Christmas is almost upon us, with its Christmas stockings, cards, presents, dinners, parties ... and exhaustion.
No sooner have we got over that exhaustion than it is time to start all over again, with parties heralding the start of the new year, its hopes and good intentions.
Russians, observing the Orthodox calendar, would celebrate New Year a fortnight later, as Léon Bakst reminds us here in this New Year's greeting, written in French: “I send you all my apologies together with [best] wishes for the Russian new year (13 days later!) and must tell you it was impossible to go the other day to your rendez-vous in London, as I was only there for one day. ..”
In pre-revolutionary Russia, customs might combine church attendance as well as fortune telling, hoping for good fortune in the coming year. This combination of Christian and pagan, the elegance of St.Petersburg and peasant tradition was seen in the brilliant work of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, of which Bakst was a leading figure. His set designs and costumes featured in some of the most famous, and still admired, ballets of the period - Après-midi d'un Faune, Scheherazade, Spectre de la Rose and Firebird.
There is a certain poignancy to this New Year's greeting, dated January 1914. The Ballets Russes performed during the difficult years of the First World War, but the the conflict took its toll on the company, and inevitably many cities which would have welcomed them were now inaccessible.
The world today faces an uncertain future, but one can only send our good wishes for peace and tolerance to all as the new year approaches.