Russian Word of the Day: Ёлка-Christmas tree

November 20, 2012

Yesterday we talked about the tradition in Russia that the first Christmas tree of the season is lit (зажигается) on Santa Claus’ (Дед Мороз) birthday on November 18th.

So no let’s talk about how to say Christmas tree.

See, it’s a bit confusing that I’m translating this word as “Christmas” tree because in Russia it’s a tree that is used celebrate the New Year.  So in Russian it’s actually Новогодняя елка.  (A New Year tree).  Рождественская елка is how you would actually say Christmas Tree, as opposed to a New Year tree, and this is typically used when talking about western “Christmas” trees. But they are, for the most part, interchangeable.

But the word ёлка gives us lots of fun with diminutives in Russian.  In Russian you can add all sorts of infixes and suffixes to convey that something is small and/or cute or that you love it as if it were small and cute.

For example,

Книга-book

книжка-a little book

книжечка-а really small, cute little book

Same thing happens with ёлка.

Ёлка actually is diminutive of ель which means a spruce or a fir tree.  Add the suffix -ка- to it and it becomes what is known as a the New Year tree.  But wait! It gets even cuter!!! You can also say ёлочка.

My students always ask if there are Christmas songs in Russian.  Well, there are some but the ones that are actually about the birth of Christ are not as well-known.  See my post about this here. But the New Year/Christmas song that everyone knows in Russia is called “В лесу родилась ёлочка”  I give my students extra credit if they can memorize it and sing it for the class.

Here are the lyrics:

В лесу родилась елочка. Новогодняя песня.

В лесу родилась елочка,
В лесу она росла,
Зимой и летом стройная,
Зеленая была.

Трусишка зайка серенький
Под елочкой скакал.
Порою волк, сердитый волк,
Рысцою пробегал.

Метель ей пела песенку:
– Спи елочка, бай-бай! –
Мороз снежком укутывал:
– Смотри не замерзай!

Чу! Снег по лесу чистому
Под полозом скрипит,
Лошадка мохноногая
Торопиться, бежит.

Везет лошадка дровнеки,
А в дровнях старичок,
Срубил он нашу елочку
Под самый корешок.

Теперь ты здесь нарядная,
На праздник к нам пришла
И много, много радости
Детишкам принесла.

Here’s the translation according to Wikipedia:

1.The forest raised a Christmas tree,
‘Twas silent and serene
In winter and in summer
It was slender and so green.
2.The wind sang it a lullaby:
Sleep Christmas tree, sleep tight!
The snow was making clothes for it:
It was a pretty sight!
3.A trembling bunny put himself
Beneath its arms so wide;
The hungry wolf just passed him by –
A lovely place to hide!
4.Some sleigh bells rang throughout the woods,
The snow was crisp and clean,
A horsey brought a forester
To hew that tree so green.
5.And now it comes to visit us,
With lights and garlands bright,
While all the children dance and sing
To greet it with delight!

One Response to “Russian Word of the Day: Ёлка-Christmas tree”

  1. […] I wanted to find these cultural Christmas classics in Russian.  While I did find some songs in Russian, they were completely unfamiliar to my Russian friends.  There is one Russian Christmas song that everyone in Russia knows but it has nothing to do with Christ.  You can read more about it on this post. […]

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