Its the day after Boxing Day and I’m sat on an Aeroflot plane to Moscow.
I’ve just been offered something completely unrecognisable as supper and have already grown bored of trying to feign interest in the all-Russian in-flight magazine. Nice photos but haven’t got a clue what they’re selling/telling.
International trade knows no time or holiday barriers and customary breaks that we are used to here in Blighty are very different in many parts of the world I’ve been dealing with this year. For example, 21 business emails on Christmas Day was a slight surprise.
JoJo has been so well received around the world and its hard to believe this time last year we hadn’t exhibited at a single Trade Fair yet and had a handful of retailers buying us.
It has led me to wonder about how other countries celebrate Christmas and New Year especially the three countries I’ve visited most this year and where our largest accounts reside.
A few weeks ago I was in New York for a final flurry of business meetings. With just two weeks to go before Santa starts his epic journey you would expect this, the land of celebrated Department stores with amazing over-the-top Christmas windows, to really go for it and ooze the holiday. But no… surprisingly disappointing and a little bit dull which will of course fly in the face of any guidebook or travel company trying to woo Christmas shoppers to the city.
They align perfectly with our religious beliefs, they absolutely celebrate it but if you walk around the streets it is missing the same sparkle you get in London. Much is said about the ice skating rink and big Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre but otherwise, blink and you’d miss it. There are no streets dripping with sparkly lights, no Salvation Army equivalent on a corner banging out christmas carols, as you move away from 5th Avenue and the spectacular Dept store windows, it just As a rule – none of my American friends send Christmas cards and whilst they bring the family together on Christmas day, they all admit Thanksgiving has a bigger draw!
Then there’s New Year of course – surely NYC pulls out all the stops? I had the pleasure of being there for 1999 New Years Eve and was expecting ‘wow’. Fireworks? Dancing in the streets? Auld Lang Syne sung all over? No. Some glittery ball that drops with some ticker tape. I had a perfectly brilliant time partying like it was indeed 1999 at a private event but was most disappointed at the lacklustre effort – this was the dawning of a new millennium too! The one thing they can claim as great is the New Years Day Parade but quite frankly…who can cope with the hangover to go and get a good enough position early enough to watch that?
How about Japan – after working very closely with our distributors there, I can see they know how to party. Surely they go for it?
Well apparently not. They celebrate it and get together and ‘sometimes’ exchange gifts but its not even a public holiday – they are much more focused on New Year.
During World War II anything regarded as American was suppressed and that included Christmas parties. Its only since the 60s with an ever expanding economy and influx of American TV that it became popular again.
Their christmas cake is a white sponge cake covered with cream and covered with strawberries. Thanks to a massively successful ad campaign in the 70′s it has become almost a National custom to eat at KFC around Christmas so much so, many restaurants take reservations months in advance!
So as I approach Moscow, what do they have in store? I won’t be venturing far from my hotel sadly so I won’t get much of a visual read but what I do know is that their celebrations are the most interestingly different to us which starts with the fact that they work to a different calendar to us: as with some other Eastern Orthodox countries, there is a 13 day difference versus the UK with their Christmas Eve on January 6th heralding the start of a 10 day holiday.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks banned Christmas and so many traditions such as decorating a fir tree and exchanging presents turned into New Year celebrations. Christmas became an official holiday and non-working day again in 1991 but only began gaining real popularity because Russian leaders like Putin, attend an annual Christmas liturgy.
On Christmas Eve there are several very long church services many families attend. They then return to a traditional Christmas Eve Holy Supper which consist of 12 dishes representing each of the Twelve Apostles.
Christmas Eve also marks the start of an old Slavic holiday called Svyatki. Young women use a mirror and candles to call on spirits to create an image of their future husbands – in fact, as with going to church, fortune-telling on Christmas Eve is becoming very popular again.
Because Christmas is still only taking root again as a nationwide holiday it is still seen as inferior to New Years Eve/Day.
Instead of Father Christmas they have Grandfather Frost (also known as Ded Moroz) who is accompanied by a Snow Maiden (his fairy grand daughter)
He looks like Santa in every way other than instead of a red outfit he wears blue and the two of them work hard distributing sweets and toys to the children on New Years Eve instead of Christmas Eve.
Its on New Years Eve that the biggest parties and family gatherings take place. There is a firm tradition that the way you meet the New Year sets the standard for the whole of the year lying ahead so huge dinners with multiple courses and unusual treats dominate even the smallest of households.
A popular custom is on the strike of midnight people write their wishes for the New Year on paper and then burn it with a candle. They then mix the ash with champagne and drink it!
And I guess that’s one of the many bits I love about my job – how marvellous that just a few hours on a plane and a few thousand miles away you can be in a meeting room looking at samples or discussing a business proposition for hours where everything is equal and you are all aiming for the best profit and best negotiation but scratch beneath the surface just a little, spend some time talking to your hosts and you discover a very different fascinating way of life and set of beliefs.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone everywhere whether you’ve had it or are still looking forward to it!