Russian Traditions: A Journey through Holidays and Celebrations

Russians love holidays. If you google a date, for example, today (Какой сегодня праздник?), you are sure to find information about something being celebrated on that day. It is usually referred to as ‘День чего-то‘ (Day of Something): День объятий (Hug Day), День борьбы с ожирением (Fight against Obesity Day), День любителей сыра (Cheese Lovers’ Day), День арбуза (Watermelon Day), Всемирный день кардиолога (World Cardiologist Day), Международный день дружбы (International Day of Friendship), etc. Note the use of the genitive case here.

Funny Russian dates

Let’s find out what Russian people usually celebrate.

Public Holidays

Holidays come in many forms. The most favorite holidays are, of course, public holidays. After all, these are the dates marked in red on the calendar, which means that we don’t have to go to work or school—we are officially on vacation.

New Year

In Russia, the New Year celebration is one of the most anticipated and cherished holidays. It is a time when families and friends come together to joyfully welcome the upcoming year. The celebrations usually begin on December 31st and continue through the first week of January, known as “Новогодние каникулы” (New Year holidays).

Новогодние каникулы” officially start on the 1st of January and last until the 8th of January, providing a week-long break for people to enjoy and relax. During this period, while many businesses and offices go on vacation, stores and shops generally remain open, even during the holiday period. Unlike the longer holiday breaks for schools and government institutions, the vacations for businesses tend to be shorter.

In most cases, stores and shops will have adjusted operating hours on December 31st, often closing earlier in the day to allow employees to prepare for their own New Year celebrations. However, they usually resume their regular working hours starting from January 2nd. This relatively short break allows people to continue their shopping activities and take advantage of the post-holiday sales and promotions that often follow the New Year celebration.

An interesting aspect of the New Year celebration in Russia is the connection between the New Year and Christmas traditions. In accordance with the Russian Orthodox Church, Christmas (Рождество Христово) is celebrated on January 7th. The Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, which is why Christmas falls on a different date compared to Western Christianity.

During the “Новогодние каникулы,” families gather for festive dinners, exchange gifts, and decorate a New Year tree, called “новогодняя ёлка” in Russian. The streets are adorned with colorful lights, and city squares often host beautifully decorated Christmas markets and ice skating rinks.

It is common for people to attend various New Year parties, fireworks displays, and concerts throughout the holiday season.

On New Year’s Eve, the main highlight is the countdown to midnight, when the clock strikes twelve. This moment is accompanied by the chiming of the Kremlin Spasskaya Tower bells in Moscow and fireworks bursting in the sky across the country. As the clock strikes midnight, families gather around the festive table to share a special meal, which typically includes an abundance of delicious dishes, such as Olivier salad (“Оливье”), dressed herring (“Селёдка под шубой”) and others.

Another unique aspect of the Russian New Year celebration is the arrival of Ded Moroz (Father Frost), accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). Children eagerly await their visit, as Ded Moroz brings them gifts and good wishes for the upcoming year.

New year celebration in Russia

See Also: Winter Vocabulary in Russian

Defender of the Fatherland Day (Men’s Day)

On February 23rd, Russia commemorates a significant holiday known as “День защитника Отечества” (Defender of the Fatherland Day). This holiday is dedicated to honoring the country’s defenders and celebrates the courage and sacrifice of the Armed Forces.

Originally established as “Red Army Day” in 1922, the holiday was later renamed and expanded to honor all those who have served in the military, not just members of the army. It is a day that pays tribute to the bravery and dedication of soldiers, veterans, and all those who have contributed to the defense of the nation.

Defender of the Fatherland Day holds particular significance in Russia, as it recognizes the importance of the country’s military heritage and the role of the armed forces in protecting the nation’s sovereignty. It is a time to express gratitude and respect for those who have served or are currently serving in the military.

In essence, Defender of the Fatherland Day is a day dedicated to men. Women congratulate their husbands, brothers, sons, collegues and friends and give them gifts. Typically, these gifts include ‘purely masculine’ items such as socks, underwear, shaving foam, and so on. This tradition has inspired a plethora of jokes and memes centered around this theme.

Defender of the Fatherland Day Meme in Russian

International Women’s Day

8 марта, or International Women’s Day (Межународный женский день), is a significant holiday in Russia that honors and celebrates women’s achievements and contributions. Observed on March 8th each year, it is a day to show appreciation, gratitude, and respect towards women.

Men typically give women in their lives, including mothers, wives, sisters, and female colleagues, flowers, and small gifts as a token of appreciation.

While International Women’s Day is a celebration of women and their contributions, it also serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality. The holiday has its roots in the labor movement and women’s rights, and it continues to be a time for acknowledging and celebrating the indispensable role women play in Russian society.

Gifts meme in Russian
Gifts for Men’s day and Women’s day

Spring and Labor Day (May 1st)

The celebration of Spring and Labor Day (День весны и труда) has historical roots, dating back to the late 19th century when workers worldwide were fighting for better working conditions and labor rights. In the Soviet era, vibrant demonstrations took place on this day, featuring slogans expressing solidarity with workers worldwide.

Nowadays, during May Day, Russians embrace the opportunity to spend quality time with their loved ones and engage in leisure activities. Many families plan outings, picnics, and gatherings to enjoy the spring season.

See Also: Days of the Week in Russian

Victory Day

Victory Day, known as День Победы in Russian, is a momentous and deeply significant holiday in Russia. Observed on May 9th, it commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II.

The day holds immense historical and emotional significance for the Russian people. On this day, grand military parades, processions, and memorial ceremonies are held across the country, with the largest taking place in Moscow’s Red Square.

