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Guide to Russia > Russian Culture




Explore the wonderful world of Russian holidays – 9 holidays, unknown number of days off.

Basically in Russia there are as many official holidays as in every other country of the world; nine to be exact. However, the interesting thing about Russian holidays is the following: they last long. Preparation for the holiday begins at least a day before it actually arrives. Then it is considered tradition to prolong the holidays if they are close to the week-end or if they just turn out to be on a Monday. So usually instead of one day off people get two or three free days. Sometimes even more – like a special Russian fiesta! Another nice thing about Russian holidays is that all the shops, supermarkets and the grocery stores are open throughout the day and usually work until the late evening, especially in big cities and downtown areas. It is not a good idea to plan any business during a Russian holiday, since people just don't think about work. But for the tourist, traveling at this time could be quite interesting. You can escape that awful rush hour traffic, which is very common during the average work day. As a matter of fact you will get a chance to see cheerful Russians and witness how they party. Believe me - this is something to discover!

Despite the fact that to foreigners Russians seem to celebrate something all the time, there are only nine official holidays in the country. Of course there are many days in which it is considered appropriate to celebrate, such as the day of printing, or the day of geologists, the day of chemists, the library day, the day of the frontier guard, the day of Slavic literature and culture; there is even a fisherman's day and many more dates to drink for someone's respectable profession or something else completely unrelated. Basically Russian people can celebrate something almost every day. Sometimes there is a good reason for a big party, but no reason is needed to celebrate life by having a drink with a few friends.

The official holidays often require participants to forget about their jobs and problems and just have a good time. This, more often than not, includes many alcoholic drinks that are consumed with friends.

The most beloved holiday for all Russians is New Year's Day . There are a few reasons for this. First, this holiday connects everyone with their childhood, in particular their youthful dreams, hopes and beliefs in miracles. Another reason is that the holiday usually lasts more than a week because of the Russian Orthodox Christmas, which immediately follows the New Year. These two holidays provide about 10 days off for Russians, like a nice winter vacation. Russians try to use this time as best they can. Many people go to the country side to ski, escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and get some real winter rest by going to the sauna or typical Russian banya. Others love to stay at home with their relatives and friends. New Years day is considered to be a holiday, when people spend time with their family. Most Russians get fir trees shortly before the holiday season and decorate it with different toys and lights. Russians do not decorate their windows as in western countries; however, in the past few years this tradition has slowly grown and sometimes you can see lights in the windows of people's homes. Some cities, which are closer to the border, like Vyborg (about 120 kilometers north from St. Petersburg) are more influenced by the west.

New Year's Day

Anyway, the main idea of this holiday is to join your family and to think about good things: love, friendship, kids etc. Another very important thing here is food. Russians like to eat tasty food and make lots of dishes for holiday meals. The most traditional are duck baked with apples, galantine, red caviar, pickled vegetables such as mushrooms, cucumbers, sauerkraut, plus salads like "Stolichny" (close to Olivier) and of course all this with a glass of champagne and heavier drinks as well. Russians love to watch TV on New Year's Eve. They start usually with some comedy programs or romantic movies. "S legkym parom" is shown a few times during the evening! Moreover, people like to watch the traditional President's speech a few minutes before 12 o'clock.

After a few hours of celebrating, some people like to go outside for a walk and light off fireworks. Currently, New Years fireworks are very popular since they are very easy to buy and stunning as well. In some districts you might get the impression that you are in Grozny a few years ago during an assault! (Just kidding.)

Since there is a lot of snow during the winter months, it is nice to have fun outside – maybe try out a sleigh – you'll never forget this! Also there is the tradition of exchanging presents, especially with children. As in most foreign countries some fat guy in a red coat brings impressively-decorated gifts, but in Russia this character is named Father Frost not to be confused with Santa Claus. He is usually dressed in a long red fur coat, although sometimes it could be blue or silver. He also has a girl, probably his granddaughter, who travels around with him named Snegurochka. Snegurochka is always very pretty, has long blond hair, wears a nice blue coat and likes to play with kids.

After the New Year, Russians celebrate the Russian Orthodox Christmas .Russia differs with many western countries in that Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January, not on the 25th of December. Religious people go to church, since there is a big celebration there. Others stay at home and have a small Christmas dinner with family and friends. Christmas is a good time to be with family, but basically for Russians the New Year is more important of a holiday then Christmas - this is the main difference between Russia and Europe and the U.S. But again the main idea and spirit of these two holidays is to be together with the family and to be kind to one another – just like everywhere else in the world!

