Non-architectural Moscow
embracing the liveliness
Recently I was discussing with friends what was their favourite place on Earth, the city where they would like to come back over and over again. When the same question was asked to me, I struggled to give an answer. The moment we entered Moscow in a taxi while listening to Russian music on a radio, I realized: that was it. I would barely like to live in Moscow, but I definitely feel myself a part of this complexity and – surprisingly – feel like home. It evokes tenderness and nostalgia, raising a sentimentality every time when thinking about it. I have been here at least 8 times, we were travelling here by an old-fashioned soviet train from Chisinau with my family when I was a kid, it took 25 hours and was the time of family conversations and different games, plain black tea with sugar in a metallic train mug, laying on top of the bunk bed, drawing or solving crosswords. My first flight was also related to Moscow: I was 15 years old and we were travelling to my brother's wedding in June 2015. It brings me different kinds of warm family memories with a sense of love and joy, which is why Moscow has taken a special place in my heart.
With every visit I get a broader image, like discovering a Renaissance painting with all the complexity and shadows. It is a never-ending story to unveil from completely different perspectives: people, history, music, art and literature, economy, infrastructure, architecture and even politics, which is making it hard to find essentials to describe here. Start of New Year in Moscow is a special time to be here and to merge with its countrywide celebrations; it is bright and shiny, like one gigantic Christmas lights transformed into urban appearance.
Population of almost 13 million makes Moscow the second biggest city in Europe population-wise and determines its dynamic environment. Discovering the city turns into a brisk walk, cars-sounds-noises-people talking-metro-trains-police-music-restaurants-street musicians-promotions-tourists, everything comes together and creates a big impact on all the human sensors simultaneously. Big cities make you realize one's negligence on the Earth scale, serving as a reminder to care for yourself on scale 1:1 by showing self-love and self-compassion and live to the fullest.

Moscow infrastructure is organized and digitalized, with its spatiality and diversity it is crucial to give people comfortable conditions to live in. It might easily take you two hours travelling across the city, so if there is an opportunity to order online instead of going somewhere, you might want to do so. Order groceries – medicine – clothes – furniture – anything, closing times are not earlier than 11 pm. Here you learn to see midnight as the liveliest of times, the dawn of the nightlife and activities.

Overheard conversations showed the overall literacy in Moscow; quite often I encountered meaningful discussions about philosophy, art or books. Hearing people talking about a collection of photos of nalichniki (Russian traditional decorated window frames - here is a project dedicated to it) or the importance of eloquent Russian language at a cup of tea shows how much value is set at culture within this environment and how much it means for people.

For the last four times I was here in winter: twice – celebrating New Year, two other times observing it post factum. New Year is a huge celebration in all Post-Soviet countries – bigger than Christmas – with complex history and meaning behind it.
Probably it is best to start from XVII century, when Peter The Great, following the Western Europe changes, issued the decree for New Year celebration to take place on January 1st instead of September, also changing the calendars from Byzantine to Julian which was later used up until 1918. Interestingly, fireworks were also encouraged by Peter the Great as a way to make soldiers get used to the sounds of explosions and therefore be less afraid of them in a real-life setting. At the image you can see 'Znamenie' (the Omen) church built in a special Naryshkin Baroque (also known as Moscow baroque) style.

Christmas Tree was brought in Russia by the wife of Nicholas I from Germany (she was Prussian by origin). From that moment on, Christmas tree became habitual for rich families; later on it became common in public spaces (such as streets and squares).

At that time, Russia was still using the Julian calendar, meanwhile the rest of Europe already switched to the Gregorian one. Therefore, the articles published on the same date, for instance, in London and in Moscow, were dated differently. With Bolsheviks coming to power, calendar was adapted, and in the year of 1918 right after 31st of January there was 14th of February, skipping 13 days to account for that switch. It was not until 1929 that Christmas Tree (as, apparently, all the religious things in USSR) was forbidden: no Christmas, no holidays, no Christmas tree. Not only they were banned but also persecuted: some people shared their stories of still secretly keeping the Christmas tree far from the window to hide it, because the patrol was looking inside people's homes. Religion and Soviet Union were incompatible – anti-religious campaigns and legislation were aimed to prevent people from believing in God and celebrating anything faith-related (based on nowadays Russia with Russian Orthodox Culture we can see that did not really work long-term).

