What people celebrate in Russia.
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What people celebrate in Russia.

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In Russia, as well as in many other countries, people love holidays. You can relax, take a break from work and studies, congratulate your relatives and make them happy, receive congratulations yourself and so on.  Holidays and memorable days always mean emotions, and people love emotions, especially bright and memorable ones.

Luckily for Russians, there a lot of holidays in this country. It can seem that there are way too many of them. For example, there are professional holidays, so if you look at a list of professional holidays, you will see that every profession has its own day of the year, or maybe even more than one. Although most of these holidays are not official holidays, people celebrate them at work, or at least receive congratulations on this day (sometimes they can even give a hint like “it’s Accountant’s day – you should congratulate me”).

There’s a widespread opinion that Russians can’t imagine a celebration without vodka. In many cases this is indeed true.

Actually, Russians are capable of celebrating any event with a lot of fanfare – from weddings to receiving a driver’s license. Leaving school (Farewell Bell, graduation party), graduating university, leaving your home town and homecoming, being sent-off to the army and returning home, and naturally birthdays (jubilees are celebrated in an especially extravagant way), anniversaries – all these can be an occasion for a celebration in a particular family or group of friends.

It is worth telling you about weddings in particular – big weddings with an entertainer/emcee (there’s even a saying “A Russian wedding without a fight isn’t a true wedding” which is exaggerated of course, but parties are really big and lively). There is a traditional kidnaping and bride price before a wedding ceremony, and after that, there’s a feast with dances, every possible contest for guests, and funny or romantic tasks for the newlyweds. In different regions, weddings can be celebrated for two or three days in a row. In the Caucus, weddings are celebrated on a grander scale than you can imagine, but at the same time the bride and her fiancé celebrate their wedding separately. Isn’t that amazing? It happens (although quiet rarely) that Caucasian weddings end with high-profile judicial proceedings, because some crazy guys fired guns in the air from a limousine’s window while driving by the Red Square.

Certainly, both birthdays and anniversaries are lively celebrations for every family and group of friends, who celebrate them with big feasts, and the young love to have parties on any occasion.

However, there are days that are celebrated in Russia with mass merrymaking across the country, as well as with big feasts. Most of them are official public holidays, such as New Year’s and Christmas.

Christmas in Russia has a different date from the traditional European one, it’s celebrated two weeks later than in most of Europe, on the 7th of January, and in a completely  different way. The norm here is to put presents under the Christmas tree on New Year’s Eve rather than on Christmas. Christmas in Russia is more of a religious holiday than a popular one. There’s a procession of a cross around churches on Christmas. According to the tradition, which has been around since ancient times, it’s appropriate for girls to tell fortunes on Christmas night, and in the backwoods people still traditionally go carol singing (people knock on other people’s doors, sing carols and receive something tasty for doing so).

New Year’s is Russian’s most beloved family holiday. On New Year’s Eve people give gifts to relatives. For those who believe in the fairytale, Santa Claus brings gifts. On New Year’s Eve people in every residence make food and salads together while watching popular New Year’s comedies, and in the evening they sit down at the same table near the Christmas tree and listen to the President’s speech, which takes place a few minutes before midnight. At midnight, you open a bottle of champagne and drink it while bells chime.  Some even burn a piece of paper, prepared beforehand, with a wish written on it, throw the ash into a glass of champagne and drink it up before the last strike of twelve. After that, everyone either watches New Year’s concerts on TV or goes outside, congratulating all passers-by with a Happy New Year. The sky lights up with fireworks, and you can hear the firecrackers burst. New Year’s night is the noisiest night of the year, filled with happiness and anticipation that your wishes will come true.

Mass open air parties don’t only take place on New Year’s and Christmas, but also on religious holidays like the Pancake festival (Maslenitsa) and Easter, which are notable for the silent cohesion of Russian people. At the end of winter, on Maslenitsa people eat pancakes and burn an effigy of Maslenitsa, saying goodbye to the winter in this way. In the middle of spring, on Easter, people bake Easter cakes, color chicken eggs and bless them in a church, so that they can share them with their close friends and family, kissing them three times while wishing them a Happy Eater, and traditionally cracking the eggs for fun.

Easter in Russia

The youth in Russia celebrate holidays that come from the West too, such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day. On Halloween, nobody asks for sweets from their neighbors (we have Christmas for this) however people dress up as their favorite characters and go to out to party, either to their friends’ places or to a club, where different themed shows take place. Some political and religious activists try to forbid any activities devoted to this holiday from year to year, getting a lot of PR for themselves.

Lovers celebrate Valentine ’s Day like everywhere else. They give valentines to each other, plan romantic evenings, and there’s no escape from the hearts placed all around cafes and shopping malls. There’s one more, almost forgotten by most, a holiday which is celebrated mostly in villages, although very popular in Europe – Ivan Kupala’s Day (St. John’s Day). Jumps over a fire, dances, searches for a blooming fern – you can see it all in Russian folk fairy tales, and Russians still remember it.

9th of May – Victory Day

There are a lot of commemorative days in Russia. People in this country remember their history, and there are a lot of days on the calendar that are commemorative days. The most striking date is the 9th of May – Victory Day – “a day that brings tears to the eyes” – the day of victory over fascist Germany during World War Two, which is called in Russia the Great Patriotic War. On this day, a parade takes place on Red Square annually and there are spectacular fireworks in the evening. Moreover, the “Immortal Regiment” procession has taken place in many Russian (and not only Russian) cities for many years in honor of the fallen. People with photos of their relatives and others who fought and fell in this war, or those who have died since, travel in column through a city, honoring those who fought and fell for our future.

Maslenitsa in Russia

Besides holidays celebrated all over the country, there are a lot of regional holidays in Russia. For example, every Russian nation has a day on the calendar that is celebrated as City Day. There are also many different regional holidays connected with local religions. For example, locals celebrate traditional holidays like Yhyakh – a summer festival in Yakut. It is celebrated with prayers, folk games, contests, horse races, and feasts. In Buryatia, on the 30th day of the last winter moon, a holiday dedicated to the White Month, “Tsagaan Sar”, which can be described as a local religious New Year, takes place. There are prayers, feasts and gifts that people give to each other. Another New Year is celebrated in the Tyva Republic, which is called “Sagaa”. In Tatarstan and Bashkortostan there’s a very interesting holiday, Sabantuy, the holiday to mark the end of field work for the year. The celebration lasts for 3 to 5 days as a rule, on these days there are celebrations and competitions; people cook national dishes in a shared pot, and working is prohibited. In Suzdal, there’s a totally unbelievably named holiday, called “Cucumber Day”.

Festivals in Russia

There are different festivals in certain cities and their suburbs. Music, cinema, handicraft, culture of Russian peoples, sports –the  themes can be varied, but what never changes is the shared merriment and the atmosphere of festivity and fun.

There’s always a reason for celebration in Russia. We can mark and celebrate every holiday: Cucumber Day and Cat Day and The Birthday of Russian Sailor’s Striped Vests (yeah, we have this one too) – there are a lot of themed holidays in Russia.

We love holidays. Celebrate them with us and you’ll remember the day for a long time. (Don’t try to outdrink Russians – this is the most important thing to remember if you want to remember a holiday). We love holidays because we love having fun. Because we can remember those who are not with us anymore. Because some holidays unite people. Happy holidays!

Elena Naumenko

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