In the small town of Klin in Russia it is forever New Year, at least it is in the Museum of New Year Tree Ornaments, attached to the factory that produces them in Klinskoye Podvorye.
Or, if you prefer, the Museum of Christmas Tree Decorations, the difference being almost indistinguishable in Soviet Russia, at least as far as the secular aspect of Christmas goes. Like decorated fir trees.
Delicate, handmade glass ornaments have long been a feature of yolkas (the Russian word for New Year/ Christmas trees), and every family may well have their own set of idiosyncratic baubles, although good taste might have overtaken the ones they actually put on display.
So if you wonder around any flea market, you can pick up genuine vintage ones, and last year, there was a display in GUM of the collection that a famous TV presenter here has amassed over the years by doing just that.
Mama’s personal favourite of Papa’s own collection is the pickled onion. Shame that small children and then a kitten who climbed the tree once a day means that she tends to stick to the hand-painted wooden ones when the festive season swings round these days.
But when she was offered the chance to tour one of the more famous factories where these tree decorations are actually made, she jumped at the chance. And in fact the name of the New Year/ Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin is ‘Yolochka’, in case you were not sure what its focus really is.
That said, I think the tour at Yolochka is more of an experience than a factory visit.
There are dressed up characters who get you in the mood, tell you all about glass, tell you all about the history of glass making in Klin, and tell you all about the history of glass New Year/ Christmas tree ornament making.
Essentially it seems that what started off as a cottage industry making small colourful glass beads for necklaces, morphed into a cottage industry making long strings of colourful glass beads you could hang on a tree, other iterations of decorations and finally went full on large glass ball blowing, albeit still in a very handcrafted sort of manner.
The Yolochka New Year/ Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin was the first large commercial production facility in Russia, in fact.
At this point on the tour, Mama was delighted that we got shepherded into a room to watch actual crafstswomen blow some glass.
Mama was grumpy that she wasn’t allowed to take pictures at this point. She also wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the women in the next room who were painting the resulting New Year/ Christmas baubles.
It was very cool though.
Yes, the word ‘factory’ does imply a certain mechanical automation of the process. But in fact, although there is clearly a production line in the sense that it’s a different person who blows the glass to the one who paints it, they really are not joking when they call it handmade.
In case you are wondering, among the most difficult to blow are the samovar shaped baubles, because they require you to be able to get three bubbles out of one glass form.
At the end of the tour they have a display of baubles and other tree ornaments painted by some of the more renowned tree ornament artists.
Luckily for you, she was allowed to get the camera out again when we got onto the displays of New Year/ Christmas tree ornaments through the ages. And of course, since these are mostly Soviet ones, there are some really fabulous space themed ones.
No, I have no idea how Yolochka does the cosmonaut shaped ones, the tree shaped ones and so on and so forth. Gotta have some secrets, haven’t you?
And finally the last stop on the Museum of New Year/ Christmas Tree Decorations tour is getting to meet Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa analogue! Himself! We held hands, sang the New Year Tree song, and paraded around a truly large, thoroughly decorated tree.
Then it was onto the masterclass of tree ornament painting. Obviously. We covered ourselves in glitter. It was great.
And Mama was by this time thoroughly primed to buy All The Things in the Yolochka factory shop. Luckily they have a range of stock to suit every budget. Mama recommends looking out for whatever odd animal theme seems to be incongruously conspicuous among the decorations. The Russians look to the other great celebrators of New Year, the Chinese, to add a bit of spice to the festivities. So whatever animal is coming up for Chinese New Year next will have a big presence in the New Year decorations on offer.
This year, the year of the pig gives way to the year of the rat. Mice everywhere you look!
Now, to get to this Museum of Russian Christmas/ New Year Tree Decorations, you will have to leave Moscow, and it’s a good hour’s journey on a fast train. It’s possibly a bit far to go just for this experience. Luckily, Klin is also the location of the Tchaikovsky House Museum. Frankly you really are missing an opportunity if, as well as visiting that, you do not pop over and experience the tour here as well.
Whatever time of the year.
The New Year/ Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin, Yolochka’s website (in Russian).
This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how to make salt dough decorations.
Address: 141600, Moscow region, Klin, Ulitsa Staroyamskaya, 4
Opening: Every day, 9am – 5.30pm (except 31st December, 1st and 2nd of January).
Admission: Around 500 roubles per person, although it depends how close it is to New Year and whether it is a weekend. Children under six are half price. It’s about 300 roubles extra for a masterclass.
Getting there: You need a train from the Leningradsky train station, found atop the Komsomolskaya metro station on the red and brown lines. If you get a fast, lastochka train you will be in Klin in an hour. Buy return tickets in Moscow if you have children, as concession tickets cannot be bought in Klin and you’ll have to pay full price for your kids to return to the capital. The trains run around every one to two hours, more during peak times. If you get a slow train it will take at least 30 minutes longer. One way tickets for adults will be around 300 roubles. You can easily buy them at the Leningradsky station itself, but don’t lose the rather flimsy paper – it’s what opens he gates to and from the platform, and it will be checked on the train itself.
You can drive (or get a taxi). Head for St Petersburg.
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