My New Year Tree

Hello, Pozez JCC community members and friends!

My name is Zina Segal, and I am Pozez JCC’s Senior Director of Community Impact and Engagement. This Christmas Day, I want to talk about The Tree. My New Year Tree. I know, it’s confusing, but let me explain.

I was born in Leningrad, raised in Saint Petersburg (the same geographic location, very different vibe), lived in Israel, and moved to the States 8 years ago. Unlike lots of other Russian-Speaking Jews born during or after the Soviet reign, I always knew I was Jewish. We celebrated Rosh Ha-Shana, Hanukah, Purim, Pesach, and I never hesitated to stand up against Antisemitic jokes. My Jewish identity was (and still is) strong and flourishing.

We had many traditions at home (most of them Jewish, some Soviet, some just family ones), but the favorite one was this: on December 29 or 30, my dad would bring home THE TREE! It seemed that both himself and the tree were equally cold; crispy snow from dad’s coat and tree’s branches created small puddles on the floor. After the rope untangled the bushy tree, it was put into the tree holder, and in a few hours, our apartment was full of the fresh scent of a fir forest. Dusty boxes of New Year tree decorations from the far corners of the mezzanine kept not only sparkly treasures but also the mood of the holiday and the smell of last year’s joy.

Decorating the tree was a duty for myself and my dad, while my mom and grandmother were creating culinary magic from boiled potatoes, carrots, canned peas, pickled cucumbers, and boiled chicken (the masterpiece called salad Olivier). All these smells, objects, and actions were preparation for the main night of every Russian-Speaking family in the world – New Year night! The night when all family members gathered for a very late dinner starting around 11:00 pm to say “Goodbye” to the sunsetting year. Closer to midnight, the bottle of champagne was ready to be opened with the 12th chime of the chiming clock at the Kremlin tower broadcasted by TV. After champagne, hugs, kisses, and joyful cheers, everybody received presents from under the tree. The next part of the festivities was an outside walk with fireworks and games (yes, around 1-2 am, with kids who hadn’t collapsed to sleep yet). Those were New Year Night traditions. The New Year Tree itself stayed at the house until at least Old New Year.

Why am I telling you all this? To make sure you don’t confuse Christmas Trees of your Christian neighbors with New Year Trees in the houses of your Russian-Speaking Jewish neighbors. The tree in their houses has nothing to do with Christmas (well, not totally nothing historically, but absolutely nothing religiously. To explore in depth the history of THE TREE in Tzar Russia and the Soviet Union, check out this article).

Now, you know what a Russian-Speaking Jewish professional will be doing on December 26 – searching for the tree at the closed tree markets =). I’m sure this blog posed more questions than answers for you. I’m happy to (at least try to) answer all of them! Do not hesitate to reach out – email me at or just stop by my office (right behind the guest services desk) next time you are at the J!

Happy New Year!

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