November 01, 2008

New Year's: From Pagan to Present

When I was a child, we always cooked a duck for New Year’s Eve. This is a very vivid memory for me – we never ate duck on ordinary days, probably because it was so fatty and so hard to find in stores. But on December 31, it somehow miraculously – like all Soviet era treats – appeared in our home, was roasted on a bed of potatoes, stuffed with apples, and became as standard a feature of our holiday table as Salad Olivier. This was not quite correct in terms of Russian tradition, but nobody gave this a second thought. 

In Rus of yore, as in many other countries, pork was the main course on this winter’s eve. Pigs have plenty of offspring, so having pork on the table was seen as helping to assure that the following summer would bring an abundant harvest and plentiful broods in the farmyard – in short, that life would prosper and thrive. This is why the man of the house pretended to hide behind the stacks of pasties, while the lady of the house would pretend that she could not see him behind such a heavily laden table. 

So, in a way, our duck was in keeping with tradition – we had something unusual on the table, something rich, and therefore “festive.”

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