Russian Holidays and Traditions
At the present moment there are 7 govermnent holidays in Russia. Among them are those left from previous historiс eras and those related to the modern day. There are more days off than there are government holidays. For eхample, Christmas is not a government holiday but it is a day off
The Russian word «праздник» comes from праздный or пустой (empty) and means a day free from work. In fact holidays in a stream of working days are a good time to rest. At the same time they are socially and culturally important allowing generations to pass on traditions.
Among Russian holidays there are official and unofficial, old and new, religious and not, professional and family-oriented ones. At this time non-working days are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th of January - so called New Year Vacation (Новогодние каникулы), 7th of January - Christmas Day (Рождество) , 23rd of February - Day of Fatherland Defender (День защитника Отечества), 8th of March - International Women's Day (Международный женский день), 1st of May - Sprin and Labor Holiday (Праздник Весны и Труда), 9th of May - Victory Day (День Победы), 12th of June - Day of Russian (День России), 4th of November - Day of people's Unity (День народного единства).
The First Holiday in the calendar is New Year. There is hardly any other holiday that is anticipated this much every year. Children dream about New Year gifts, and adults about their dreams coming true and everybody wishes happiness to each other in the new year. In schools they have different performances and in offices they have New Year parties. However this holiday is very family-like that's why many people choose to celebrate it at home or with friends. They decorate a New Year tree and set up the holiday table.
The first New Year in Russia to be celebrated on the night of 31st of December was in 1700 under Piter I. Before that they celebrated New Year on the 1st of September, and even before that on the 1st of March. Just like in Europe the symbol of this holiday became a New Year tree, a spruce. Although in his decree in 1699 Piter I was mentioning a tree in general not a spruce in particular. First these New Year trees were decorated with nuts, candies, fruit and even vegetables, and this didn't change until the middle of 19 century. For the first time a decorated spruce was shining with lights was in 1852 in St. Petersburg inside Yekaterinensky (Moskovsky nowadays) rairoad station. In the middle of 19 century there appeared first New Year tree decoration toys, bands and colorful paper. By the end of the century fashionable theater performances became popular, often reminding great balls.Then appeared Grandpa Frost (Дед Мороз) (an analog of Santa Clause - Санта Клаус),and then his granddaughter Snegurochka ( внучка Снегурочка). In the first years the Soviet government didn't approve of this holiday with a New Year tree, thinking it is too bourgeois, although they later accepted this tradition. In the Soviet period they added these dished to the NewYear menu: студень (jellied meat), селедка под шубой (salad with herring and beets and cheese), салат Оливье(salad Olivie), and of course the opening of a bottle of Soviet Champagne (открытие бутылки «Советского шампанского») with the sound of Kremlin clock in the background. There also appeared «Голубые огоньки» (New Year TV shows with pop singers - Blue lights), and New Year movies.
Old New Year
The night from the 13th to the 14th of January is called Old New Year in Russia. Before 1918 in Russia they had Julian Calendar, which was 13 days ahead of the Gregorian calendar they used in Europe. The soviet leaders in 1918 accepted the European calendar, although for as long time they had to specify if a certain date was according to the new or old style ("по новому стилю" or "по старому стилю"). So with time people got used to celebrating New Year according to the new calendar but the tradition to celebrate Old New Year remained. This holiday is more family-like and less solemn with no Kremlin bells or a president speech.
All the Church holidays are still celebrated according to the Julian calendar. One of the most important of them is Christmas Day (Рождество Христово) celebrated on the 7th of January. In Russia like in many other countries it is the Christmas Eve that is the most important (Рождественский сочельник). Because on the Eve of Christmas is the end of the 4-day Christmas fast, in Russian they didn't eat till the end of the day "до первой звезды" (till the first star), and dinner had to be meatless( постный). After a repast they went to church for a night service, and on the first day of Christmas they had a rich banquet.
From the Christmas started Christmastide (Святки) - 12 days till the Twelth Day (Крещение Господне) on the 19th of January. Christmastide ways to have fun - masquarades (маскарады), гадания (fortune-telling), trick-ot -treating (колядование).
At the end of February till the beginning of March, a week before the Lent (Великий пост), they celebrate Shrovetide (Масленица). This is the only authentic Slavic holiday that didn't get affected by anything and that still had some traits of heathendom - they cook pancakes that resemble the Sun - and tell you about the coming Summer. Among traditions of Shrovetide week - ice slides/hills going, riding colorfully decorated with carpets sledges (сани), singing songs and family partying. The culmination of the Shrovetide week is the farewell to the Shrovetide - the burning of a saw dummy of Shrovetide dressed in old clothes as a symbol of the Winter funeral of everything that has passes away and of the birth of everything new and full of strenth.
23rd of February - Day of the Fatherland Defender
23rd of February is the Day of the Fatherland Defender. This holiday appeared in 1918 to celebrate the strenth of the Red Army against the German invasion. This holiday is now celebrated as a Men's Day, who are strong and brave.
