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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Treats for the Christmas Tree

I am spending Christmas in Moscow for the first time. Where do I get my tree and decorations?

There can be no Christmas without a Christmas tree (yolka in Russian). The only problem in Moscow is getting it on time, because the Russians get theirs for New Year's Day or, since last year, for the Orthodox Christmas (Rozhdestvo) on Jan. 7.

The temptation is great to set out with a little saw and help yourself. The GAI used to stop any car coming into Moscow with a Christmas tree on the roof and check for a permit. So stick to baby trees, branches of pine and baskets full of pine cones, which you can gather in Serebryanny Bor if you don't want to venture out of town.

The more organized embassies usually write a letter to UPDK, requesting a certain number of trees. This enables the embassy drivers, or you and your family, to set out for a fir grove some 150 kilometers outside of Moscow. Go clad in boots and fur hats, armed with an axe, and take along enough alcohol for bribes. This is the only way you will be led into the depth of the forest where the bushy, green trees grow.

A simpler, but more uncertain solution is to buy a tree from one of the markets (yolochnaya yarmarka) which pop up on various open spaces around town. Locations vary from year to year, so keep a sharp eye for people dragging a tree back home and question them. There always is a market near the main entrance of the Luzhniki sports complex and usually in front of Paveletsky station. The fir tree intensely dislikes the overheated atmosphere of Moscow flats, so do as the Russians and keep it on the balcony until the last minute, or provide it with a good humidifier.

The third, more practical alternative, is to get an artificial tree. These green plastic wonders come in various sizes and cost about 2, 000 rubles. They can be bought at Dom Igrushky, at 28 Ulitsa Dmitrova, in Detsky Mir, 2 Teatralny Proezd, and at other toy shops. These shops also sell a variety of Christmas decorations, ranging from the most kitsch and gaudy to some wonderful hand-painted glass


You will also find lights and a stand for your tree. Paper dolls of Father Frost (Ded Moroz) make a nice Father Christmas if you color his clothes red. GUM always has a very good Christmas market selling all kinds of decorations. Traditionally, the Russian tree is lit with real candles, quite a risky proposition, but special candles are for sale in hardware stores and candles in the shape of Father Christmas are often found in gift shops.

Very attractive linen tablecloths with Christmas motifs have been spotted lately at the gift shops in the Mezhdunarodnaya and Slavyanskaya hotels for a reasonable amount of hard currency. Red remains a favorite color whatever the politics, and red ribbon is plentful at florists or in large department stores. Gift wrap, however, is an unknown luxury, and you will have to buy it from a hard currency store or use the pages of some cheap and pretty calendars if you want the local touch.

Christmas cards inscribed with c novim godom or c rozhdestvom can be bought in bookstores such as Dom Knigi on Novy Arbat or Molodaya Gvardiya, 28 Bolshaya Polyanka. You can easily make your own by using the lovely series of postcards of old Moscow or icon reproductions sold in church kiosks. You can get more luxurious cards printed at Alphagraphics, 50 Tverskaya-Yamskaya Ulitsa. At Ismailovo there are usually some stalls selling UNICEF cards.

I cannot conceal a hint of nostalgia when admitting that Christmas in Moscow is no longer the simple and uncommercial event it used to be, where the snow and the Nutcracker on Christmas Eve at the Bolshoi would make up for all the rest. All the hard currency stores these days are competing to make you regret all the glitter and goodies you have left behind, and you will find tinsel and baubles and jingle bells in most of them.

Even your traditional Christmas turkey, or plum pudding or lebkuchen or pannetone or buche de Noel has been flown straight over here, and all you need to do is make sure you bag yours before they are sold out.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate, have a Merry Christmas!

This is the last column by Diane Adriaenssen, who is leaving Moscow for a while. Good luck, Diane, and welcome next week to Harriet Forster, who will continue with How To, Where To.