|National Holidays & Celebrations |
January 1: New Year
January 7: Russian Orthodox Christmas
February 23: Defenders of the Fatherland Day
March 8: International Women's Day
May 1: Holiday of Spring and Labour
May 9: Victory Day
June 12: Day of Russia
November 4: National Unity Day
Non-Working Days in 2021
New Year and Christmas holidays: January 1-10
Defenders of the Fatherland Day: February 21-23
International Women's Day: March 6-8
Holiday of Spring and Labour: May 1-3
Victory Day: May 8-10
Day of Russia: June 12-14
National Unity Day: November 4-7
Russians love to celebrate and take most of their national holidays very seriously. New Year is the most widely celebrated holiday, followed by Orthodox Easter (which is not an official holiday), and Orthodox Christmas. Remember, though, that over 100 ethnic groups live on the territory of the Russian Federation and that each of them has their own colourful holidays and celebrations. Western holiday and festivals, such as Valentine's Day and Halloween are also gaining popularity in Russia, although they are not marked by days off work. When National Holidays fall over weekend dates, one or more adjacent weekdays will usually be declared as Public Holiday(s) - but the decision on which days is often not announced until a month beforehand. Shops and supermarkets don't usually observe any National Holidays except New Year's Eve, however.
The biggest Russian holiday is New Year and is celebrated on the night of December 31st to January 1st. Many Russians have what foreigners usually call a "Christmas tree" for New Year (either a real tree or an artificial). The tree is called a "yolka" in Russian. You may buy trees outside of metro stations at a so-called Christmas tree bazaar, at IKEA (natural fur tree), the Detsky Mir shopping center and many other places across town. At midnight, the President's New Year speech is broadcast on all national TV channels, preceded by lot of musical shows and followed by show-biz variety programming until morning. Most Russians exchange gifts on New Year's Eve. This means that you will be purchasing New Year's gifts for your Russian friends - instead of Christmas gifts. Celebrations on the night of December 31st continue until the early morning of January 1st. January 3rd, 4th and 5th are public/bank holidays. In combination with January 1st and 2nd and January 7th, Russia enjoys an entire holiday week at the start of the New Year.
As this holiday is children's favourite, special shows for children called "yolki" are organized throughout town in the weeks around December 31st. On New Year's Eve, some parents hire a Grandfather Frost or "Ded Moroz" and his assistant Snow-Maiden or "Snegurochka" to visit their homes to deliver previously purchased gifts to the children. The way this usually works is that Snegurochka arrives first, preparing the children for the arrival of Ded Moroz. The children then call for Ded Moroz, who arrives with a bag full of gifts. The children only get their gifts after singing a song or reciting a poem for Ded Moroz or after solving one of his riddles. If you want to order such a service for your children, make sure to place your order in advance.
Normal service is suspended in most restaurants and cafes on the evening of 31st December, and you can only get a table that evening by pre-booking (often several weeks before) and by pre-buying a "ticket" for their New Year's Eve programme - which includes a multi-course meal (usually a set menu), drinks and live entertainment. The prices often bear no resemblance to the usual prices on any other day of the year, but there is intense demand nonetheless - book ahead or go hungry. Those not inclined to spend their New Year's Eve this way often choose to gather in the city's larger open public spaces - Red Square, Poklannaya Gora, etc. - and celebrate in impromptu street parties - these can often be packed too, and in recent years police have limited crowds in Red Square in the interests of public safety, so go early.
Russian Orthodox Christmas
January 7th is Russian Orthodox Christmas. After Easter this is the biggest Christian religious holiday. It is traditionally celebrated at home - families and friends will gather on the evening of 6th January, to mark the festival's arrival at midnight.
Defenders of the Fatherland Day
February 23rd is non-official Men's Day. This public holiday is officially called "Defenders of the Fatherland Day". All men in Russia are liable for call-up to military service, so they all consider themselves celebrities to a certain extent. On this day women usually give men small gifts.
International Women's Day
International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8th. In 1910, German socialist Klara Zetkin proposed an International Women's Day. Instead of men treating women nicely, the women went on strike and marched through the streets. On March 8th 1917 Klara Zetkin and her Russian counterpart Alexandra Kollontai, held a women's strike "for bread and peace" in St. Petersburg. This was soon followed by a general strike that triggered the March Revolution which brought down Tsar Nikolai II. Today the holiday has lost its political significance and has become popular for other reasons. Men are supposed to give women gifts on March 8th. They are also supposed to do all the housework on this day - at least in theory. Gift-giving to female colleagues and co-workers is considered largely obligatory.
May Day - Holiday of Spring and Labour
May 1st is the Holiday of Spring and Labour. During Soviet times, huge demonstrations were staged on this day, and everyone was obliged to show their loyalty to the state. (It's widely, but wrongly, thought that May Day in Russia is the day with the big parades, but in fact these come on May 9th - see below).