Such persecution of Christmas tree was kept until 1936, when Pavel Postyshev (one of the Soviet politicians), after talking to Stalin, wrote a note in one of the most famous Soviet magazines. He said that the idea of Christmas tree was misjudged in 1920-30s; he addressed Christmas Tree to be used only by bourgeoise and in the houses of the upper class, therefore was radically abandoned by the Soviets. Nevertheless, such a radical approach he admitted to be unnecessary and suggested to bring back the Christmas tree to all the kids and make it available for everyone. This is how Christmas tree got back to Soviet Union, this time not as a Christmas attribute (of course, Christmas was forbidden!) but as a New-Year symbol. That is also the reason for it in Russian to be called (literally) as a… New Year's spruce! Stalin supported the idea of Postyshev and 'the New Year's spruce' was brought back; first time it appeared again in the House of the Unions in Moscow, and afterwards became an inalienable part of the New Year celebrations.

Even though New Year started becoming more festive, it was still not a holiday back then. People waited for midnight on 31st of December, went to sleep and woke up the next day to get to work. In 1947 it was made a holiday for everyone.

With a wider availability of television in 60-70s, families were gathering next to the TV to spend family time and wait for chiming clock (which is still an important New Year symbol in Russia). In 1971, Brezhnev was the first one to hold a broadcasted on 31st of December New Year's speech; it became a tradition and has been kept with all the subsequent presidents. Families meet together for a family dinner and watch New Year shows, exchanging gifts and think of it as an important tradition (a lot of highlight is put on the idea of a special New Year mood – the mood of magic and starting life from a blank page). In 1992 Boris Yeltsin made January 2nd to be a holiday, too; today's Russia has the first ten days of January as work-free days, making it a nice break for everyone.

Nowadays only Moscow is spending almost a billion of rubles (around 11.5 million of Euro) for all its New Year decorations around the city; it is full of lights and is practically glowing. It attracts many tourists to watch its grandiose festiveness. Celebrating New Year in Moscow is an impressive experience (also enhanced by the climate with snow) – majority is getting outside after midnight, watching fireworks and congratulating each other. Followed by such a long break, it also means a lot of family gatherings and parties in general, majority is neither working nor studying, only after 10th of January getting back in shape. It also considers Christmas which is celebrated here on 7th of January (due to the change of the calendars) instead of 25th of December (same goes for my family, for instance – we never celebrated Christmas on 25th); much more importance is set to the New Year's Eve and all the special treats which are kept-only-for-new-year-don't-touch-it kind of things.

The Omen church
Naryshkin Baroque (named after a Russian Architect Naryshkin)
An extensive story can be told about how much New Year's Eve also means to me. Spending time with my family and expressing how grateful we are to have each other is still an essential part for my celebration. Since I was a kid, we have always been getting together on 31st of December and exchanging the gifts. Whenever I think of a New Year, it is a constant reminiscence of happiness and unity, perhaps even more festive than my own Birthday, and I want to keep this tradition for my future family.
This time when visiting Moscow I paid more attention than ever to its architecture (which will get a separate post dedicated to it), listening to conversations, getting to know other people and observing its infrastructure. It also made me think: do people see how convenient it is or is such a proximity of services just a precondition for overconsumption and laziness? Moreover, if people ever get used to Moscow being such an artsy space, if people get used to these everyday conversations about books and art, do they understand how precious it is or do they take it for granted?

Moscow is a place where I would not like to stay forever or live, but it is the place where I want to come back many more times listening to street musicians playing guitar outside in -10°C, running under a snowstorm and staying in the bus till the last stop to warm myself up. My eyelashes are full of snowflakes, my hands are wrapped in two pairs of gloves on top of each other, I try various types of coffee every day and go to study in a cafeteria right next to home. Moscow is enchanting, lively and beautiful, sometimes an oddly assembled city which is standing firmly on its historical, engineering, economic and artistic roots, and this time I got more fascinated by all of it than ever before.

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