These cartoons are full of joyful, bright, and homey holiday charm. It’s no secret that the holiday season is most precious to us in childhood. Because for children, it is not just an opportunity to gather together with loved ones. It’s an occasion for presents, Grandfather Frost, Snegurochka, beautiful spruce trees, and hope for a New Year’s miracle.
When considering Russia’s holiday’s traditions, it is important to remember that, for Russians, the holiday season really means one extraordinary holiday: New Year’s Eve. For Russians, Christmas is a purely religious holiday and Thanksgiving doesn’t exist. For them, all the food, gifts, myths, songs, and family celebration revolve around New Year’s Eve.
AdMe.ru, a popular Russian website, invited its readers back into the magic of childhood with a collection of the 15 most wondrous and sweet Soviet New Year’s cartoons. For Russians, they create that special mood of a fairy tale come to life. The reader may be surprised to find that in most of these, the main magic of New Year’s, that element without which the holiday just cannot be celebrated, is not the presents. It’s the tree.
This article was originally written as a Russian-language article on AdMe.ru. It was translated to English by Sophia Rhem while on the SRAS Home and Abroad program.
A New Year’s Tale
Пусть эта елочка в праздничный час каждой иголочкой радовает нас!
Let this New Year’s tree with every needle gladden us this holiday season!
It’s impossible not to want to sing the sweet song from this cartoon under your breath while decorating a New Year’s tree. In this tale, a Snow-Fiend guards the forest from noise and ruckus and all ill. Bullfinches, small animals, and little boys coming into the forest for New Year’s trees keep the Fiend from sleeping a wink. He drives them all away, and only one small girl manages to befriend him, and bring a spruce tree to school to celebrate New Year’s. Watching this cartoon will put you in a wonderful mood.
Last Year’s Snow Was Falling
Что за Новый год, да без елочки?!
Just what is New Year’s without a tree?!
“I wanted to make Last Year’s Snow, but I was instructed to make something about pioneers collecting scrap metal. There was a scandal that lasted four days. And on the fifth day I came and said ‘Alright. I want to make a cartoon about Lenin.’ They immediately tensed: ‘What kind of subject is that for a cartoon?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Lenin was a very cheerful person. I’ll make a funny movie about Lenin, it will make everyone laugh.’ ‘Could it perhaps not be about Lenin?’ they asked. ‘I’m a famous director, and I want it to be about Lenin.’ For two weeks I went and demanded: ‘I want to make a cartoon about Lenin!’ Finally I got what I wanted: Do what you want, as long as it’s not about Lenin! And I made Last Year’s Snow.” (Aleksandr Tatarskiy, director).
New Year’s Episode of Nu, Pogodi!
Лучший мой подарочек — это ты!
Of all my presents – you are the best!
Nu, Pogodi! is part of every Russian’s childhood. It represents sweet memories, pure and indispensable peals of laughter, a sea of goodness and a mountain of positive emotions. Nu, Pogodi! can be safely called a legend of Soviet animation. “The Song of Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka” was written specially for this episode. Now, Russians all know the song by heart – it is an unforgettable work, filled with heart and soul.
This cartoon is a gift to children and adults alike. It is a marvelous combination of Tchaikovsky’s magical music and Hoffman’s renowned fairy tale. The genuine warmth with which the cartoon was created gives it a magic familiar from childhood, compelling us to once again delight in the amazing fate of the sharp-toothed knight, and marvel at the beauty of New Year’s. It’s impossible to look away. In Russian, it is “Щелкунчик.”
Щелкунчик – Союзмультфильм, 1973, реж. Б. Степанцев from Olga Avetisyan on Vimeo.
Grandfather Frost and Summer
Дед Мороз летом?! А кто разрешил?!
Grandfather Frost in the summer?! Who authorized this?!
One day, Grandfather Frost decides to find out what summer is all about, and heads to the children to see this miracle of nature. Why, you might ask, would he bother himself with this? The fact is, as he gives out presents to children in the winter, he constantly hears them talk about how nice summer is, and how they wish it would come sooner. The result of his efforts is a funny children’s cartoon, accompanied by an enthusiastic song, and complete with entirely un-childlike irony…
Winter in Prostokvashino
— Если бланк поздравительный, адресата сначала поздравить надо!
— Ну хорошо, хорошо… Поздравляю тебя, Шарик, ты балбес!
— With a holiday greeting card, you must first greet the addressee!
– Well alright, alright. Holiday greetings, Sharik, you dunce!
Prostokvashino is the location of a popular trilogy of Soviet cartoon films, which began with Three from Prostokvashino. Owing to the cold weather and differing opinions on winter shoes, two of the main characters from this trilogy, Sharik and Matroskin, have stopped speaking. Postman Pechkin tries to reconcile them, but it’s difficult and costly to do. Papa and Uncle Fyodor gather on New Year’s in Prostokvashino. But Mama has completely different plans: the Little Blue Light variety show won’t wait. It is amazing how director Vladimir Popov managed to fit so much meaning and irony into 15 minutes, and so many hilarious jokes, which were immediately taken and quoted.
