Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna
Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna

The Romanov family celebrated New Year relatively intimately and quietly,  without any major fanfare. January 1st was a regular work day for Nicholas II, but a festive table was set up for the visitors. Those who came in to see the Tsar with reports on New Year’s Day were offered zakuski (cold meat snacks or pickled vegetables) but did not normally linger at the table for too long nor overindulged in vodka.

The imperial couple preferred to dine with a circle of close friends, but it was always a first class meal. At court there were three dining classes: the first was for the members of the imperial family, the second – for the imperial suite and dignitaries invited to court, and the third was for the servants.

The observance of ceremony during the meals was strictly enforced by Count Benkendorf.  The New Year meals were based on a long established tradition. In the morning, their Majesties had an early breakfast with coffee, tea or chocolate. Food on the early breakfast table would include ham, bacon and eggs,  butter, bread and “kalachi” (shaped sweet rolls).  Empress Alexandra really liked the kalachi from a Moscow bakery owned by Ivan Filippov, as reportedly, to get the right dough consistency one must use water from the Moscow River. Hence, this water was brought to Tsarskoe Selo in special tanks, and the court bakers made kalachi fresh and served them hot.

Example of Russian "zakuski" eaten on holidays like New Year.
Example of Russian “zakuski” eaten on holidays like New Year.

One more late breakfast took place at noon on January 1st. On a small side table dishes with caviar, sturgeon, herring, small sandwiches, sausages and hot ham were set up. Visitors would come in and pile favorite snacks onto their plates. Nearby were the mandatory bottles of vodka and white and red wine. Nicholas II usually drank two shots of vodka but did not eat much.

A bit later hot meals were served: eggs or fish, and meat. Vegetable dishes were brought in special trays in the shape of a crescent.  The holiday menu often included delicacies like lobster soup or pheasant aspic, but also simple Russian dishes like borscht and kholodetz.  Nicholas II in general loved all things Russian: for example the ladies-in-waiting wore Russian sarafans as official court dress during the holiday celebrations.   At the end of the meal, everyone drank fruit compotes or coffee, and ate cheese with fruit.

The New Year breakfast and dinner were always conducted based on strict etiquette, and could not last longer than 50 minutes. Anything that was not consumed within that time period ended up on servants’ tables.  At five o’clock that afternoon, the Romanov family had tea in their private apartments.





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