them. I decided to have my own "home away from home" Christmas and new year celebration.
Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December in my country but it is celebrated on the 7th of January here in Russia, so I was going to have a double Christmas celebration. On the 23rd of December, my roommate (a Nigerian too) and I went to an African market in Tyopli Stan in Moscow where we spent over 4 hours trying to buy some African food items so we could make our local dishes and delicacies for the celebrations. Afterward, we went to Auchan(Ашан) in Leninsky Prospect(Ленинский Проспект), a big shopping center, to buy some decorations for our room in the dormitory. We bought a mini Christmas tree and some shiny lights to decorate it with and we also bought some drinks and cookies.
The next day the 24th of December, I set up the entire decorations and was ready for d-day. Finally, the long-awaited day arrived and brought lots of joy and happiness along. I spent the first few hours on a conference call with my family, we talked about the celebrations from our different ends of the world. It was indeed the best way to start my Christmas celebration as it made me feel as though I were with my family. After the call, my roommate's husband came around and together we cooked lots of delicious meals. We shared it with the other Africans in our dormitory and indeed it felt just like home.
We played lots of Christmas songs, danced and were merry! Later that evening, I went out with some of my international friends with whom I did the Russian language preparatory course. We went to a very nice and student-friendly restaurant in Arbatskaya and had a swell of time playing games, eating, and spending quality time with each other. We also went to the city center and took lots of pictures together. The day ended with another video call from my friends from Nigeria which lasted long hours. It was indeed an amazing Christmas celebration for me. The next week was welcoming the new year we had all waited for, hence there was a lot to do. In my culture, welcoming the New Year is as important as welcoming a king into your home, everything needs to be new, neat, and well-organized. So I spent most of my time cleaning, doing laundry, buying and replacing some old kitchen utensils.
On the 30th of December, I went to an African beauty salon in Yugo-Zapadnaya and got my hair and nails done, in order to look exceptionally beautiful on the New Year. And of course, I bought food items again to make some New Year special delicacies. As it is a tradition in most African Christian communities, we all go to church on the 31st of December, New year's eve. We go to church to meet with other Christians and thank God (the creator of heaven and earth) for a year well spent and to pray for favor and good tidings in the New Year. So, I went to church, alongside some African friends to welcome the New Year 2023. We sang, danced, jumped, prayed, and thanked God for the last year and asked for grace to navigate the New Year. Afterward, we listened to a sermon from our pastor and at 00:00, there was an uproar in church as people were either jumping, hugging each other, crying(tears of joy), or dancing, all happy to finally see the new year. I was really happy to experience something similar to home. Luckily, the transportation in Moscow was completely free for the whole day and the metro was open all day, to enable transportation.
I got home at 2 am only to meet a small party organized by some Russian students in my dormitory. I joined them and we had an amazing time, playing cards, singing karaoke songs, and eating. I eventually got reunited with my bed at 5 am, completely exhausted but very happy!! But the day was just about to start. I slept for a few hours and when I woke up, I headed straight into the kitchen to cook my "New Year Meal" and I had an amazing meal. The next thing on my to-do list was to call my family and loved ones and wish them all a happy new year. Later that evening, I went to Red Square in the company of some of my Russian friends and we took so many pictures and watched a circus show. To end the day in grand style, I went to a karaoke, where I sang to my heart's content. The New Year celebration was very memorable as I had lots of unforgettable moments.
One would think this is the end of the festivities, but NO!!! Russia was yet to have its Christmas Day celebration. They have theirs on the 7th of January instead because Russia is an orthodox country and the Orthodox Church still chooses to celebrate the birth of Jesus on the 7th of January as per the Julian calendar. The 7th of January came in style as foreigners, as well as Russians, were really anticipating this day. I spent the entire day with my friend Irina and her lovely family. It was really nice to be around the warmth of a family. We started off the day by going to a nativity concert where we watched a play about the birth of baby Jesus. It was very interesting and creative. Next, we returned home and had a big dinner with Irina's direct and extended family.
Being a foreigner, I wasn't very keen on trying lots of new dishes as I didn't want to waste the food in case I didn't like it, but to my utmost surprise, every dish had a unique and mind-blowing taste, like nothing I'd had before. I was really captivated and intrigued by a certain salad dish called Salad Olivier (Russian Potato Salad). This was the best salad dish I've tasted yet. From my research, it was originally invented by Lucien Olivier (a Russian chef of French origin) and owner of a restaurant in Moscow called Hermitage in the 1860s. This traditional salad features boiled potatoes, carrots, eggs, ham or bologna, pickles, peas, and apples coated in a rich mayo dressing. Being a huge fan of salads, the Salad Olivier definitely hit the right taste buds in me and I was spellbound for a while, indeed I loved it. There were other meals and snacks like Pelmeni (meat dumplings), Piroshki (meat pies), and also Kutya.
After a long day of eating and being merry, we got some presents from Ded Moroz (Russian Santa Claus) and that was the best part of my day. Irina's father rented the costume and played the part very well. It was an amazing way to start the year 2023 with lots of joy, happiness, and positive energy. After all these activities, I will proudly say that I had the best "home away from home" Christmas and New Year celebrations.