* holiday and celebration attire -- Russia Soviet Russian individual celebrations

Seasonal Holidays and Celebrations: Individual Russian Celebrations

The celebration of holidays in Russia has been significantly affected by political regimes. Tsarist Russia focused on the celebration of religious festivals such as Easter and Christmas. The Tsar's bithday was probably also celebrated. After the Revolution (1917), the Soviets celebtated New Years, Labor Day, and the Revolution. I am not sure to what extent Comrade Stalin's birthday was celebrated. There were of course major changes in Russian holidys after the Communist Revolution (1917) and likewise after the fall of Communism (1991) there have been changes as well. Today in Russia, New Years continued to be the favorite holiday for children. Authorities are also now promoting the celebration of Christmas. Most Russian holidays are at We have some basic information on the major Russian holidays. Not all of these are actually public holidays - the Russians have many "holidays" but they don't all mean a day off work.

Name Days/Angel's Days

Angel's or Name Day is an old Tsarist tradition. Name Day is a Christian tradition, practiced by both the Catholic and Orthodox churchdes. Practices varied from country to country. Tsarist Russia had a close association with the Orthodoxial Church. Parents in Tsarist times were not free to chose just any name for a child, both boys and girls. There was a different day set aside for each first name. The names were the mames of saints. The Bolsheviks after the Revolution attempted to supress the Church and promote aethism. The Church calendar was no longer observed. The Bolsheviks created their own calendar to replace the Church calendar. Several such calendars appeared during the Soviet era. They included names like "Comintern", "Vladlen" (from VLADimir + LENin), "Industric", "Octyabrina", "Stalina" (from STALIN) and so on. But there was no requirement that parents chose these names. Russians today have revived the old Tsarist era Orthodox tradition. This depends on the beliefs of the parents. Therev are a lot of people whose names do not concide with names of saint patrons on their birthday. Somebody people use this use this as an opportunity to celebrate "Birthday" twice per year. This did not occur during Tsarist times when the Name Day and birthday coincided. Others celebrate only theur actual birthday.

New Year (January 1-2)

Russians receive a two holiday for New Year (Новый Год). This is probably the most popular holiday in modern Russia. The Russians greet the New Year with champagne and listen to the Kremlin chimes ringing out the arrival of the New Year at 12 midnight. There are many New Year traditions in Russia similar to Christmas traditons in the West. In fact after the Revolution, traditions like Christmas trees were shifted from Christmas to New Year. As a result, Russian New Tear is auch more family-orienred holiday than in the West. Russian homes have New Year trees with colored lights and non-religious decorations. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, religious decorations can now be added, but we are not sure to what extentvthis has been added. St. Nicholas was replaced by Father/Grandfather Frost. And children of course await the arrival of Father Frost and his presents just as they one awaited St. Nicholas. Grandfather Frost looks a lot like the American Santa Claus only his outfit is blue rather than red. He arrives on New Year's Eve with his bag of toys. I'm not sure just how he arrives or if he has Reindear like Santa. He appears to have super powers and Frost can punish evil doers by instantly freezing them. There is a tradition of the children danceing around the tree which can be tricky in small Soviet apartments. The children are expected to tell rhymes to Grandfather Frost before receiving their presents. Many cities put up large decorated trees. There is a formal New Year's celebration at the Kremlin in Moscow. As many as 50,000 people attend, but they have to purchase tickets. There is a large meal for New Year consisting of meat and potato dishes.

Christmas (January 7)

Christmas (Рождество) is a 1-day holiday in modern Russia. It was of course not a holiday during the Soviet era. Russia is Orthodox and thus Christmas is celebrated 2 weeks later than in Catholic and Protestant countries. The Soviets of course discouraged the celebration of Christmas. Even without Christmas, Russian children had Father Frost. I'm not sure how Christmas traditions are faring in post-Soviet Russia. St. Nicholas is popular in Russia. The legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then many Eastern Orthodox Churches have been named for the saint, and to this day, Nicholas is one of the most common names for Russian boys. The feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost.

Old New Year (January 14)

New Year before the Revolution was celebrated on January 14. It is now known as Old New Year (Старый Новый Год). This is still a popular holidayin Russia today and reflects the calendar used in Russia before the Communist Revolution.

