Moscovites Window-Shop At GUM For Holiday Ideas

The up-scale mall on Red Square is called GUM. It's in the former state-run department store, a Soviet-era monument that was once famous for long lines and unsmiling service. It's been turned into a glittering showplace for high-end foreign brands that most Russians can only look at.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. If you ever wished the Christmas season could go on for an extra week or two, here's a suggestion: Visit Russia, where the Christmas tradition is a little different than in the United States and is celebrated on a different calendar. Of course, a quick flight to Moscow is not convenient for everybody, so NPR's Corey Flintoff did it for us.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Here's what's more-or-less the same: Russians decorate fir trees for a holiday that's presided over by a kindly, white-bearded gift-bringer. They shop obsessively for presents, like these young women in an upscale mall on Red Square.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, little presents just for ...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Unintelligible) (LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: ...having fun. No, just for having fun.

FLINTOFF: The mall is called GUM, in the former state-run Department Store, a Soviet-era monument that was once famous for long lines and unsmiling service. Today, it's been turned into a glittering showplace for high-end foreign brands that most Russians can only look at, but it's a favorite place for window-shopping. The actual buying often comes much later, at less-pricey venues.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: And we always buy a lot of presents for our relatives, especially for our children. Well, usually we buy toys, different sweets.

FLINTOFF: The sweets Russian shoppers look for, on the holidays, include an apple cake called sharlotka; and gingerbread cakes known as pryaniki. The sweets are handed out on New Year's Day by a Santa-like figure called Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost. He doesn't fly with reindeer, but he's helped out by his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka, the snow maiden. Nowadays, the two characters work just as hard as Santa Claus, in ads marketing holiday sales.

For most Russians, the religious holiday of Christmas doesn't take place on December 25th. The Russian Orthodox calendar places it on January 6th. The gift-giving, feasting and family parties take place on New Year's Day, the start of a week to 10 days of holiday time during which a lot of government offices and businesses effectively shut down. Those who can afford it, use the time to travel abroad.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm going to travel to Munich, Germany, so I will celebrate the New Year with my family.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This year, I'm flying to France to ski, and to celebrate the New Year.

FLINTOFF: Wherever and whenever they celebrate, Russians stress that this holiday is all about goodwill and a happy New Year.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Russian spoken)

FLINTOFF: That's how you wish someone Happy New Year, in Russian.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Russian spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Bye-bye.

FLINTOFF: And a Happy New Year.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

GREENE: Stay warm over there, Corey.

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