Russian Holidays

The Russian love for holidays is known the world over. They adore holidays, indeed. But who does not?

Perhaps our love for holidays is special for its indiscrimination, anything goes, just give us a chance to break the daily working routine and indulge into the surfeits of merry-making, eating and drinking. Of course, every holiday is good in its own way and we are not indifferent to their meaning and ritual side. Yet, it is not rare in this country that holidays vary both their attributes and meaning.

Thus, Russian holidays present a mixture of new and old, religious and secular, professional and private. National holidays reflect multicolored Russian history. Christian traditions were combined with pagan ones and therefore strongly connected to the seasons and agricultural cycle. Church holidays were mixed with those introduced during the communist regime. And we do not mind: every holiday deserves celebration. When a national holiday falls on a weekend day people enjoy additional day-off because it is considered to be unfair to miss either a holiday or a weekend. Here is an outline of the Russian major holidays.

January 1 – The New Year  > The New Year is the first in calendar and in popularity. It will be true to say that now the New Year is a greater holiday than Christmas in Russia. Long before December 31 sparkling fir trees appear in the streets, shops, offices and houses, bringing the joy of festive preparations and hope for happy miracles in the coming New Year. It is time to make wishes and presents to all friends and relatives. Children are looking forward for Father Frost (actually he is Grandfather Frost – Ded Moroz in Russian) and his granddaughter Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) to arrive at night and leave presents under the fir-tree. The grown-ups traditionally stay up for the whole night, making merry with friends and relatives.

The New Year celebrations slip to Christmas festivities and go on till January 8, all these days from December 31 to January 8 are official days off now.

January 7 – Christmas > Russian Christmas comes two weeks later than in other countries, on January 7. This difference is due to the Orthodox Church that follows the Julian (old style) calendar. However, the Russian ‘spacious soul’ cannot but feel with the rest of the world celebrating this fairy holiday on December.

Christmas came to Russia in X century to substitute for pagan festivities of the winter solstice. Traditionally, people celebrated the Christmas Eve (January 6) with their families. The next day, however, carousing and merrymaking started, including masqueraded visits to neighbors with song singing, round-dancing and playing traditional games. Russian Christmas is rich with beautiful traditions. One of them is called Kolyadki. At Christmas night young people put on fancy dresses, gather in a noisy crowd and go in every house on their way, singing carols and merry songs. Hosts of the houses thank singers with all the kinds of sweat stuff like candies, chocolates and pastry. Among other Christmas traditions are wishes of wealth and happiness for everybody and snowball games.

It was a custom for young ladies to tell fortune on these days; lots of fortunetelling methods have kept till days – yet they are not so widely used, of course. In Soviet times they abolished Christmas as an official holiday. In spite of that, it was still secretly celebrated by many people.

January 14 – The Old New Year’s Day > Sounds strange, doesn’t it? For Russia it is quite OK.

Discrepancy between church calendars leads to the fact that January 14th corresponds to January 1 in the Julian calendar. And for those people who celebrate Christmas on 7 of January it is logical to meet the New Year seven days later. Others prefer not to lose a good chance to welcome the New Year twice.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. 7 January > Merry Christmas!

2006 years ago Jesus Christ was born, according to Orthodoxy. In Russia people usually celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is on January 7 unlike Catholic Christmas, which is on December 25.

In Russia it is more of a religious holiday than regular national holiday. This is partly due to the fact that Ded Moroz (Father Frost) with all the presents comes on New Year, and all the celebrations actually happen on the New Year too, so there is not much left for Christmas, except for church services.

There were no gods in the USSR, and no religion too, and people didn’t celebrate Christmas as they do now until very recently. So one can call it a relatively new holiday.