Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day vs. Victory Day!

And here comes the much anticipated, as all the other celebrations that result in a long weekend, Independence Day!

Having lived here for just over three and a half years, I am rarely as excited about the event as most of my friends, particularly because I have never been big on fireworks!

The closest equivalent of the US Independence Day back in Russia is by far May 9th, the traditional day when first the USSR, and now its principal successor state, Russia, proudly marks "Victory Day" as its most sacred of all public holidays.

Probably the only other public celebration that can easily beat the V Day in Russia is Dec 31st, New Year's Eve. The pompousness of Christmas in the West has always bewildered me, and yet I've always felt slightly jealous because we don't have a remotely similar grandeur over Christmas back home, which by the way takes place on January 7th. Nothing compares the vivaciousness in the streets of Moscow on New Year's Eve - every family celebrates it like the joy and festivity of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year all assembled into one night, December 31st, when the President of Russia makes his annual speech broadcasted on every Russian channel exactly at midnight.

Unusual to talk about New Year's celebrations on a humid July afternoon, isn't it. But it really is the biggest public festivity back home that brings people closer for that one night when everything seems hopeful, positive and brand new. May 9th is fun, albeit somewhat bureaucratic, whereas December 31st is what the whole year is all about. I am sure it is a big deal everywhere, but since Christmas seems to be the "ultimate" in the western world, we just make up for it altogether a week later on our side of the pond!

I still remember the night of Dec. 31st - Jan. 1st, 1993-1994 in Moscow, on Stariy Arbat (Old Arbat) Street in the very heart of the city - the night when the first President of the post-Soviet Republic of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was allegedly killed in Chechnya, and my cousin Ketuta, both 9 years of age, with eyes wide open watched the evening news with my parents in the living room.

Ketuta has still not forgotten the Christmas Tree (we call them the New Year's trees back home, hence the big night) that my dad creatively came up with the night before the celebration.... Christmas trees were a big deal at the time - in order to get a good one, you'd have to look for it all over the city and then pay an absolute fortune (well, for us it was quite a lot), so instead, Dad, being a painter himself, decided to paint a Christmas tree on the wall - literally. We bought small decorations for the "tree" and decorates the wall so beautifully and had so much fun doing it - to us, it really seemed like the most gorgeous Christmas tree in the whole wide world! It's true when they say that the little things are what really counts!

Sorry for getting carried away, but since we were discussing the public holidays, such as the one on this very day, the time machine did its little trick on me yet again.

As for the Independence Day celebrations tonight, everyone seems so excited about it, let's just hope the grey skies permit the excitement to flourish to its maximum potential! I remember every time the weather turned out to be disappointing on the Victory Day back in Moscow, the Mayor of the city used to make the clouds "go away" - not metaphorically but literally - with a click of a button... Quite cool, actually. But can't really be an ecologically "natural" process, can it?

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