Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

To whom does Yamal Iri come?

When and how Arctic indigenous peoples celebrate the New Year

9 december 2022

On the night of 31 December to 1 January, the world celebrates the New Year. In Russia, it is celebrated 11 times: first in Kamchatka and last in Kaliningrad. However, the indigenous peoples of the Arctic celebrate this date with the rest of the peoples of Russia solely as a mark of respect for the traditions of their neighbours. After all, each of the Northern peoples has its own New Year's Eve celebrations.

The Chukchi celebrate the New Year on the winter solstice, the night of 21 to 22 December, when the day begins to brighten. The festival is named after the ritual star, Pegytti, meaning 'motley cluster' in Chukchi. For Europeans, this is the star Altair in the constellation of Eagle. As soon as it appears in the sky, it's New Year's Eve in Chukotka.

It is customary to start celebrating Pegytti by lighting a fire. Each family uses its own sacred 'fire' board, the symbol of the home. Dances and songs are held around the sacrificial fires, with wishes for a happy new year. To make sure it brings good luck, one should get rid of bad thoughts completely on Pegytti. To please the evil spirits, a treat should be prepared by filling special leather cups with fat and lard.

The Evenki celebrate the New Year on the summer solstice, 21 June, when the sun rises to its highest point above the horizon and seems to stand still. The sunrise festival is called Hebdenek, which translates to 'fun.' The appearance of the sun above the horizon is the highlight of the festivities.

The Evenki believe that on the longest day of the year, the doors between the worlds open and spirits can hear people's requests. Therefore, as soon as the sun appears, clan elders light a sacred fire, ask the spirits of fire and perform a purification ritual with juniper smoke. And each family ties strips of cloth on tree branches and makes a wish that will surely come true in the coming year.


The Yakut New Year is also celebrated on the summer solstice. The festival of Yysakh, which means 'abundance,' is also linked to the worship of the sun. On this day in the Sakha Republic, it is customary not only to offer prayers to the gods but also to hold sports competitions and dances.

The main dance of the Osuokhai festival is a round dance symbolising the circle of life. The Yakuts dance Osuokhai until sunrise to thank the sun for light and warmth. It is believed that everyone who enters the communal circle is charged with good energy for the year ahead. Another important ritual of Yysakh is sprinkling fire, grass and trees with koumiss, a drink sacred to the Yakuts. This ritual symbolises the birth of the universe and mankind.

In the 21st century, Yakutia has adopted the customs of its neighbours to celebrate New Year's Eve on the night of 31 December to 1 January. The republic has even got its own winter wizard—Chyskhaan, lord of cold. He does not give presents but welcomes guests cordially to his residence in the coldest place on Earth, Oymyakon. Every year, Father Frost comes to visit Chyskhaan to receive the symbol of cold from the hands of his 'colleague.'

The Khanty and Mansi celebrate the new year on the second Sunday in April, when the winter hunting season ends, the fishing season begins and the first bird, the crow, arrives. According to popular belief, it is the bird that brings spring. So the holiday is called Crow's Day.

The main dish of the festive feast is a thick soup of flour or grains, symbolising fertility, the rebirth of life. And in honour of the sun, it is customary to hang loafs on the trees.

Nenets people celebrate two New Years at once, a winter one in November and a summer one in June. The winter new year comes when the ice has broken and the reindeer begin to breed, and the summer new year comes when the snows melt and the reindeer give birth to their offspring.

On the festival, Nenets elders try to persuade the spirits to have plenty of fish in the rivers and game in the forests. Just like the Evenki, the Nenets make wishes and tie ribbons on their sacred tree, a birch. Then the adults exchange gifts and make sure they don't accidentally upset the children—otherwise the good spirits will get angry and leave the family.

The Nenets did not celebrate New Year's Eve on 31 December before, but now they also have a festive feast, decorate the New Year tree and give presents. Yamal now also has its own New Year's Eve wizard—Yamal Iri, whose image was created from children's drawings. Yamal Iri is dressed in a malitsa and kisy boots, girded with a traditional hunter's belt with mammoth bone jewellery. He lives in a chum in the Gornoknyazevsk settlement and delivers presents to remote settlements and nomad camps on a reindeer sledge.

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