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Section 1: Learn About Russia


Popular Russian Holidays

Date

Event

Tradition

January 1

New Year

The biggest Russian holiday.  During the Soviet time people were not allowed to celebrate Christmas (Russian Christmas is 7 January) so New Year became the most cheerful holiday.
 

January 7

Orthodox Christmas

Often recognized by religious and non religious families as another opportunity to socialize and celebrate.
 

January 13

Old New Year

Russians had a different calendar before February 1918.  The difference between Julian (the old Russian) and Gregorian (European) calendars was 13 days, and after the Soviet government adopted Gregorian calendar Russians started to celebrate many holidays twice: according to the new style and the old one.
 

February 23

Men’s Day

Historically this was known as the ‘Day of the Army’.  All men in Russia are liable for call-up (including reservists), so they all are celebrities.  On this day women usually give men small gifts.
 

March 8

Women’s Day

On this day men give women gifts, usually flowers.   Men traditionally do all the housework - at least once a year women can have a rest and forget about dishes, cooking, kids.  Send flowers to the ladies you are corresponding with if you want to show  that you serious affections and respect for her.
 

April 1

The Day of Laugh

People tell jokes to each other, newspapers and TV publish funny stories and jokes.  The motto of this day: Do not trust anybody on 1 April (“Pervoye aprelya - nikomu ne veryu“)
 

April

Easter

A traditional gift giving holiday.
 

May 1

Day of Labor

During Soviet time there were huge demonstrations on this day, the largest being a military parade in Red Square.  Everybody was obliged to show his loyalty to the state but now only communists organize meetings on this date.
 

June 12

Independence Day

Day of the adoption of the Declaration on State Sovereignty of the Russian Federation.  It’s an official holiday but Russians are not used to it yet.  They spend this day on their “dachas” - small plots in countryside where they plant some vegetables.
 

September 1

Day of Knowledge

It’s the beginning of a school year.  Children go to schools with flowers for teachers.  There are meetings before the classes start - nice and exciting
 

November 7

The Day of October Revolution

(25 October according to the old calendar).  It’s still an official holiday in Russia though there is not such a huge celebration as it used to be during the Soviet era.
 

     In general Russians love to celebrate.  Social gatherings with a table food of various foods is traditional as is toasting with wine or vodka.  Russians have adopted some of the Western holidays such as St.  Valentine’s Day, Catholic Christmas (they celebrate Christmas twice - Catholic and Orthodox) and Halloween.  They also appreciate Chinese New Year, Muslim and Jewish holidays, as Russians are very tolerant of other religions. Birthdays, Anniversaries, Graduation and Weddings are also important events celebrated with social gatherings and gifts.

     Each folk holiday in Russia had its own, peculiar ceremonies, traditions, songs.  The ancient holidays are still celebrate in many rural regions of Russia.  The urban citizens also remember about these holidays and, somehow, try to stick to old traditions.  The origin of many holidays doesn’t often relate to the Christian holidays, as far as the source of most ancient ceremonies lays in the remote times of the past, the times of paganism.  Christianity had finished with the religious ceremonies of paganism.  However, many traditions were preserved by the people in the forms of merry entertainment and festive occasions, some of them were even adopted to the Christian ceremonies and traditions.

Orthodox Christmas

     Peter the Great, an outstanding Russian monarch, introduced many changes to the life of Russia and the Russian calendar.  For example, Christmas, while remaining one of the main Christian holidays in Russia, is celebrated on the 7th of January, in compliance with the Russian calendar, but not on the 25th of December. 

Kolyadki

     The festive and merry days of Christmas are called yule-tide in Russia.  There is not another holiday that is celebrated in compliance with so many specific traditions, ceremonies, etc.  One of the ceremonies is called Kolyadki.  This ceremony includes wishing of wealth and happiness for everybody.  During the ceremony a snow-lady is made with a carrot nose, eyes of prunes and teeth of green beans.  Lady Kolyada comes to the holiday to congratulate people and enjoy merry games and fun.  Lady Kolyada is accompanied by some people bearing stars. They sing and dance in a ring on the snow with torches and push the festive Wheel.

Maslyanitsa

     By the end of winter, a Pancake week comes right before Lent, it is also called a “cheese week”.  The Christian historians say that those were really “mad” days in the past.  People wore funny masks and costumes, sometimes, men wore women clothing and vice a versa.  Such masquerade gave start to merry festival, when nice food and a lot of wine was consumed.  A big man of straw was burned as the final act of saying goodbye to the already passed winter.  The feast fighting was one more great fun which helped to warm up on cold winter days.  Tsars and Grand Princes used to find a lot of fun in feast fighting.  At present special performances are held on Pancake week. 

     Through the whole week people cook pancakes served with honey, caviar, fresh cream and butter.  In Russian Pancake week is called Maslyanitsa, this word means “butter” in English.  It means that many different food, including butter, may be eaten before the time when Lent comes.  On the whole, the pancake week may be segmented into three parts, i.e. meeting of Maslyanitsa on Monday, broad Maslyanitsa, or the peak of festive occasion, on Thursday, and the last day, the good-bye day, which comes on Sunday morning. 

Easter

     Like in all Christian countries the Easter Holiday is also celebrated in Russia.  Special round-shaped sweet bread (Easter cakes) is cooked.   On the Easter’s Eve the Easter cakes are on sale in nearly all bakeries.   Moreover, Paskha (rich mixture of sweetened curds, butter and raisins) is also prepared on Easter and eggs are painted in different bright colors.  The red egg is considered a symbol of Easter.  The Easter egg has many specific purposes, it is a traditional Easter present given to friends and relatives as an Easter salutation.  There is a proverb saying that once you wash your face in the water with the Easter egg in it, you will always be healthy and beautiful; the fire will die, if the Easter egg is thrown into it.  On Easter people usually visit their relatives.  The traditional greeting, if translated from Russian, says: “Christ is alive”, the answer is “Christ is truly alive...”. 

Red Hill

     The first Sunday, which comes right after Easter, is called the Red Hill holiday.   This day is considered the best for wedding ceremonies.   In the past people welcomed Spring during this holiday, as if “inviting” it to their lands.  The first green leaves on the trees were usually met by singing and dancing in round. 

Ivan Kupalo

     In the Orthodox countries, as well as all over Europe, people celebrate the Holiday of St. John the Baptist.  In Russia this holiday is called Ivan Kupalo.  Everything in the holiday relates to water.  In the past boys and girls used to swim in rivers till late at night when they burned fires.  Boys and girls would jump over the fires holding each others’ hand.   If after the jump they still held their hands together, it considered to be a good sign saying that a wedding is close.

Troitsa

     The folk holiday called “Troitsa” is widely celebrated in Russia.  On Troitsa the houses are usually decorated with fresh green branches.  The maiden’s clothes are put on the young birch-trees and songs and dances round the birch-trees take place.  The garlands made of birch branches and flowers are put into water for fortune-telling. 

Spas

     The August, the last month of the Summer season, when the harvest is sown, is usually celebrated by three holidays called “Spas” in Russia.  The first “Spas” is called Honey Spas (August 14).  The second “Spas” is called Apple Spas (August 19).  The third one is called Nut Spas (August 29).  Spas brings cold dew to lands and meadows.   After the first Spas honey is collected, the second Spas brings fresh fruit and the third one, nuts.

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