Russian Winter Celebrations > All Power to the Parties

Everyone knows that Russian winters are brutal. Perhaps that’s why, as anyone who knows Russian culture can attest, the winter season is also famous for fun, a festive time for Russians to stave off cold-weather blues.

Although Russians officially switched to the Gregorian calendar after the revolution of 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church has maintained its holiday schedule using the Julian calendar, meaning Christmas is celebrated on the day the Gregorian calendar calls January 7 and New Year on January 14.

Christmas is mostly a family affair, but come New Year, it’s party time. A few weeks later comes the traditional celebration of Maslenitsa, a last-chance party before Lent, like Mardis Gras or Carnival. And because Russians seem to find their holidays too good to leave behind, even if you can’t make it all the way to Russia this winter, you can find opportunities to join the celebration.

London, for example, will hold the third Russian Winter Festival this year on January 13, the eve of Orthodox New Year, in Trafalgar Square. And on February 9 in New York, just before Maslenitsa, February 12 to 18 this year, the Russian Children’s Welfare Society will hold the 42nd Petroushka Ball. It’s a traditional Russian ball, with fine dining, dancing and music at the Waldorf-Astoria. Originally a small, invitation-only charity benefit, the ball, though still formal and rather expensive, is now open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket.

In San Francisco, the Russian Center sponsors a less formal but more open winter festival, now in its 19th year. It’s roughly scheduled to coincide with Maslenitsa in Russia, where the tradition is for people to take to the streets in brightly colored costumes and masks for bonfires and effigy burnings, sanctioned group fistfights and other alcohol-fueled merriment. Everyone eats the traditional Maslenitsa food: blintzes with butter, jam, caviar and other toppings. Organizers in San Francisco expect to have everything but the fighting for their three-day event, which usually draws about 4,000 people.

Maslenitsa actually means something having to do with butter,” said Zoia Choglokoff, vice president and director of programs at the center, the Russian word for butter is maslo. ”It means you can have blintzes and butter and drink and so on, and then for six weeks you have to stop it,” she said. ”It’s an old Russian tradition.”

The Slavic Festival this weekend in Eugene, Ore., though not exclusively Russian, is held in conjunction with the Russian holidays and features traditional food, dancing, music and art that is mostly Russian. It is sponsored by the Slavic Home, a nonprofit cultural organization.

Of course, one of the most recognizable elements of Russia’s culture is its rich legacy of symphonic music. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is taking Russian culture on the road this winter with its Russian Romantics Festival, beginning next week. In a series of concerts around the state, the orchestra will feature the music of Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and other Russian composers.

Also holding a Russian winter festival is the Tucson Symphony Orchestra: four concerts will feature the music of Prokofiev, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich, among others. George Hanson, the symphony’s music director and conductor, has long had an interest in Russian music.

Mr. Hanson, who won an ECHO-Klassik award in 2003 in Germany for recordings of works by Anton Rubinstein, finds a passion in Russian music that may be echoed in the enthusiasm the country shows for its holidays. ”When a Russian plays the violin, you never have to wonder if it’s a Russian,” he said. ”They dig in. The hairs on the bow start flying onto the floor. A great performance of a Russian work will draw you into a world where the colors are more vivid and the emotions are more keenly felt.”


LONDON > Trafalgar Square; (44-207) 183-2560; What: Russian Winter Festival; free. When: January 13.

NEW YORK > Russian Children’s Welfare Society, (212) 473-6263; What: Petroushka Ball, with dinner, dancing and vocal and balalaika performances; admission from $375. When: February 9.

SAN FRANCISCO > Russian Center of San Francisco, (415) 921-7631; What: Russian Festival in Maslenitsa tradition, $10. When: February 9 to 11.

EUGENE, ORE. > Slavic Home, (541) 510-7651; What: Slavic Festival, $5 a night. When: Tomorrow and Sunday.

NEW JERSEY > New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, (800) 255-3476; What: Russian Romantics festival; most tickets from $20. When: January 9 to 28.

TUCSON, ARIZ. > Tucson Symphony Orchestra, (520) 882-8585; What: Russian Festival; from $18. When: February 8 to March 11.