Tatyana's Day (January 25)

Tatyana's Day is a pleasant and upbeat holiday highlighting the best, brightest, and most carefree years in the life of every student. On this day, all former classmates tend to grow nostalgic, and recall their fellow students, Deans and Principals as well as recalling memorable student years. The holiday's origin goes far back into history. It's the day Moscow State University was founded in the 18th century and St. Tatyana - a Christian martyr - was declared the patron saint of all scholars. Every year on January 25 Russian and Ukrainian students (perhaps Beylorussian students as well) celebrate St. Tatyana's day. She’s the patron saint of all students and in Russia and the Ukraine her name day marks the end of winter exams. Nowadays, on this winter day, Russians congratulate students of all generations. With feelings of gratitude we recollect the teachers who opened the Temple of Sciences for us. Eventhough this holiday is considered more of a Russian holiday, students in the Ukraine also celebrateb it as a youth holiday, for all of those who keep the fire of creativity in their souls, with a thirst for knowledge, search and discovery.

St.Valentine's Day (February 14)

St.Valentine's Day (День Святого Валентина) is an entirely new holiday celebration in Russia. It was not celebrated during the Soviet era. It has rapidy become popular in modern Russia for lovers and friends to exchange greetings and presents. I don't think school children commonly exchange cards as in America.

Defenders of the Fatherland Day (February 23)

Defenders of the Fatherland Day (День Защитника Отечества) is an important state occassion and a 1-day holday. The date Fevruary 23 was very significant. It is the Sunday just after the two events commemorated: 1) Red Army drafts on February 17, 1918 abs 2) thw Red Army founded on February 18, 1918. It was first celebrated as Soviet Army Day. It was renamed the Day of the Soviet Army (День советской армии). The holiday got its cirrent name in 1995. Today the commemorations primarily focus on the World War II, at least the part of it the Russians want to remenber -- Great Patriotic War (1941-45). This was the epic defense of Mother Russian from invading NAZI armies. (The Russians prefer to forget the eralier part when as a NAZI ally when they invaded neighboring countries.) The Russians refer to their country as both motherland (rodina) and fatherland (otyechestvo), but the atter is used in the name of this holiday. Most Russians consider this holiday a 'men’s day', some people even call it Men's Day -- related to the a conscription (draft) law. This morrors ageneral trend to gloss over the karge number of wonen who served in Red Army and other srvices during World War II. Unlike the nen, they were all volunteers. Women were more important in the military than any other World War II beligerant. And unklike other countries, may served in combat. The holiday is celebrated in many homes. Men not only receive presents, but there may also be parties at their places of work. Schools also organize a variety of activities. we have archived a group of 2nd graders in 1977. On the actual day in many Russian cities, there are mass public events such as military parades, stunt performances, fairs, and car races. Several cities (Moscow, Sankt-Peterburg, Murmansk, and Smolensk there are firework displays. An imporrant part ofvthcelebratioin is the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Могила неизвестного солдата). This is followed by a minute of silence and the National Anthem.

Figure 1.--This 1962 Soviet postcard was made for Women's Day which was celebrated March 8. Russia and other Communist countries were some of the few countries to make International Women's Day a national holiday. The postcard publisher was Lenizokombinat No. 77833.

Women's Day/Mother's Day (March 8)

Women's Day (Восьмое марта) is a day off for all Russian women (mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends). We do not know when it was first ceklebrated in Russia. I don't think it is a school holiday for girls, but I am not sure about this. It was originally celebrated as International Women's Day. Russia and other Communist countries are virtually the only countries where this is an important holiday (Bulgaria, China, Russia, and Vietnam). We are not entirely sure why the Communists embraced International Notably, it is close to Valebtine's Day which was discoraged in these countries. It is irinic because the origins of Internatuinal Woman's Day was the Suffregett Movement. The first International Woman's Day was celebrated in the West when wonmen were batteling for the vote (1911). It is ironic that the countries which adopted Women's Day as a national holiday were countries when the right to vote and elections had no real meaning. Also these countries all prevent women from rising to any position of national importance. There were many important women in both the Communists and Socialist movements in the West. In Russia and the othef Communist counties, however, there have been no important female leaders. We do not know about the extent to which the holiday in celebrated in modern Russia.

