John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
For the festive week ahead, a government minister is warning Russians about the greatest threat to the country: themselves.
How hard does Russia party during New Year's? Hard enough that the country's own public-health minister has started referring to the festive period as "10 days of horror."
Chief Sanitary Inspector Gennady Onishchenko made that startling comparison – which also translates as "10 days of hell" – last week as the Russian society entered a vacation that doesn't end until January 9. This moment of national relaxation is typically accompanied by an "increase in public drunkenness," according to news agency Ria Novosti, as well as, alarmingly, "fires."
The Moscow Times account of Onishchenko's statements proceeds this way:
"We are standing on the threshold of these 10 days of horror, when the overwhelming majority of the population will be left to their own devices, and there is no worse enemy for a citizen of the Russian Federation than he himself," Onishchenko told journalists in comments carried by BBC's Russian service.
But it's not just physical stuff like binge drinking that Russia's top health official is worried about. He seems bothered by the existential sluggishness of the holiday season, when many folks shuffle around engaged in one kind or another of meaningless pursuit. Like watching terrible TV shows:
"At best, it is absolutely meaningless, watching the television screen unblinkingly, the complete spiritual indiscriminateness of the substitutes that come to us from the screen. The most humane thing there, in my opinion, is the broadcasts about murders," said Onishchenko....
Onishchenko also instructed his countrymen not to eat food that's been left on the counter for more than two days, which when you think about it is good advice. He capped his remarks by asking people not to drink on New Year's Eve, because hanging with their families should be "fun" enough without a boozy anesthesia.
While carnage has resulted during past New Year's celebrations – 17 people died in fires last year, a tragedy in which alcohol definitely played a part – 2013's headlines have thus far been scarce of murders, conflagrations and drunken dust-ups. That suggests Onishchenko is just making one of his signature playful proclamations: He's also told anti-government protestors not to agitate outdoors lest they catch a cold and, in August, warned of the dangers of driving after drinking kefir, a milk beverage with less than one-percent alcohol content.
Top image: Fireworks explode over St. Basil Cathedral at Red Square during New Year's Day celebrations in Moscow. (Reuters/Mikhail Voskresensky)