May 9th is Victory Day. This is the day on which Nazi Germany capitulated in 1945 after the war with the Soviet Union and other countries. A minute of silence is announced on Central TV in memory of the deceased at 21:00 and fireworks are held thereafter. Large May Day parades are held each year, but, for most part, they are not open to the public - instead grandstand places are by VIP invitation. The public can then watch the Parade as it leads away through the city. Usually the entire city center in Moscow is closed to traffic. The best place for non-VIPs to view the Moscow Parade is the section of Tverskaya nearest to Red Square - go early to grab a place. The holiday continues all day with open-air music, street events, and culminates in an enormous firework display, usually at 22:00. (In the rest of Europe, this day is usually called "V-E Day"; "Victory in Europe Day" and is marked on May 8th. Russia celebrates on May 9th because due to the time-difference between Moscow and Berlin, the late-night announcement occurred in the early hours of May 9th by local time in Moscow. The USSR remained engaged in military conflict after May 9th 1945, playing a crucial role against Japan - but Russian military historians name the subsequent hostilities "The Eastern War", and consider that WW2 ended on May 9th for the Soviet Forces.) In contrast the sombre Ceremonies of Rememberance in Western Europe, Russia celebrates May 9th as a huge victory and celebration - this may come as a surprise to foreigners. The Parade crowd can usually be heard chanting "spa-see-bo!" ("thank you!") to the ranks of veterans as they pass.
"The May Holidays"
The fortunate proximity of the May 1st and May 9th holidays above - especially if they fall luckily over weekends - offers many Russians the chance to take an entire week off work whilst only using 1-2 of their days of annual holiday allowance - and over a week usually associated with nice spring weather. This prompts a huge burst of vacationing both in Russia and abroad, and travel prices over this week can be extortionately more expensive than in the adjacent weeks - flights to popular destinations will usually sell out long in advance. Getting any kind of paperwork processed in a Govt organisation over this period usually comes to a dismal standstill.
Day of Russia
June 12th is Day of Russia, also referred to as Independence Day. This became an official holiday in 1994. No particular traditions or festivals are associated with this day.
National Unity Day
November 4th is National Unity Day. This new holiday was introduced in 2005. It replaces the Day of Accord and Reconciliation formerly called the Day of the October Revolution, which was traditionally celebrated on November 7th.
CELEBRATIONS WHICH ARE NOT DAYS OFF
Every city in Russia has its own City Day, usually celebrated on a date associated with some happy occasion for the city in question - each city has the right to choose its own date. There is usually some kind of parade, open-air music and merry-making, and a firework display after dusk. Some cities have unusual or unique events linked to the date in question - Moscow, for example, has a recreation of the Battle of Borodino, a turning-point in the war against Napoleon, whilst St. Petersburg has a naval display.
Although much of the rest of the world is celebrating Christmas on 25th December, the Russian Church calendar dates Christmas as 7th January (see above, "Orthodox Christmas"). Russians name 25th December as "Catholic Christmas" (even though other faiths are also celebrating too) but it is not a public holiday in Russia. Believers often go to their own church services, and these can be the centre of some expat social life too. Bear in mind that branch offices of non-Russian companies (including airlines) may close in any case on 25th -26th December, or operate an emergencies-only service. Since many Russians choose to go away for the New Year holiday, the 25th-26th December closure of foreign Consulates for Christmas adds to the difficulty of getting visas for the great New Year getaway for some. Some expats feel somewhat deflated that 99% of Russia doesn't even realize that 25th December is a major holiday elsewhere - you may want to make your own plans, and nightspots and restaurants catering to foreigners will often have parties anyhow. The good news is that getting a table and paying the regular prices are no problem at all on December 25th, which is "just another working day" in Russia.
Old New Year
The Old New Year is celebrated by many on January 13th. Before the revolution of February 1918, Russians used a different calendar. The difference between the Julian (European) calendar was 13 days. After the Soviet government adopted the Gregorian calendar, Russians started to celebrate many holidays twice: once according to the old style, but with many still choosing to celebrate on the day when the holiday would have fallen prior to the Calendar Reform... the "old" New Year.
It is a traditional Russian spring celebration also referred to as "Pancake Week" or "Butter week". It comes right before the seven-week Orthodox Lent. The word "maslenitsa" refers to the Russian word "maslo" meaning "butter". It refers to the fact that numerous different foods, including butter, cream and other fats, had to be used-up before the start of the seven-week Orthodox Lenten Fast. Many Russians - not only believers - will observe this Fast, and eat an entirely vegan diet - most cafes will offer an alternative Lenten Menu. Originally a pagan holiday celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of spring, pancakes were baked as a form of worship of the life-giving sun. Today this colourful celebration is once again gaining popularity, and numerous celebrations are held during this week.
Right after Maslenitsa comes the seven-week Lent leading right up to Easter. Orthodox Russians who take this fasting period very seriously will not consume any milk, eggs, or meat, with fish being eaten only on special occasions. Believers attend a very long and elaborate midnight church service that starts on the evening before Easter Sunday. The traditional greeting, if translated from Russian, says "Christ had risen from the dead/is alive". The reply to this is always "He has truly risen from the dead/is truly alive." Special round-shaped sweet Easter cakes are baked. Around Easter these cakes (called "kulich") are on sale in nearly every bakery and supermarket bread section. Eggs are coloured, with a red egg being considered the symbol of Easter. The red colour is achieved boiling the eggs with beets. To colour eggs yellow, boil them in onion husks.
April Fool's Day
April 1st is Fool's Day, literally meaning Day of Laughter. This is a day of fun and laughter but not a public holiday. People tell jokes to each other and newspapers and TV publish/run funny stories and jokes. The motto of this day is "Don't trust anyone on April 1st".