Top 15 Most Popular Holidays & Festivals in Russia
Normally, when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the preceding Monday or Friday of that week is also declared a holiday, in compensation for the holidays that fall on Saturday or Sunday. Also, some holidays that fall on Saturday or Sunday, sometimes move to Monday.
In addition to these national holidays, each city also celebrates its own holiday to commemorate the city's foundation. In Moscow, for example, the first or second Saturday of September is celebrated, while in St. Petersburg it is always celebrated on May 27. There are parties with lots of entertainment, many events, and fireworks.
1. New Year: December 31 - January 1
Just like in the whole world, in Russia, the New Year is celebrated on January 1 very actively. After this date, Russians enjoy vacations, as from January 2 to 6 they are holidays too, not only for schoolchildren. Because Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7, the days leading up to Christmas are also a part of the New Year-Christmas celebration. The New Year is celebrated with parties, food, toasts, and fireworks.
Some Russians also celebrate the New Year according to the Julian calendar, on Jan. 14th. This day, however, is a holiday celebrated privately with family members.
2. Christmas Day: January 7
Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7 in countries that have traditionally observed holidays according to the Eastern Orthodox religion. Jan. 7 corresponds to Dec. 25th on the Julian calendar, which was used in Russia during czarist times. Russia has used the Gregorian calendar since 1918, but tradition dictates that Christmas in Russia is still celebrated on Jan. 7.
Some Russians celebrate two Christmases -- one on Dec. 25 according to the Gregorian calendar and one on Jan. 7. However, Jan. 7 remains the more popular day to celebrate Christmas.
3. Epiphany: January 19
Another important celebration for the faithful is known for its tradition of “Epiphany bathing”: on this day, some believers take a dip in an ice-hole in the holy water. This ritual symbolizes purification and spiritual rebirth.
In all churches on this day, solemn services are dedicated to the Baptism of Christ. Also, it is on 19 January that believers take the holy water: it is believed to have healing powers.
4. Defender of the Fatherland Day: February 23
It is the day of all men, formerly known as Soviet Army Day. This date is commemorated since 1918, in which the Russian Civil War took place when the first massive recruitment of the Red Army was made in Petrograd and Moscow. It was originally known as Red Army Day. In 1949, it was renamed the Day of the Soviet Army and Navy. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the commemoration was given its current name.
The party is celebrated with parades and processions in honor of veterans, and women also offer gifts to their husbands (or partners), parents and children. In more colloquial terms, this holiday is also known as Men’s Day.
5. International Women's Day: March 8
The 8 March is International Women’s Day, and even though it is international the day has a special history in Russia where it is marked with a day off work. Curiously enough the 8 March celebration is connected with the revolutionary movement in Russia.
It was first celebrated in St Petersburg in 1913 as a Western trend. But in 1921 it was decided to celebrate 8 March in commemoration of the female textile workers who took part in demonstrations on 8 March 1917, at the time of the Russian Revolution. In 1966 the 8 March became an official public holiday in the USSR. Gradually the political nature of the celebration was forgotten and now it is a celebration of all women. On this day in Russia, you will see that practically every woman is carrying a bunch of flowers given to her by a male colleague, boss, or family member.
6. Maslenitsa: End of February – beginning of March (the date changes every year)
Maslenitsa is one of the most enjoyable and entertaining holidays for the Russian people. It lasts a week, and each year the dates are different. Maslenitsa’s roots are pagan. It symbolizes the beginning of spring and a farewell to winter (one of the Maslenitsa rituals is the burning of effigies symbolizing winter).
On city streets, Maslenitsa festivities take place: actors dress up in folk costumes, comic fights are arranged, snow castles stormed (mostly in parks), dancing and singing. Squares host concerts. The main Maslenitsa meal is, of course, pancakes (blini). Maslenitsa is especially picturesque in old Russian cities, because here, like nowhere else, you can feel close to the age-old traditions.
