Last year I wrote about how each country celebrates the holidays a little bit differently. The traditions I called out were quite pleasant—German children leaving out letters for Christkind, Australians gathering to sing carols by candlelight—but thanks to one of the newest exhibits at The Museum of Russian Art, Around the Tree: Holiday Traditions in the Soviet Era, I’m learning about the not-so-jolly times experienced during the season in Soviet-era Russia.
Can you imagine celebrating Christmas without a tree? Or, for that matter, not being able to celebrate the holiday at all? Under Communist rule in the late 1920s citizens were forbidden from doing so, as all religious holidays were abolished and trees became a symbol of anti-Soviet activity. In the mid-1930s when because of fallen birthrates Stalin’s policies became more focused on family and children, former holiday traditions were reborn as factories began producing ornaments, tree toppers and figurines of Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden. One notable difference was that without religious association, the Christmas tree was now the New Year tree.
Liturgical vestment worn at the coronation
of nicholas II, 1896, Silver and gold embroidery,
Burgundy velvet, 60×62 in., Work on loan from
the foundation of Russian History, Jordanville,
NY, Loan arranged by The Museum of
Russian Art, Minneapolis
The exhibit gives you a glimpse into this time, showcasing artwork and historical artifacts including more than 20 paintings by notable Soviet artists, antique ornaments, masks and more that reflect the traditions of the New Year celebration.
After learning about that part of Russia’s history, make your way to the museum’s other new exhibit, The Romanovs: Legacy of an Empire Lost, to learn about the 300-year reign that started with 16-year-old Mikhail Romanov. Dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the dynasty, the exhibit, which opens November 16, offers an overview of the multifaceted history, focusing on the tragic end in 1917-1918. You’ll see historically significant objects, photographs, paintings, works on paper and books, many of which are being displayed for the first time.
*Note: The Museum is closed through November 15 for exhibit installation.