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14th of February - Valentine's Day came to Russia only recently. It is a very nice holiday, so it immediately took up roots here. Younger generations have adopted this holiday better than older people; on this day you will see couples walking around hand in hand with flowers or balloons. Other people go to bars or restaurants, or just have a romantic candle-lit dinner at home. Small presents and flowers are common gifts. But of course this holiday is not an official state holiday; it is, therefore, a working day, and to be honest, not so widely celebrated. Some might have never even heard of it; however, for others it is a very pleasant tradition brought to Russia from abroad.

Next comes the 23rd of February - Defenders of the Fatherland Day. This day is supposed to praise those who fought for our land during the wars, especially during WWII. Consequently, people always try to congratulate older men, and grandfathers! But after all, this holiday turned out to simply be a man's holiday, where all males, regardless of their profession or involvement in any war, are praised. It really doesn't matter now what the man is doing or how old he is, it is perfectly acceptable for people to want to congratulate and reward him with presents. Also, since Valentine's Day only appeared in Russia a few years ago and is not widely celebrated, the 23rd of February is a good opportunity for women to express their feelings for a particular man.

The 8th of March is known as International Women's Day. It seems as though only in Russia is this holiday celebrated so widely! I've never seen any big celebration in Europe or the United States on this day. Nevertheless, all men in Russia suddenly realize how great all those women around them are and get flowers and presents for their ladies, daughters, female colleagues and actually any woman they know. Women all look gorgeous and are dressed very well on this day, because they are surrounded with flowers and that special man's attention! When it comes to celebrating here, any way is a good way. A home-cooked dinner, a romantic restaurant, a bar with good friends, a night club, or a walk in the park on a nice day – anything that you feel like doing is fitting and some wine is, of course, consumed to provide for a relaxing mood!

Easter is a religious holiday. In Russia it has been celebrated widely only for the past several years, after Soviet times ceased. Religious practices were forbidden in the Soviet Union, therefore people were afraid to celebrate religious holidays, such as Easter. After the Church got its power back it became much easier for citizens to express their beliefs. Nowadays many people go to the church on this holiday and enjoy a joyful day with family. As you may know, Easter is the main holiday of the Orthodox Church. During this day people greet each other with colored eggs and make Easter cookies. People here eat these cookies with cottage cheese and raisins.

The 1st of May in Russia is traditionally the Labor Day/May Day holiday. In Soviet times this day was celebrated very grandly throughout the whole country. Demonstrations were held in every city of the Soviet Union, from Moscow to even the smallest towns. Everyone wanted to be a part of the big celebration. The streets were decorated with red flags and balloons. Today this holiday is mostly just a good opportunity to go outside, celebrate the onset of spring, and simply to meet friends or even take a short vacation, because the next holiday occurs in the next few days, and previously mentioned, sometimes it is possible to combine two holidays into one vacation.

May Day

The 9th of May is known as Victory Day. The day of victory in World War II used to be an extremely solemn holiday with a salute (firework display) at the end of the day, but not anymore. One reason is that unfortunately most of the veterans of WWII are not alive nowadays. But still there are some parades in the centers of cities all over the country, and in the evening there is a traditional salute, mainly for the youth to remember the terrible war and the importance of peace all over the world. Many people have a meal, gather with family and friends, recall the heroes of the wars and in the evening go downtown to see the salute. And many just go outside the city to get some rest.

Victory Day

Independence Day is celebrated on the 12th of June. This holiday has not been here for very long, in fact it only appeared a little over 10 years ago. This day underlines the events, which happened when the Soviet Union fell and the first president of the Russian Federation was elected. To be honest people in Russia do not celebrate this holiday too much, they just appreciate an extra free day. Especially since it is in the summer!

The 7th of November is known as the Day of Reconciliation and Harmony. This holiday is a strange one, especially for the younger generation. It appeared in 1917 after the Great October Revolution and was celebrated until the early 1990s. Since today we all know that the Revolution is not widely respected in Russian history, it was decided that the name of the holiday should be changed from the Day of the Great October Revolution to its present title.

The 12th of December is Constitution Day. The Russian Constitution is a total mystery. It is very well written, but no one obeys it or even follows the articles listed there. Today the law system is improving day by day, and the Constitution has become a serious matter and not as humorous as it once was. But still there is a huge controversy surrounding the magical Constitution and its relationship with society, which is still deeply plagued with bribery and indifference towards justice in Russia. So in a way it is quite a sad holiday. But we all believe in better times, which seem to come earlier or later. So this is one more free day for Russians. Most people just enjoy being home, but of course since Russians like to party: for many of them it's just another opportunity to go out and have fun.

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