The day is marked by solemn tributes, wreath-laying ceremonies, and veterans proudly displaying their medals. The streets are adorned with patriotic symbols, including flags and banners. The victory achieved in World War II is remembered with reverence and gratitude, as Russians pay homage to the bravery and sacrifices of those who fought and gave their lives for the freedom and independence of their country.

Victory Day serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience and unity of the Russian people during one of the most challenging periods in their history. People often participate in memorial ceremonies, laying flowers and wreaths at war memorials and gravesites. Many families gather to share stories, photographs, and personal experiences about their relatives who fought in the war.

Television programs, documentaries, and movies that depict the heroic acts and hardships endured during World War II are broadcasted throughout the day. They aim to educate younger generations about the significance of Victory Day and ensure that the stories of bravery and resilience continue to be passed down.

Russian Victory Day

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Russia Day

День России (Russia Day) is a national holiday that is celebrated on June 12th each year. It commemorates the declaration of sovereignty of the Russian Federation in 1990. This holiday is an occasion for Russians to express their national pride and unity.

Festivities encompass various cultural events, concerts, and public gatherings held nationwide. People come together to celebrate the diversity and richness of Russian culture, history, traditions, and achievements. The day serves as a reminder of the country’s independence and the progress made since the declaration of sovereignty. It offers a chance for reflection, appreciation, and contemplation of the shared values that unite the people of Russia.

Unity Day

Unity Day, known as День народного единства in Russian, is celebrated on November 4th. It commemorates a pivotal moment in Russian history—the liberation of Moscow from Polish invaders in 1612.

Citizens reflect on the historical events that led to the unity and independence of the nation, and they reaffirm their commitment to upholding national unity and harmony. Unity Day fosters a sense of pride in the diverse tapestry of cultures and traditions that make up the Russian Federation, highlighting the collective spirit and shared values that bind the Russian people together.

Religious Holidays

Russia is a predominantly Christian country, and the Orthodox Christian tradition is the most widely practiced religion. As a result, many of the religious holidays celebrated in Russia are Orthodox Christian holidays. Here are some of the major religious Russian holidays:

  • Рождество (Christmas). Celebrated on January 7th, Christmas in the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar. It is a significant religious holiday, marked by church services, fasting, and the tradition of the “Holy Supper,” a festive meal on Christmas Eve.
  • Пасха (Easter) is one of the most important religious holidays in Russia, celebrated with great enthusiasm. It follows the Julian calendar, typically falling in April or May. The holiday is marked by church services, the exchange of colored eggs, and festive meals.
  • Троица (Trinity Sunday): Trinity Sunday, also known as Pentecost, is celebrated 50 days after Easter. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Churches are adorned with flowers and greenery, and people often visit cemeteries to pay respects to the deceased.

In addition to these, there are other feast days and saints’ days celebrated by various Orthodox communities and individuals. It’s important to note that Russia is a multi-religious country, and other faiths, such as Islam and Buddhism, also have their own significant holidays celebrated by their respective communities.

Russia also has a history of pagan traditions and celebrations that predate the Christianization of the country. While these pagan holidays are not officially recognized, some people in rural areas and certain communities may still observe them as cultural or folkloric events.

For example, Масленица is still popular here. While it has been incorporated into the Christian calendar as a pre-Lenten celebration, Maslenitsa also has pagan origins. It is associated with the welcoming of spring and the end of winter. During Maslenitsa, people eat blini (pancakes) and engage in various activities and games.

Pagan traditions have often been integrated with Christian holidays and have evolved over time. In contemporary Russia, the majority of the population celebrates Christian holidays, but some individuals and groups may also incorporate elements of pagan traditions into their observances for cultural or historical reasons.

Other Unofficial Holidays

Non-public holidays or unofficial holidays in Russia don’t have a specific, standardized name. They are often referred to by the occasion or event they are associated with. They are often named after the specific events or themes they commemorate. Some are also known as professional or industry-specific holidays.

Here are a few examples:

  • Старый новый год (Old New Year). The Old New Year, celebrated on January 14th, is a holdover from the Julian calendar, which was used in Russia before the switch to the Gregorian calendar. It is an informal and nostalgic celebration, marked by gatherings, traditional foods, and sometimes even Christmas-like decorations.
  • Татьянин День (Students’ Day). Tatiana Day is celebrated on January 25th and is a day to honor students and educators. It is named after Saint Tatiana, the patron saint of students. In the past, it was celebrated with various events and festivities, particularly in educational institutions.
  • День Космонавтики. Celebrated on April 12th, Cosmonautics Day honors Yuri Gagarin’s historic spaceflight in 1961. While it’s not a public holiday, some people mark the day with space-themed events and educational activities.

See Also: 100 Popular Russian Idioms and How to Use Them

Regional Celebrations

Russia is a vast and diverse country with a rich cultural tapestry. Various regions in Russia have their own unique festivals and celebrations that reflect their local traditions, history, and culture.

St. Petersburg, often referred to as the “Venice of the North,” celebrates its famous White Nights with a series of cultural events and festivals from late May to early July. The festivities include musical performances, street theater, and the Scarlet Sails celebration, featuring a ship with scarlet sails on the Neva River.

City Day (or “День города” in Russian) is a common tradition in which cities celebrate their founding or historical significance. While the specific date and activities may vary from city to city, it is a day for communities to come together and showcase their local culture, history, and heritage.

The celebration typically includes various events such as parades, concerts, exhibitions, fireworks, and cultural performances. City Day provides an opportunity for residents to take pride in their city and for visitors to learn more about its history and culture. These celebrations can be particularly vibrant and diverse in larger cities and regional capitals.

Well, these were the most popular Russian celebrations. I hope you found it interesting. If you liked the material, don’t forget to share it with your acquaintances who are interested in Russian culture.

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