Here you are, come in, take your shoes off (no melted snow is planned in this story) and make yourself at home. Can you feel the festive mood in the air? The first thing that catches your eye are lacy hand-made snowflakes – they’re literally on every window! There’s even a giant snowflake on the chandelier (here’s a handy tutorial on how to craft one). Tinsel strings and buntings with pictures of animals and fairytale characters run from room to room under the ceiling. Even some houseplants are dressed up with tiny baubles and dangling strands of lametta!

In the living room you will be introduced to the guest of honor,  the main attraction, the yolka [елка], or more commonly known by many around the world as simply, a Christmas Tree. Defying the minimalistic principles of its posh European sisters, a Russian yolka, lavishly muffled in tinsel and shimmering lights, has definitely chosen the path of a party queen. No matter if it's daytime or midnight, its iridescent outfit produces a hypnotic effect irrevocably drawing your attention with its myriad of nifty details. Nevertheless, no one dares to call the Russian decoration style chaotic, since there are some unspoken rules to be followed when creating this festive masterpiece.

Credit: Juliet Sarmiento (@totoy2001) on

Credit: Juliet Sarmiento (@totoy2001) on

1. Make it real

We can hardly detach the holiday spirit from the comforting smell of a frosty forest, that’s why buying spruce or pine is the first thing on a to-do list for an authentic Russian New Year. Although picking up falling needles from the carpet сan make you doubt whether it’s worth it, just one look at (and one sniff of) the graceful tree is enough to change your mind. There’s also a pleasant option for those who don't want to sacrifice nature to please their festive whims – you can always enjoy your tree in a pot!

2. Take it all

When you start decorating your tree, make sure you get the order right. First come the fairy lights – from colorful lanterns to flower-shaped bulbs to the classic neat yellow lights, anything goes. Then come the ornaments. Every Russian house can boast numerous boxes of them waiting in a closet for their time to shine, so there’s no need to buy something new every year (unless adding ornaments is your tradition). 

Vintage Soviet ornaments, which witnessed several generations of New Year celebrations, are of particular value and are even considered family heirlooms. When my mother, the first child in the family, was born, my grandfather bought a сurious ornament – a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket. It’s been more than 50 years since then, and a lot of things have changed, but it’s always on our tree (and it even somehow got named Sonya). Rare and unique, such ornaments are always prominently placed at the center of the tree! Nevertheless, no piece should be left out, and that’s why an eclectic yolka combines the old and the new in a surprisingly organic way. 

As the decorations are often made from glass or other fragile material and strings don’t deserve our trust because they are too slippery, a creative way to prevent a disaster has been discovered – we attach them to a paperclip. 

Drizzle the entire tree with foil tinsel – it’s impossible to spoil anything with a bit of sparkle, right? – and top it with a red star (one more shout-out to the Soviet era and the Kremlin in particular) or a more elegant spire, depending on your preferences.

Credit: Eugene Zhyvchik (@eugenezhyvchik) on

Credit: Eugene Zhyvchik (@eugenezhyvchik) on

3. Don’t forget the food

Some Russians deck their trees with sweets and fruits carefully hanging them on  paperclips or strings. There’s no need to be picky – go to the nearest grocery store and buy 100 grams of candies in bright wrappers (like Romashka or Krasnaya Shapochka). So that the tree doesn’t resemble a laid table, the presence of food is thoroughly disguised: tangerines can be covered in tin foil and candies wrapped in shiny paper. This tradition is more common for families with children, but who cares because sometimes all of us feel like naughty kids. Insider tip: before eating your festive tangerine, peel it gently in a spiral to make another unusual tree decoration that fills the room with the scent of citrus.

4. Cover the flaws

Well, the tree is sparkling, its branches are bursting with ornaments and it seems like we’re finally done. But look, what’s that down there? A naked trunk on an ugly cross… According to Russian decorating сustoms, no one should see this horror! What’s curious, every family beautifies it in their own way – while some prefer fluffy cotton wool for the snow-under-the-tree effect, others stick to plainer white bed-sheets; and if you want your yolka to be shiny from top to toe, go for tinsel. Let the figurines of Father Frost and Snow Maiden or maybe a plush symbol of the upcoming year take their rightful places under the tree and don’t forget to leave some space for gifts!

To get fully-packed for the upcoming New Year in a completely Russian way, check out these guides on Russian traditional new year foods, Soviet new year movies, and new year cartoons.