Why I celebrate Novi Godd
С новым годом! (Happy secular New Year)
In Israel of 2022, most people will not only know the phrase ‘Novi Godd’ means ‘New Year’ in Russian, but they will recognize it as a holiday. Before I talk about how and why it is so relevant to Israel, and to me personally, let me give you some background.
After the October Revolution of 1917, Russia, a fundamentally Christian country, was ruled with a firm hand by the communist regime. The new government advocated political atheism and therefore decided to prohibit any religious worship once and for all.
Following this prohibition, all holidays were outlawed, except for Communist ones like May First, for example. In 1936, a senior party member suggested putting Yoleki (trees) on the streets, to raise morale. And just like that, Novi Godd was born as a secular holiday, and soon enough it took an important place in Russian culture.
The Jewish community, which was severely suppressed, found solace in Novi Godd, and even poured Jewish content into it, like giving away Chanukah gelt.
When the Russian Jews made Aliyah to Israel (which is a topic deserving its own OCN article), it was clear to most of them that they would continue to celebrate Novi Godd. But it was met with much opposition, mainly due to the Christian symbols it has. This is also at the center of the delegitimization of the very Jewish identity of the immigrants from Russia to this day.
Both of my parents immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union. Living under Communist rule, they were forced to shed their Jewish customs, while remaining hated and persecuted for being Jewish. They came to Israel with nothing, defended the country in its wars, and integrated into society.
The beauty of Israel is that integrating into society does not mean assimilating. Each ethnic group (eda), or community, brings its own uniqueness. The Moroccans introduced us to Mimouna, and the Ethiopians to Sigd.
So, here we are, the Jews of the Soviet Union, introducing Novi Godd. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the holiday has Christian symbols, and I have no intention of denying that it is, in fact, their origin. Just as the pagan origin of Christmas is of no importance for Christians, so also Novi Godd outgrew its Christian shadow, and those who celebrate it see it purely as a civil holiday.
We, the people, give power to symbols and not the other way around. So even though you won't find a pine tree in my house, because, personally, I don't see the point in it, I invite you to embrace a little of the joy of life, taught to me by my Eda - find Siba L’Mesiba (an excuse to party), to be surrounded by family and friends - and drink vodka.
What’s our deal with vodka, you ask? Maybe because it's fun to drink together and maybe as a coping mechanism for all this “togetherness.” In any case, 'L'Chaim (to life), and a C novem Godaam! (Have a happy secular New Year)