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Celebrating New Year's Eve in Central Asia

Since independence, the post-Soviet nations of Central Asia have invented a number of new ‘national’ holidays. Yet the celebration of the New Year's Eve, the Soviet people's most favorite holiday, still remains a cherished tradition among many people in the region. Despite some calls to denounce the holiday as ‘foreign’ and ‘un-Islamic', families in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan celebrated the arrival of the year 2013 in line with the Soviet-era tradition – with a New Year's tree, Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost, Soviet version of Santa Claus), and Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden, Ded Moroz's granddaughter).

Kazakhstan

Although some 17 percent of Kazakhstanis view [ru] the New Year's celebration as a ‘foreign’ custom, over 70 percent of the country's people say they cannot imagine the New Year's eve without Ayaz Ata (the Kazakh version of Ded Moroz), Snegurochka, and a decorated tree. Bloggers Raul Garifulin [ru] and Vyacheslav Firsov [ru] have posted pictures of New Year's fireworks in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city and the former capital.

New Year's fireworks in Almaty. Image by Raul Garifulin, used with permission.

Another blogger, Ernar Nurmagambetov, wrote [ru] about his trip to Ayaz Ata's newly constructed ‘residence’ in northern Kazakhstan:

Я не пожалел времени и денег, которые потратил на посещение Резиденции Деда Мороза. Хотя бы потому, что у 6-летней дочки, которая уже переставала верить в Деда Мороза – загорелись глазки. ))) А сын прокатился на настоящих северных оленях!!!

I do not regret the time and the money I spent to visit Ded Moroz's residence. After the trip, my 6-year-old daughter – who had begun to doubt that Ded Moroz existed – had her eyes shining with joy. And my son rode the real reindeer!!!

On VoxPopuli, Kazakhstan's leading photo blog, Damir Otegen posted [ru] a photo report about individuals who ‘work’ as Ded Morozes and Snegurochkas during the New Year's celebrations. And Kanat Beisekeyev posted [ru] a story about two Kazakhstani bloggers who dressed as Ded Moroz and Snegurochka and walked along Almaty's main streets, congratulating people on the New Year's Eve and giving children presents.

Bloggers Vyacheslav Nerush and Konstantin Nagayev, dressed as Ded Moroz and Snegurochka, on the streets of Almaty.

Kyrgyzstan

In Kyrgyzstan, the New Year's celebration has not lost its popularity despite the recent calls from some religious and political leaders to discard the Soviet-era tradition. In late December, Islamic clerics in this predominantly Muslims country called for the ban on the New Year's celebrations and urged the country's people to ignore the holiday. In addition, in a meeting with university students in Bishkek, lawmaker Tursunbai Bakir Uulu said [kg] marking the New Year's Eve was ‘un-Islamic'.

Apparently, these calls had little effect on most Kyrgyzstanis. Kloop.kg has posted [ru] a detailed report about this year's holiday, including a summary of the discussion about the holiday's appropriateness among the country's bloggers and Twitter users. The authorities in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, held [ru] a massive New Year's parade of Ded Morozes and Snegurochkas.

New Year's parade of Ded Morozes and Snegurochkas in Bishkek. Image from the Bishkek Mayor's Office Website, used with permission.

Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, there have also been recent calls to ban New Year's celebrations. In mid-November 2012, the official website of the country's Islamic Revival Party urged [ru] the authorities in Dushanbe, Tajikistan's capital, not to erect the traditional New Year's tree, suggesting that it was unwise to spend money on an ‘un-Islamic’ holiday.

Unexpectedly, the call found support among some bloggers. On Blogiston.tj, Teocrat wrote [ru]:

Лично моя позиция к этому праздника такова, что пусть каждый сам решает праздновать его или нет! А государству не следует тратить бюджетные средства на всякие торжественные мероприятия – бюджет страны и без того уже последние 20 лет находится в критическом положении. Думаю, в этой ситуации стоит сэкономить немного средств не только на праздновании НГ, но и многих других торжеств…

I personally believe that everyone should decide for themselves whether to celebrate the holiday or not. But the state should not spend resources from the country's budget on celebrations of any kind; even without this spending, the budget has been in a critical state over the past 20 years. I think in this situation, it makes sense to save a little bit of funds by not marking the New Year's Eve as well as many other festivities…

Comments under this blog show that there is little agreement among Tajikistani users on whether the tradition of ushering in the New Year has religious roots or has a purely secular character.

On her blog, Tajik journalist Zebo Tajibaeva also called [ru] on the authorities not to put up a New Year's tree in Dushanbe this year. According to journalist, the tree that the authorities traditionally erect in the capital is so ugly that the country would be better off without it.

In response to these criticisms, the mayor of Dushanbe announced [ru] that the authorities would continue organizing ‘grand’ festivities for the New Year's celebrations. The Tajik capital ushered in the year 2013 with a traditional New Year's tree, a massive concert, and fireworks.

On NewEurasia.net, Loki posts [ru] photos from the latest New Year's festivities in Dushanbe.

Uzbekistan

In early December 2012, there were reports that the authorities in Uzbekistan had instructed the state-run television channels not to show Ded Moroz, Snegurochka, and the decorated tree during the New Year's celebrations. Reports also suggested that the authorities had invented new names for the Soviet-era Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. The country's Ministry of Culture then had to interfere, saying [ru] such speculations were ‘baseless'.

Indeed, the celebrations in Uzbekistan this year were no different from the past years. On NewEurasia.net blogger Khayyam wrote [ru]:

Новый Год прошел <…>, и я с радостью констатирую факт, что Деда Мороза и Снегурочку никто не похитил, и они, как всегда, полноправно властвовали праздником в Узбекистане!

The New Year's celebration is over <…>, and I am happy to announce that Ded Moroz and Snegurochka have not been abducted; they have dominated the holiday in Uzbekistan as usual!

The blogger has also posted a YouTube video of the New Year's festivities on the main square of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

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