8th of March
Withing less that 2 weeks from the Men's Day they celebrate International Women's Day - the 8th of March. On this day mothers , wifes and daughters, and female co-workers are given flowers and gifts. This holiday was celebrated for the first time in 1913. The desicion to celebrate this International Women's Day was reached in 1910 at the 2nd International Conference of female socialists in Copenhagen proposed by K. Tsetkin. (one of the founder's of German Communist Party)
At the end of April - beginning of May they celebrate Easter (Пасха). The exact date is set each year according to certain religious tables. Easter as they said in the old times is the holiday of holidays and celebration of celebrations (праздников праздник и торжество из торжеств) - a day to remember the life, suffering and ressurection of Jesus Christ. Traditions related to Easter - Cross-bearing procedure arounf a church, painting eggs in different colors and baking round sweet roll (кулич). People kiis each other and say "Христос воскрес!"(Christ is risen!) and they othe reply "Воистину воскрес!(Truly risen!)". An essential attribute of any Easter dinner is Easter bread (пасхальный хлеб) - kulich (кулич), baked with paste yeasty dough. Кулич has got to be high and round. On top of it is a cross made of dough.
1st of May - Day of Spring and Labor
1st of May - is the Day of Spring and Labor (День Весны и Труда). This holiday was introduced in 1889 when at the Paris Congress of 2nd International they decided to celebrate the demonstration of Chicago workers on the 1st of May 1886. This holiday is always associated with large crowds and demonstrations. Today though most Russians prefer to spend this day out of town and spend time with their families.
9th of May - the Victory Day (День Победы) marks the victory of Soviet troops in the war with the fascist Germany in the spring of 1945 - one of the most important moments in Russia's history. At the same time it is a memory day for those tens of millions people killed in this war.On this day you will see namy veterals dressed up in military clothes with medals marching on the Red Square in Moscow and other central squares in other sities.People give flowers to the veterans and say thank you. They also lay bouquets of flowers to the tombs of fallen soldiers.
Day of Russia
12th of June - the Day of Russia (День Pоссии) is celebrated since 1991 after Russia became a sovereign state.
4th of November - the Day of People's Unity (День народного единства) is celebrated in memory of the events of the 4th of November of 1612 when the people uprising leaded by K. Minin (Козьма Минин) and Вю Pozharsky (Дмитрий Пожарский) freed Moscow from Polish invaders and put an end to the Troublesome time (Смутное время). Those events laid down the foundation for the future sovereignty of Russia.
Family Holidays in Russia
Most family holidays in Russia are similar to those celebrated in other countries. Among them are birthdays (дни рождения), weddings (свадьбы), anniversaries (юбилеи) and so on. It is interesting to know that Russians celebrate wedding anniversaries - a year after the wedding they celebrate calico wedding (ситцевая свадьба), ten years after the wedding - a pink wedding (розовая свадьба), after twenty five years - a silver wedding (серебряная свадьба), and after 50 years - a golden wedding (золотая свадьба).
Professional Holidays in Russia
Among professional holidays are:
12th of January - the Day of Presecutor Office worker (День работника прокуратуры). On this day in 1722 Piter I set up the first Presecutor Office as a part of Government power.
13th of January - the Day of Russia's press (День pоссийской печати).It is celebrated in hinor of the first Russian newspaper that came out in 1703.
10th of February - the Day of Diplomatic Worker (День дипломатического работника). On this day in 1549 they first mentioned of Posolsky prikaz (Посольского приказа) - the first foreign politics body in Russia.
12th of April - the Day of Cosmonautics (День космонавтики). It celebrates the first flight to the outer space by the first cosmonaut Yury Gagarin in 1961.
7th of May - the Day of Radio (День pадио). It celebrates the invention the first radio in the world by a Russian scholar Alexander Popov in 1895.
3rd Sunday in June - the Day of Medical Worker (День медицинского pаботника).
2nd Sunday in August - the Day of Construction Worker (День стpоителя).
3rd Sunday in September - the Day of Forestry Worker (День pаботников леса).
25th of October - the Day of Customs worker (День таможенника).
10th of November - the Day of Police (День милиции). The Russian Police Service was created in 1918.
20th of December - the Day of Security Services Worker (День pаботника оpганов безопасности).
In everyday life of Russian people there are plenty of curious traditions worth mentioning, which change with time of course. Kids under 18 are normally living with their parents, most people marry when they're around 23-25 years. In ther summer time Rusisan love to conserve fruit and vegetables, grown in their own garden. Many people have a summer house with a garden (дача). Russians like to stay up late having tea parties and late night conversations. They don't hesitate to borrow salt or matches from their neighbors when they suddenly run out of their own. Because of lack of time and love for literature many like to read while traveling in public transportation.
Russian Sauna (Баня) - is an old attribute of Russian's everyday life and a good way to chat with friends. Main attributes :steam (пар), birch or oak branches (веник), aromatic tea with herbs, kvas (квас) or beer (пиво).
As far as the etiquette goes it is considered right to give your seat to an elderly person in public transport and to give your hand to your girlfriend when leaving the bus or tram. When meeting friends you shake hands and sometimes kiss on the cheek. In Russia you're more free to ask personal questions about family and hobbies, your work and income. It's not ok to cuss in Russian in public and official places. It's better not to cuss at all. An educated person would never do that.