7. Easter: date varies
Although Easter is not a public holiday in Russia, since it falls on a Sunday it is a day off for everyone. This is perhaps the most beloved Orthodox holiday for Russians. Polls indicate that it is celebrated by 82 percent of the country's inhabitants, with Christmas on just 77 percent.
Easter signifies the end of Lent, so for the religiously observant, it is also a fast-breaking day. Easter cake, known as kulich, and decorated eggs are taken to church on Holy Saturday to be consecrated, and on Sunday everything is eagerly consumed.
8. Cosmonaut's Day: April 12
For Cosmonautics fans, it must be said that on April 12 of each year this holiday is celebrated, established to commemorate the first manned space trip, which took place on April 12, 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, which orbited the Earth for the first time. While another version of this day is celebrated internationally, in Russia the gravesite of Yuri Gargarin, the first man in space, is visited, as well as monuments and landmarks related to space travel and achievement.
9. Spring and Labor Day: May 1
In the Soviet Union, this holiday was called the Day of International Solidarity of Workers and was devoted to workers’ struggle for their rights. In modern Russia, this day has lost its political overtones, so for most Russians, it’s just the May holidays – a time for picnics and the opening of the summer season. Trains are overcrowded these days with people hurrying to their dacha (summer house) plots (with their ever-present seedlings), so traveling with them is best avoided.
It should be noted that 1 May is an official day off in almost all institutions.
10. Victory Day: May 9
Victory Day is an important secular holiday in Russia, celebrated with parades. Its significance arises from Russia's victory over Germany in World War II. Many Russians still consider this defeat heroic and worthy of memories and praise despite the extensive cost of life that Russia endured.
9 May is celebrated on a large scale in all Russian cities: there are public concerts and festivals; parks host “field kitchens”, treating anyone who wants some with military porridge; and museums open themed exhibitions. Veterans wear their medals and anyone can go and congratulate them, give them flowers, or just say thank you. Flowers and wreaths are also laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
11. Russia Day: June 12
It is the National Day of Russia, which would become the Independence Day of Russia, which took place on June 12, 1990. This holiday is celebrated by 54 percent of the country's population; for the rest, it usually means a beautiful long weekend in summer.
It is a relatively new holiday and the main Russian cities enjoy great entertainment events with street concerts, sports competitions, and exhibitions. In the evening, when it gets dark, you can watch the fireworks.
12. Knowledge Day: 1 September
It marks the beginning of the school year in Russia. On this day you can see the endless rows of school children with bouquets of flowers, accompanied by their parents to school. On the faces of some students, it is clear that not all of them have greatly missed their studies over the summer. After a festive assembly, in which elegant primary school pupils stand out more sharply, the school day begins, and the streets are empty.
13. National Unity Day: November 4
This holiday commemorates the liberation of Moscow from Polish occupation in 1612 as a result of the uprising led by Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky. In a broader sense, the day signifies the end of the time of foreign intervention in Russia. It is celebrated in place of the former Revolution Day.
Now, “National Unity Day” is a holiday with less than well-established traditions. In many regions, it has a folk complexion: at celebration concerts, artists perform Russian folk songs and dances, highly nationalistic and characteristic of their region. In some cities, in honor of this day, gala processions and rallies are held. Believers, however, consider this day the Day of Our Lady of Kazan.
14. Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia Day: July 8
Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia Day, also known as Family, Love and Faithfulness Day, was officially introduced in Russia in 2008. Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of the current Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, is one of the most active promoters of this new holiday. Its symbol is a white daisy.
It would be like the orthodox version of Valentine’s Day celebrated on Valentine’s Day, on February 14 (and also celebrated by the Russians). The “competition” between the two celebrations (Valentine’s Day and Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia) has sparked a lot of controversy in the country.
15. Old New Year: January 13
The change to the Julian Calendar in 1918 meant that the Old-Style 1 January on the Gregorian Calendar became 13 January according to the New Style. Today people still like to remember this fact and although the day is not widely celebrated as such, most people will still wish each other Happy Old New Year and maybe partake in some festive drinking, after all, Russians are not normally ones to pass up a good excuse to have a celebration and a drink!
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