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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tree Buyers Tempted by Danish Spruce

Muscovites are confronting a stark choice this holiday season as they scour the streets for their New Year's tree: the beautiful but astoundingly expensive Danish spruce, or the skinnier - but cheaper - Russianversion, or yolka.

At open-air tree markets across the city, the two competitors are squaring off. The lush Danish beauties go for $50 per meter, while their homely Russian relatives cost 40 rubles ($2) a meter. The cost of a Danish tree would buy no fewer than 25 see-through yolkas - enough to turn one's apartment into a forest.

And there is nothing in between - which often leads to sad scenes as buyers trying to find a reasonable Russian tree find it difficult to ignore the presence of expensive imported cousins.

"How can I explain to my child the difference in prices, and why can't I buy her this beautiful tree," said Irina, a young mother. She doesn't mind imported trees being sold "but maybe they shouldn't be sold together," she added.

Alexander, who sells Danish and Russian trees near Mayakovskaya metro station, said that some people were actually buying the expensive trees - although inevitably it was those who are better off, or who bought the trees with their employer's money to beautify offices.

"I know it is hugely expensive, but I really like it and still can afford it, so why not give myself and my son a nice present for New Year's," said a young woman who introduced herself as Gerda. She had just spent 1,500 rubles on a lovely 1.4-meter Danish spruce.

Tree shopper Vladimir Suvorov, 45, was ready to resort to an old trick from Soviet times, when not only were the numbers of yolkas on sale limited but the yolkas themselves were truly ugly. "I don't mind the Russian trees being not as attractive, all I'm going to do is buy two and tie them together," he said. "I guarantee they will look not much different from these imported ones."

However, many Russians may have to do more than tie trees together to make ends meet for the New Year celebration. A proper New Year's dinner will be beyond the means of many this year, according to statistics reported by Interfax.

Citing its own experts, Interfax said that while the average monthly income is about 1,000 rubles in Russia, a modest New Year's dinner for a family of three is expected to cost 700 rubles.

Included in the calculations were a bowl of Russian salad, or cold meats, a chicken, a bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine, a bottle of vodka, smoked fish and soft drinks.

The Soviet-era tradition of the New Year's dinner remains one of the strongest to survive in Russia. However, what seems to be a long-running tradition is less than 50 years old.

After 1917, the Communist government rejected both Christmas and New Year's as a part of the old world that was to be demolished and forgotten. Jan. 1 became a national holiday only in 1948.

It took another 10 years for the country's leadership to recognize the need for lighthearted celebrations. Cities then started to get special decorations for the occasions, such as extra street lights and yolkas on major squares. It's still the major holiday of the year.

Christmas falls on Jan. 7 under the Julian calender in use in the Russian Orthodox Church, though 13 percent of Russians have started observing Western Christmas on Dec. 25, according to a Public Opinion Foundation poll of 1,600 adults cited by Interfax.

According to Yury Ponomarenko, an official from Moscow's Moslesopark forestry department who for 30 years has been in charge of supplying yolkas for city squares, the job was not easy under the watchful eye of the Soviet leadership.

The trees were always placed at key locations like Teatralnaya Ploshchad in front of the Bolshoi Theater Square. According to Ponomaryov, sometimes officials simply did not like the trees - some of them giants up to 20 meters tall and 100 years old - and ordered them replaced immediately.

"Once we forgot to untie a few branches after transporting a tree to central Moscow," he said. "Some high-ranked officials spotted it and ordered the tree replaced."

"We tried to explain that it was only a forgotten piece of cord which spoiled the tree's looks, but it failed to get across. So all we were left to do was cut another one."