Easter (March-April)

Orthodox Easter (Православная Пасха) commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. A a religious holiday, it is not a state holiday with employees given a day off. It has no set calenar date. It is held on the first Sunday after the date of the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21. It is usually in April, but occassionally falls at the end of March. In 2004. Easter was a major holiday in Tasarist times. The two principal holidays during the Tsarust era were Christmas and Easter. The holiday of course was not celebrated during the Soviet era. At the peak of the atheism campaign, it as well as the Church itself were actively supressed. Since the fall of Communism, Easter has again become a popular holiday as their has been a renewed interest in religion. A reader writes, "Your dates for Easter are incorrect. The Orthodox church effectively still works on the old (Julian, I believe) calendar, so Orthodox Easter is usually 4-5 weeks after Easter in the west." We are mnot sure hjow popular Easter now is in modetn Russia.

Figure 1.--Perhaps the best known Soviet holiday is May Day. Here we see the May Day celebration on Red Square during 1948. It wasn't, however, the children's favorite holiday. In many countries May Day was a spring ritual an a labor dacelebration. In the soviet union it was a nationlist s=extravaganza and military demonstration.

May Day/Spring and Labor Day (May 1-2)

May Day (Первое мая)is a 2-day holiday in Russia. During Soviet times it was among the most important holidays as it was in other Communist countries. There was a huge parase in Moscow, Lenningrad ans other cities. It was originally celebrated as the the Day of International Solidarity of Workers. In Europe as a result there were often peace conntations to May Day celebrations in Western countries. The Soviets used May Day to show off their latest military hardware. In modern Russia it has become a holiday celebrating both the arrival of Spring as wll as to honor Labour. The modern Russian celebration is called Spring and Labour Day. In can fall close to Russian Orthodox Easter, so Russians celebrate it in different ways. Some celebrate in church while other Russians attend the more customary secular activities. A display of modern weapons and marching soldiers is still held in Moscow. The celebration, however, is much more low key than it was in Soviet days. Various people march, including the Communists and workers with greviences.

Victory Day (May 9)

The Victory Day (День Победы) is a 1 day holiday celebrated on May 9. The holiday commemorates the Soviet victory over NAZI Germany in World War II. The day is celebrated on a different day than in the West because the NAZI authorities surrendered twice. Once to the Western Allies at Reims (May 7) and then to the Soviets at Berlin (May 9?). The Great Patriotic War (1941-45) was the most titantic military campaign in human history. The Soviet people paid a huge cost in blood and treasure for their victory. Much of the western Soviet Union was left in ruins. The President of Russia now sends congratulatory letters to all surviving veterans. There are parades and feasts held throughout Russia. Presents and flowers are given to veterans. Civic officials throughout Russia give patriotic speeches about the achievement of the Soviet people in defeating the NAZI tyranny. Veterans recount their war experiences.

Independence Day (June 12)

Independence Day (День Независимости) is a brand new 1-day holiday. The holiday celebrates the adoption in 1991 of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation. This also meant the break up of the Soviet Union. Ironically President Putin has said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest stratehic carastrophe of the 20th century. A strange thing to say when the country's ndependence Day honors the 1991 Russian Declaration of Sovereignty.

Day of Accord and Reconciliation (November 7/4)

The Day of Accord and Reconciliation (День Согласия и Примирения) is a 1-day holiday celebrated November 7. The holiday was first established as the Day of the Great Revolution of October 1917 or October Revolution Day. This was one of the most important Soviet holidays. After being celebrated for over 80 years it became an important tradition and this there was resistance to canceling it even after the fall of Communism. I am not sure how it is celebrated in modern Russia. The Communist Party still functins in Russia and most young Russians while not Communists still see the Communist Revolution in favorable terms. It will thus be interesting to see how this holiday evolves in Russia. Russian authorities in 2005changed the date from November 7 to November 4. Allegedly, this is the date that Catholic Poles were evicted from Orthodox Russian land (I don't have the year, but this presumably dates back to the middle ages, when Poland was still a major power). Many communists are very upset about this, and even ordinary people complin that the church is trying to "hijack" a national holiday.

Constitution Day (December 12)

Constitution Day (День Конституции) is 1-day holiday celebrated on December 12. It was Russia's new democratic celebration. Under President Putin Russian democracy is under assault. The future for democracy is unknown. The Russian Government in 2005 canceled the December Constitution Day holiday with only 2 weeks notice. Can you imagine a western government taking away a public holiday at a moment's notice? The impression one receives of course is that the Russian Government is not that all impressed with the Constitution. Just one indication that President Putin is moving Russia away from democracy and the rule of law.


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Created: 11:16 PM 10/2/2006
Last updated: 1:13 PM 6/27/2020