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Party of the Year
Extensive New Year Holidays Bring Economic Losses and Alcohol-Related Deaths, but Most Russians Aren't Willing to Give Them Up

Red Square on New Year's Eve at Midnight with FireworksIf you have business contacts in Russia, don't bother calling them until January 10: from Catholic Christmas to mid-January the country switches itself off and revels in idleness, alcohol and food. But while economists and doctors are skeptical of the benefits of such a long vacation, most Russians think that this free time is the best gift one can get for New Year.

An extensive New Year holiday, spanning January 1 through 10, was first officially announced by the State Duma in 2004, but people have stopped working during this time years earlier. Even in the Soviet time, the days before and after the New Year were made up of endless parties and drinking on the job. In fact, the Duma deputies just legalized the merry-making.

Experts believe that such prolonged vacations have both positive and negative aspects. "Taking into account Russia's climate, with a long winter that lasts five months and the long absence of the sun, the opportunity to relax during the holiday is an advantage. People can use these ten days to spend time with theirs families, visit relatives and run some errands. It gives them energy and positively affects their job motivation, except for the first few working days after the holiday when many find it quite difficult to get into the swing of things," said Segrey Salikov, the general director of the Ancor recruitment agency.

But many companies incur losses during the winter festivities. "Long New Year holidays mean significant losses for small and middle-sized businesses. On the one hand, companies do not sign any contracts; they don't sell or produce anything. On the other hand, they have to pay full salaries for January," Salikov said. "But the magnitude of the losses differs depending on the type of business," he added. "For example, large industrial plants, food processors and car manufacturers do not stop their processing lines."

Theoretically, Russians are allowed to work during the winter holidays. Companies can ask employees to work on these days if necessary, but they have to pay double for holiday shifts. In most cases, this does not make any practical sense, because customers and contractors may likewise be on holiday. Only vitally important services such as emergency rooms, public utilities, telecommunication agencies, the police, etc., will work non-stop.

It is difficult to say exactly how much winter holidays "cost" the Russian economy. There are different ways to estimate such losses, experts believe. "The most popular and simple method is a relative calculation of the average daily GDP. One non-working day counts as half of a work day, because many businesses, like retail, stay open on weekends and holidays. Using this method it can be estimated that New Year and Christmas holidays cost the country 416 billion rubles ($13.9 million) in losses," said Maxim Klyagin, an analyst at Finam Management. "Some experts estimate that the losses caused by the New Year holiday have varied from half to one percent of Russia's GDP over the last five years. However, we should understand that these numbers are approximate and do not take many factors into account."

Businesses that suffer the most losses from enforced winter idleness mostly operate in the industrial production sector. Only continuous process industries, such as the extraction of commercial minerals, power generation and some manufacturers do not feel obliged to shut down for the holidays.

Businesses in Russia that are supposed to benefit the most from the holidays are retail, consumer services, catering, entertainment and tourism, but experts say that this isn't exactly so. "This is true for several of these businesses only, like entertainment and tourism," Klyagin said. "But claims that retail sales increase in January are indefensible, despite the fact that shops and supermarkets still work during the holidays. The retail sector experiences the pressure of the long holiday time as well, but it loses less than other businesses." Official statistics show that January retail sales have dropped in Russia by 22 to 25 percent every year since 2005, although many people use the holiday time to go shopping.

But while economists evaluate the damage done by the winter holidays, most Russians support the idea of long-term rest. A poll conducted by the Profi Online Research marketing agency found that 46 percent of Russians want to always have an extensive New Year holiday. However, 42 percent of respondents said that they would rather have more days off in spring, when Russia celebrates May 1 and Victory Day, and they are willing to give up the extra free days in winter.

Although Russians like the New Year holiday, most have no original ideas on how to spend their free time. A survey conducted by the independent Levada Center shows that 56 percent of respondents plan to spend their winter days off at home. A quarter of the poll's participants said that they will do domestic chores or home improvement. Ten percent will have to continue working, and only five percent will travel in Russia or abroad.

Meanwhile, staying home during the winter holidays is not always safe. Every year the number of alcohol-related deaths in Russia peaks between January 1 and 8, medical experts say. The causes of these deaths can be direct (alcohol intoxication) or indirect (accidents, murder, mental affection, exacerbation of chronic illnesses).

But not all experts agree that the increase in alcohol-related incidents is so dramatic. "Generally, alcohol consumption rises during the winter holidays. But those most at risk are already addicted to alcohol. They may go on a bender," said Pavel Polyakov, a therapist for alcohol and drug addiction at the Perm Regional Medical Center. "Average people take in more alcohol during the holidays than usual, but they do not drink in excess."


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