WINTER IN ST. PETERSBURG: IMPRESSIONS AND PICTURES
I like walking around the city with my camera. Here are some pictures where you can see St. Petersburg in winter when ice covers the waterways and the snow accumulates. The city looks different and absolutely fascinating under a thick blanket of snow, showing its new beauty.
The Neva river and canals of St. Petersburg are completely frozen. It is possible to walk across the frozen Neva from the Hermitage to the St. Peter and Paul Fortress.
In the middle of winter the New Year and Ortodox Christmas are observed. The New Year for Russians is a great holiday and is celebrated on the same day as everywhere in the world, but Ortodox Christmas (Rozhdestvo) takes place in Russia on January 7 according to the Orthodox traditions. The Russians observe Christmas thirteen days later than the other Christian world in compliance with the old Julian calendar which is still recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The streets of St. Petersburg are decorated with festive lights, garlands, New Year toys. In all the squares and practically in every flat (especially if the family has small kids) you can find beautiful natural fir trees (Christmas tree, yolka in Russian) filled with ornaments and colored lights. Different art and music festivals are performed in the city at that time. For example, in December-January takes place the classical music festival called "Christmas musical meetings in the Northern Palmira". On these dates it is also a delight to see the magic ballet "The Nutcracker" that is traditionally performed in the main theatres of St. Petersburg.
Christmas holydays in Russia are lasting from 1 till 10 of January, the most of the offices and services are closed on these dates. For Russian kids the New Year's eve is the most prominent and expected event, like Christmas for most European children. It is a merry secular holiday with family celebrations and a big number of gifts.
On these days Russian Santa Claus - Ded Moroz (Grandfarther Frost) visits the families and presents a lot of gifts to the small kids. He is the fairy tale person - tall and strong, with long white beard wearing fur hat, blue or red heel-long coat trimmed with white fur and Russian traditional high felt boots (valenki) and with a big bag full of presents. Ded Moroz is accompanied by Snegurochka(Snow Maiden), his granddaughter. To get presents from Ded Moroz the kids have to dance around the Christmas Tree, sing a song or recite a poem. Ded Moroz drives Russian traditional three-horses sledge (troyka).
On December 31 each family prepares a lot of delicious specialties: the Holiday table is full of different kinds of salads, cold bark pork, smoked salmon and sturgeon, caviar, vodka, champagne, fruits and sweets. The New Year Holiday tastes like tangerines that are eaten in large quantities at this time. At 5 minutes to midnight the Russian President addresses the nation with his festive speech. At midnight with the last chime of the clock's bell on the Kremlin Tower in Moscow starts a very cheerful party that lasts all night. A lot of people after midnight are crowding the beautifully illuminated streets to continue the festival there with snowballs, dancing and of course with fireworks that you can hear throughout the whole night. Many young people are spending that night mostly in the restaurants or cafes where special New Year shows are being performed with live music and a lot of dancing and singing. Practically all restaurants at that time are overcrowded but atmosphere is very festive and merry.
Then, January 6/7 Orthodox Christmas is celebrated. It is a religious holiday with liturgies that last all night in all Orthodox cathedrals and churches around the city. The celebration of Christmas in Russia is more peaceful than Easter which is considered by the Orthodox Church to be the most important religious holyday of the year. Many people are also celebrating the Orthodox New Year on the night January 13/14 (according to the old Julian calendar).
The local people take advantage of the winter for skiing and skating, the kids are going down from snow hills on sledges, sculpting snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other.
The schoolchildren have vacations from December 28 until January 10. This is the season for many public festivals called "Yolka" (New Year Tree). These are concerts, shows, competitions where everything revolves around the New Year Tree, Ded Moroz, Snegurochka and other persons from Russian fairy tales. The main city's New Year Tree party for kids is performed in Anichkov Palace (the former residence of Russian emperors).
The brave members of local swimming clubs almost every day break the ice near St. Peter and Paul fortress to take a morning dip. Those who are afraid of cold water become excited spectactors. The fishermen cut holes for ice fishing.
During the winter time in different spots of St.Petersburg which are changing from year to year you can see ice sculptures made by professional designers. For example, in November-December 2005 an ice bar serving whiskey and vodka was erected in front of the Grand Hotel Europe. In early February 2006 on the Palace Square the public "Ice House" with ice sculptures was constructed. That "Ice Palace" was a copy of the Ice House built by the Russian Empress Anna in 1740 being a big hit with city residents.
To visit St. Petersburg in winter is really fascinating. Not as many tourists as in summer, no lines to enter museums â€“ so you can witness the normal life in a city without "summer makeup". For sure you will get also better accommodation prices.
Of course for the foreign visitor the temperature minus 7-12 C (which is normal at that time of the year in St.Petersburg) will seem quite cold, but if well protected you will even enjoy it. Warm or down-padded coats are recommended, woolen sweaters, trousers , socks, hats, scarves, gloves, fur-lined boots. The latter should better have corrugated rubber soles to avoid slipping on ice. If you are not accustomed to cold, the good solution is to use winter underpants or some kind of thermal underwear.
The picture by our guide Anastasia. Our guides have many different talents!
But do not overdo it. All St. Petersburg hotels, museums, shops, restaurants, offices, metro, municipal transport are prepared for winter time and are well heated.
I encourage foreigners to visit St. Petersburg in winter and admire the charms of the snow-covered streets and the frozen canals. Snowy landscapes are so beautiful that you might not even notice the cold weather - so nice everything is around you.