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Russian Holidays

Celebrate Holidays in Russia

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Become familiar with Russia's holidays. Officially recognized Russian holidays include the New Year, Christmas, Protector of the Motherland Day, International Women's Day, Spring and Labor Day, Victory Day, Russia Day, and Unity Day. Unofficial Russian holidays are also observed, like Easter, Maslenitsa, Ivan Kupala, Cosmonaut Day, and others.

January 1-5: New Year Holidays

Holiday lights in Russia
Doomych/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0
Russians celebrate the New Year on January 1. Because Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, the days leading up to Christmas are also a part of the New Year-Christmas celebration. The New Year is celebrated with parties, food, toasts, and fireworks.

Some Russians will also celebrate the New Year according to the Julian calendar, on January 14th. This day, however, is a holiday celebrated privately with family members.

January 7: Christmas Day

Christmas Nesting Dolls
Laura Stone © 2006

Christmas is celebrated on January 7 in countries that have traditionally observed holidays according to the Eastern Orthodox religion. January 7 corresponds to December 25th on the Julian calendar, which was used in Russia during tsarist times. Russia has used the Gregorian calendar since 1918, but tradition dictates that Christmas is still celebrated on January 7.

Russia Christmas Traditions

Some Russians will celebrate two Christmases - one on December 25th according to the Gregorian calendar and one on January 7. However, January 7 remains the more popular day to celebrate Christmas.

February 23: Protector of the Motherland Day

Russians Celebrate Veterans on Protector of the Motherland Day
iStockphoto/Younona
Protector of the Motherland Day (also known as Protector of the Fatherland Day), formerly known as Soviet Army Day, celebrates Russia's men, especially military veterans, active servicemen, and fallen soldiers. It combines the meanings behind the United States' Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.

Springtime: Easter (Unofficial Holiday)

Easter Eggs and Cake for Russian Easter
iStockphoto/fotosav

Easter in Russia is celebrated on a different date each year, just like in the West. Russians consider Easter and even bigger holiday than Christmas. Easter is celebrated with painted eggs, special foods, and possibly church services.

Week Before Lent: Maslenitsa (Unofficial Holiday)

Effigy for Maslenitsa
iStockphoto/iChip
Maslenitsa is the equivalent of Mardi Gras, and derives from a pagan holiday that celebrates the spring. Certain rituals may be observed during Maslenitsa, like the preparation and eating of pancakes (which symbolize the sun), the burning of an effigy of winter, and bathing outside in ice cold water.

March 8: International Women's Day

Flowers and Chocolates for International Women's Day
iStockphoto/cglade
International Women's Day loosely corresponds to the celebration of Mother's Day in the West, though in Russia's case, all women can share in the celebration. Women are usually given gifts of flowers or chocolates on this day.

April 12: Cosmonaut's Day

Stamp Commemorating Yuri Gargarin
iStockphoto/mariusFM77
Cosmonaut's Day celebrates Russia's achievement of sending human beings into space. While another version of this day is celebrated internationally, in Russia, the grave site of Yuri Gargarin (the first man in space) is visited, as well as monuments and landmarks related to space travel and achievement.

May 1: Spring and Labor Day

Flag of the Russian Federation
Alex Kotlov
Labor Day in Russia has traditionally been politically charged. Marked with parades in the past, it is used as a day of relaxation for those who do not have a political agenda to emphasize at a rally or demonstration. It also recognizes trade unions.

May 9: Victory Day

Victory Day Russia
Polina Pakhomova
Victory Day is an important secular holiday in Russia, celebrated with parades. Its significance arises from Russia's victory over Germany in WWII. Many Russians still consider this defeat heroic and worthy of memories and praise, despite the extensive cost to life that occurred in Russia as a result.

July 7: Ivan Kupala (Unofficial Holiday)

Children Pour Water on Others During Ivan Kupala
iStockphoto/danp68
Ivan Kupala, or the Day of John the Baptist, is a day that mixes religious belief with pagan traditions. While the day is closely linked to the practice of baptism, this day is most enthusiastically celebrated by children, who dump water on unsuspecting relatives, friends, or passers-by.

Ivan Kupala also marks the "official" day when the conditions become appropriate for swimming during the summer months.

June 12: Russia Day

Flag of the Russian Federation
Alex Kotlov
Russia Day is the day on which Russia declared sovereignty, and corresponds to the United States' Fourth of July or Independence Day. It is celebrated with parades.

November 4: Day of National Unity

Flag of the Russian Federation
Alex Kotlov
Unity Day, or the Day of National Unity, is a new national holiday that resembles a holiday celebrated for centuries until the Bolsheviks came to power, which recognized Moscow's successful defense from Polish invaders. It replaces the November 7 holiday (Revolution Day), which celebrated the October Revolution.
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