It is -10°C [14°F] right now, and at 4 pm today, it was around -1°C, and we were standing in the middle of the pedestrian street for an hour, for today was the Day of People’s Unity.
Russians love their holidays, and today was no exception. I heard a variety of different stories about the day. Elena told me it had something to do with the Revolution in 1917. My students told me it was about “reunification.” Łukasz told me it was to celebrate the end of the Polish occupation of the Kremlin in the 17th century. In Arkhangelsk, now, it seems to be an occasion to take the day off from classes, drink in the streets at noon (not that people need a holiday to do that), and light the New Years tree that was put up downtown last weekend.
Americans are always complaining about how the Christmas decorations go up in shops earlier and earlier each year. In Russia, they don’t have the buffer of Halloween and Thanksgiving to divert the Christmas preparations. People were hanging evergreen garlands in grocery stores when I was shopping for a pumpkin two weeks ago.
Anyway, today, I had lunch downtown with Liv, the Norwegian teacher who lives in Centrin (and treated myself to some delicious European coffee!). And then we hung around downtown, staying warm in the mall until we were joined by her boyfriend and Łukasz around 3:30, to await the lighting of the New Years’ Tree at 4:00. Little did we know that what actually began at 4 was a 45-minute long show leading up to the lighting, which included folk dancing, singing, and a whole cast of characters, from a talking snowperson to the leader of the Chumbariki (???) to the Tsaritsa of the North herself! All the children of Archangel came out for the event, and all of them were sitting on their fathers’ shoulders, so that I could only see the show from the screens of other people’s digital cameras. But, it was totally worth it. It was an adorable show, and the kids were excited for the tree, and I even recognized some of the songs!
When the event was finally over, I could not feel my toes, despite a pair of stockings and wool socks. Łukasz and I walked along the Embankment for a little while, taking advantage of the beautiful, clear day to take some pictures of the end of sunset (at 5:00!), but we soon took refuge in the mall to warm up before the walk home.
For more pictures of the holiday, you can check out my album on facebook.