Chef Bonnie Frumkin Morales’ Russian-Inspired New Year’s Eve

published Dec 28, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Recipe photos: Images by Leela Cyd from the Kachka cookbook; and headshot: Carly Diaz

Every year, much like this year, I get asked by well-intentioned folks to share my favorite Christmas recipes and traditions. And as much as I really want to be useful, I’m not much help in that department. And it’s not even because I’m Jewish (although I actually am). It’s because I’m the daughter of Soviet immigrants.

A bit of history: After a post-revolutionary crackdown where religion was banned and Christmas trees outed as class enemies, the Communists relented a small bit, allowing its brave new society to reclaim their Santa and tinsel — sorta. In keeping with the party line, all of these newly state-sanctioned traditions were secularized, and moved down the calendar from Christmas to New Year’s. And when I say this oh-so-clearly-Yuletide-inspired celebration was secularized, I mean totally secularized — entire generations grew up gathered around the yolka (New Year’s tree) having never heard of Christmas.

And the whole time that Christmas and Chanukah were being erased from Soviet society, Novy God (New Year’s Eve) was becoming the holiday to end all holidays. I can not over-emphasize how huge ringing in the New Year became in Soviet times.

So even though we are able to celebrate Chanukah freely these days, my family and I don’t really have any long-standing recipes or traditions. But New Year’s Eve? I’ve got that down. In the Frumkin household, Novy God is planned and deliberated the way some families might prep for a major life event. Okay, maybe not a wedding — but close. After years of experience, I’ve distilled this New Year’s tradition into a handy list of how-tos so you can host a Soviet-style soirée at your house, too.

9 Tips for Throwing a Russian-Inspired New Year’s Eve Party

  1. Party like it’s Christmas and New Year’s all rolled into one, because it is! This is, by far, the biggest holiday in the former Soviet Union. Bonus points for dressing up like Ded Moroz (Father Frost) or his faithful sidekick, Snyegourochka (Snow Maiden), and handing out small gifts to your guests at midnight.  
  2. Don’t throw out the tree! In Soviet times, the Christmas tree was rebranded for New Year’s. The idea stuck and even nowadays the yolka is seen as more of a symbol of the New Year festivities than for Christmas.
  3. Take a nap. It’s not a Russian New Year’s celebration unless you’re celebrating into the wee hours of the morning. Pros know to take a catnap in the early evening and start dinner at around 9 or 10 p.m.
  4. Sit down! Resist the urge to “cocktail.” Want to drink copious amounts of vodka? You must consume copious amounts of food. Russians find pre-dinner drinking foolhardy (you’ve been warned). And for that matter, know that all eating and drinking is to be done seated around a table, dinner party-style. No buffets. No passed hors d’œuvres. I promise it’ll be fun — not stuffy.
  5. Max out on zakuski. Fill that dinner table with a variety of dips, spreads, salads, cured meats, fish, and more (aka zakuski). There shouldn’t be room for centerpieces or really any tablecloth showing. Go big! The emphasis should be on this portion of your meal and keep the main course simple and easy so all your work is done before anyone even shows up. (For some zakuski inspiration, scroll down for a few recipes.)
  6. Forgo those fancy flutes and other stemmed hullabaloo. All you need is a shot glass (even if it’s for wine or OJ). Responsible hostess trick: Get the smallest glasses you can (unless my mom’s cousin, Misha, is joining you).
  7. Toast, drink, eat, repeat. This is hands-down the most important tip to follow. There is a beautiful cadence to Russian drinking that is guaranteed to make your evening a smashing success. Set the tone for the night by going first. Share something personal and sincere. After every heartfelt toast, everyone raises their glasses and drinks in unison. This is followed by a few minutes of eating before the whole process repeats. The liquid in your glass can be anything from water to juice to rum (although, unsurprisingly, we are a vodka family). It is the connection that matters, not getting buzzed (although this may happen too). Remember two important rules: Absolutely no drinking without toasts and no drinking between toasts!
  8. Call your loved ones. No matter where in the world my family is, we make sure to call each other sometime shortly after midnight. It can be brief, but this quick little connection helps helps bring extra meaning to the festivities.
  9. Don’t forget the citrus! Put out a bowl of mandarin oranges with dessert. They’re considered to be a symbol of good luck and fortune for the year to come.

Four Zakuski Recipes to Get Your Party Started

1 / 4
3 / 4
Блины дрожжевые (Yeasted Blini)
Light, fluffy overnight pancakes that you can made small or large. Serve with your choice of sweet and/or savory toppings.
Go to Recipe
4 / 4
Салат оливье (Salat Olivier)
The best chicken salad you'll ever make.
Go to Recipe