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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tree for a Life More Joyous

Reintroduced in 1936 after a spell of atheist austerity, the yolka is still the centerpiece of New Year's celebrations for children. Almost every Moscow venue is having some form of a holiday concert, from the classic "Nutcracker" to a new take on Shakespeare -- on motorcycles.

The concept of a yolka -- a festive party for children around a gigantic Christmas or New Year's tree (also called a yolka) -- was at first considered religious debris left over from bourgeois times. Then suddenly the nomenklatura had a change of heart and directed trade unions and pioneer palaces to organize festive New Year's events for kids. The turning point was 1935, the year when Stalin pronounced his epic phrase, "Life has become better, comrades, life has become more joyous!"

Following the tree's rebirth, the symbolic difference was, of course, a red star on the top rather than an angel, just like on the Kremlin's Spasskaya tower. The yolka tradition has been going strong since that time, with each notable venue organizing some form of children's concert and giving out presents at the end, usually in the form of sweets.

The Classics

The Kremlin yolka is the most famous nationally and receives the most children -- as many as 300,000 every season. It's considered important for every Russian child to come to the Kremlin yolka at least once, and tickets are sent out to far-away provinces, orphanages and other children's organizations. Unfortunately, many of these tickets, which originally cost 650 rubles for matinees and 750 rubles for evening shows, eventually get bought up by resellers and are sold for as much as 9,000 rubles.

The yolka in the Kolonny Zal was the first held after the "yolka thaw" in 1936. The annual show was quite political before the 1960s, with sailors and workers lighting up the festive tree by firing from the Aurora cruiser.

Some venues are reintroducing the tradition of balls, with massive success. The uber-popular New Year's Ball at the Pushkin Museum was sold out in three days this year, all 45 shows of it.

The Concerts

The Moscow International House of Music, or MMDM, has several musical options. New Year-themed concerts generally have a more relaxed atmosphere, and tickets have assigned seats, unlike the more famous central yolkas, where children have to compete to sit closer to the stage. This year, MMDM has seven different New Year-themed concerts for children, including a musical about Pippi Longstocking.

Most of the yolkas have a similar basic structure: After amusing children with Ded Moroz, contests and treasure hunts, the organizers open doors into the main auditorium. The show itself features characters preparing for Ded Moroz, who is about to bring the New Year's party. Evil characters try to intervene, but get re-educated in the end, where everyone celebrates around the yolka. After the show, children receive their presents.

The Odd Ones Out

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Yolka parties typically feature a giant tree, contests, treasure hunts and a show about characters preparing for Ded Moroz while evil characters try to intervene.
For something completely different, the Olimpiisky Sports Complex is having a "multi-genre" spectacle on ice: Its version of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" is to feature eight polar bears on ice skates, according to the show's director, Eduard Moshkovich. "We wanted something in the spirit of 'The Snow Queen,' so we introduced this unique polar bear number into the play," he said.

Even more intriguing is an event at CSKA -- a show based on "Romeo and Juliet," only it's performed on motorcycles. Felix Mikhailov, who previously directed the popular "Stars on Ice" show, managed to "combine hardcore sports motorcycle drive with the lyrics of Shakespeare, something never before attempted," according to the news release. That combination is to be supplemented with fireworks, stand-up comedy and trapeze artists.

Out of Town

Some estate museums in the Moscow region are attracting families away from the hype and exhaust fumes surrounding the capital's yolkas. The Tchaikovsky Estate museum in Klin is showing kids how Christmas was celebrated in the 19th century in the composer's house. "The Nutcracker" and other works are performed on Tchaikovsky's grand piano, there is a nativity scene and a Christmas tree with antique ornaments.

The Chekhov Estate museum is organizing open-air celebrations near the writer's old house in the Moscow region. Traditional winter games, sledding, carriage rides and tea from a samovar with Ded Moroz are on the agenda.


Chekhov Estate, Melikhovo, Chekhov region 8 (49672) 2-36-10, Jan. 3-8.

CSKA Stadium, 39 Leningradsky Prospekt, M. Aeroport. Tickets:

Kolonny Zal, 1 Ul. Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 292-0178. Dec. 24-Jan. 6, noon and 4 p.m., 690 rubles with a gift, or 540 rubles without one.

Kremlin yolka, Dvorets Syezdov, 1 Ul. Vozdvizhenka, 929-7772. Dec. 25-Jan. 9, daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for school-age children, 650 rubles; preschoolers with an adult at 6 p.m., 750 rubles.

MMDM, 52 Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya, Bldg. 8. 730-4350, M. Paveletskaya. Various shows 200-700 rubles, gifts 150 or 200 rubles.

Olimpiisky Sports Complex, 6 Olimpiisky Prospekt, 688-5322, M. Prospekt Mira. Dec. 28-Jan. 8 at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4:30 p.m., 350 rubles admission, 280 rubles a present.

Tchaikovsky Estate, (8-49624) 2-10-50, 5-81-96, 220 rubles per person.