When the New Year’s Tree is Lit
Говорят под Новый год, что ни пожелается, все всегда произойдет, все всегда сбывается!
They say on New Year’s Eve, no matter what you wish for, it always happens and everything comes true!
Grandfather Frost rushes into the city with presents to visit the children and wish them a happy New Year. He loses two presents along the way: a little rabbit for Lucy and a Teddy bear for Vanya. But children who behaved well all year, preparing for the holiday and learning songs, can’t be left without presents! For New Year’s is a time of miracles, a time when wishes all come true. In Russian, it is “Когда зажигаются ёлки.”
Тому не нужно далеко ходить, у кого черт за плечами.
He doesn’t have to go far who has a devil on his shoulders.
Not everyone can saddle up the Devil and ride to the palace of the Queen herself. But Blacksmith Vakula is a lucky man. He witnesses a great deal of magic and lot of miracles on Christmas Eve – and all in order to win the love of a capricious beauty. This is Gogol’s fairy-tale Ukraine, with an ink-black sky and abundantly snowy ground. Nikolai Gogol knew how to write a true fairy tale, so it’s not surprising that the cartoon based on his story is magical, too. In Russian, it’s known as “Ночь перед Рождеством.”
A Winter’s Tale
Ты всю зиму говорил, что ты снежинка. Я так боялся, что ты растаешь к весне…
You said all winter that you were a snowflake. I was so afraid that you would melt come spring…
A Winter’s Tale is the old but ageless story of a hedgehog who helps a bear cub, about winter and caring. In the cartoon world it’s simple: winter is cold and difficult; if you get sick then your friends come; and if someone helps you, then everything will get better without fail. Isn’t this the simplicity and certainty we are so often lacking in everyday life? In Russian, it is “Новогоднее путешествие.”
The Snow Queen
Нет ничего сильнее преданного сердца!
There is nothing stronger than a faithful heart!
This cartoon is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about eternal love that can conquer the elements and overcome any distance. The cartoon ended up being so wonderful that it won wide recognition abroad, and the famous Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki called it one of his favorite movies. Though it’s a fairy tale, it is incredibly honest and true to life. This is, after all, what love ought to be.
А где же это? Ну, как его?
And just where is it? What do I do with this?
Tomorrow is New Year’s, and the children have no New Year’s tree. They decide to ask Grandfather Frost for a tree. So they build a Snowman, and give him a letter with their request. The Snowman is faced with many obstacles, but the children can’t be left without magic! The movie is done in the traditional Soviet style. The musical accompaniment was written by the notable composer Nikita Bogoslovsky, and the characters were voiced by the country’s best actors.
How Hedgehog and Bear Cub Celebrated New Year’s
Как же без елки? Ведь Новый год!
No tree? But it’s New Year’s!
The hedgehog and bear cub are two creatures that often turn up in children’s stories. Here, they celebrate New Year’s. They look for a New Year’s tree in the forest, and can’t find one. But what’s New Year’s without a tree? Hedgehog decides to be a tree himself, since he so resembles one. This sweet children’s cartoon teaches caring and true friendship.
New Year’s Journey
— Ты кто? Пингвин? — Сам ты пингвин. Я человек Коля!
-Who are you? A penguin? –You’re the penguin! I’m Kolya, I’m a person!
A little boy named Kolya wants to deliver a New Year’s tree to his father, a polar explorer on Mirny, the Soviet polar station in Antarctica. How will he manage that? With the help of Grandfather Frost, of course. Accompany Kolya on a grand adventure and learn that friendship is valuable both now and always.
Grandfather Frost and the Gray Wolf
Кто куды, а мы — к зайцам!
Everyone is going somewhere, and we’re headed to the rabbits!
This is a wonderful and sweet New Year’s tale about crafty a grey wolf, Grandfather Frost, a sly raven, who eggs the wolf into nasty deeds, and a friendly, happy rabbit family. Just think: the wolf not only decides to wreck New Year’s and leave the children without presents, he also steals four baby rabbits. But we know that Grandfather Frost will teach him his lesson.
Я очень люблю подснежники, я их никогда не видела.
I love snowdrops; I’ve never seen them before.
One snowy, cold winter evening in January, when everyone is home listening to the crackle of logs in the stove, an evil stepmother sends her stepdaughter into the woods to gather a basket of snowdrops. The poor girl has no choice but to satisfy her stepmother’s whim…This is a pure, bright, and absolutely positive cartoon, and a childhood classic.
(Bonus!) A Winter’s Tale
This is a sixteenth cartoon to add – but we can’t not add it. Released in 1945, at the tail end of WWII, this cartoon was a harbinger of peace. The animation reminds one of Disney from the same era. The music is by Tchaikovsky. In this cartoon, Father Frost, the forest creatures, and a young boy are seen making preparations for the holidays. Below, see the original cartoon in black and white, shot with a process called “Tricolor” (which used blue, black, and white). This was the last cartoon the Soviets made with that process. Below that is a remastered and colorized version of the original classic.