23 December 2006

holiday lights

Edited to add pictures!

My sister, Amy, loves to drive around and look at Christmas lights. I thought I should post some here for you to see. I will, I promise, but first some musings on Christmas in Russia. While we do have holiday lights, and they are festive, they aren't Christmas lights. We look more like we're in a casino than a winter wonderland. Everything flashes.

I continue to be astounded at how thoroughly the communist government did away with Christmas. I think my opionions on life under communist rule were formed in junior high. That's when I first became fascinated with Russia. Reading Anna Anderson's life story started me reading about the Romanovs. And from there I just kept going.

When did the Sting song come out? It did capture how we felt. We were at the end of the cold war, convinced there was common ground between us and them. But, I think I created more common ground ideologically than there actually was. I put together my own personal inclinations with a heavy dose of American spirit and a dash of Nazi resistance from WWII (another big interest of mine in those days) and created a picture of what I thought life must be like in the Soviet Union.

I didn't think that anyone could actually believe in communism. (Sure, it's great in principle, but since it's executed by imperfect people, it will never work.) I thought people in Soviet Russia knew that and were just playing the game. I thought that agreeing with the government was just self-preservation. I thought people were worshipping in secret. I thought that when the Iron Curtain fell, people would rush to embrace their new-found freedom.

Some of this may be true. But, much of it was not. I remember being on a trip with a girl from China while we were in college who really believed in communism. This blew my mind! And, living here with people who grew up under communism, I 'm astounded by the world view that they have. All of the people who are in power now grew up in Soviet Russia. And, they were the ones who were most strongly inculcated in those beliefs. They didn't know anything different. They had never experienced anything else.

This world view strikes home in many ways, but the lack of Chirstmas makes a huge impression on me. Russian friends tell me often that Christmas is not an important holiday in Russia--that new year's is. And, everytime they tell me, I expect a wink. But I don't get it. Sadly, Christmas really and truly isn't important here. There is no rejoicing for the birth of Christ. There is no wonder, no awe, no peace.

I said when I first came that St. Petersburg reminded me of a gracious lady waking from a long nap with her attendants scurrying around to make her ready for a grand dinner. During the holiday season that gracious lady is nowhere to be seen. The city is all tarted up in a too-tight dress and too-bright lipstick, staggering around on stilettos with a bottle waving in her hand.

This is Nevsky Prospekt. Has anyone read the Gogol story about this street? I avoid Nevsky whenever possible--both on foot and in the car. It's too busy. It's hard to see the lights in this one but they're there.

More lights...but aren't the uplights on the building the prettiest part? St. P looks like a giant music box all winter with these lights on.

That's the Admiralty in the background.

For Tracy, here's Snegoritchka...

...and Dyed Moros..
...in the car park in in front of St. Isaac's. (St. Isaac's was the domed cathedral in the last two pictures. I couldn't get a picture of the front of them with St. I's because of all the cars.)

The Hermitage on a misty night. They have the same tree and Dyed Moros that we saw by St. Isaac's in Palace Square. They're also setting up a big sound stage for new year's.

A close-up of the lovely (sarc) decorations adorning the Hermitage.

New Year's lights in front of Peter and Paul fortress (sorry for the blur--night setting)...

...and on a government building. (I don't know what they do there...no one I ask knows.)


Maggie said...

I feel a bit dense, but I never put two and two together and realized that the downplaying of Christmas was a leftover from Communist days. I knew New Year's is a bigger holiday there, but I didn't think through the reasons why.

I know the kids from my hosting group that are home with us now are thrilled about Christmas trees and lights and all the festive parts of Christmas. It's just so new for them!

p.s. No - nobody else can see your email address there. That just shows up when you're logged in with your Google account.

Calico Sky said...

Hey Kate. Thanks for the explanation about Christmas in Russia. I think you make some really great points, yes it probably doesn't 'dawn' on people because it's all they know.
I really hope that this Christmas doesn't proove too tough. I'll call you Christmas Day!!!

votemom said...

you are so great at painting word pictures. i feel like i'm standing in the middle of a russian town.

will you be celebrating on dec 25 and on jan 7?

Holly said...

Those pictures bring back memories! I'm especially glad you posted pics of the Hermitage since I only saw it in the daylight.

I also didn't make that connection, thanks for the explanation.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy knowing that Jan. 1 brings in a new year with tons of potential and new beginnings.

Deb said...

The streets reminds me a little of what I think Mardi Gras would look like in New Orleans.

How long have you been over there?

Maggie said...

St. Pete is beautiful, isn't it? Thanks for sharing the pictures.

I know you've been overseas either in Russia or elsewhere for a while, but I'm sure it's hard to be away from home on the holidays. I'll be thinking of you and sending Merry Christmas wishes from across the ocean.

kate said...

Thanks for all your bloggy support! I went to church today for lessons and carols. (I knew about 2/3 of the carols so that was a treat!) Tomorrow I'll go and have Christmas dinner with another American family. I teach their daughter--she's very excited! I plan on going to an Orthodox service on January 7th, too.

I've been overseas for about three years consecutively now, with an extra year-and-a-bit spent in England five years ago. It's always interesting...

(Thanks for the e-mail p.s., Margaret. I was in a panic!)

Rhyne & Jake said...

Love, love, love the pictures!! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and thank you again for sharing the Russian culture with us!!!