Travel Advice \ Holidays & Gifts \ Russian Holidays
January 1. New Year (official day off)
January 7. Christmas (offical day off)
This holiday is easily the most popular in Russia. It has a long and interesting history. In 1917, after the October Revolution, Christmas was officially banned in Russia and was not to return until 1992. Therefore, the New Year celebration usurped the traditions of a Christmas tree, Santa (“Grand-dad Frost”) and Snow Maiden, and presents. In 1918, Russia changed their calendar system, resulting in a discrepancy in the date of this important holiday. Since that year, Russians celebrate it twice: once on the first, and again on the 14th. The holiday is celebrated with an exchange of gifts, fireworks, food, and drink. Often, days off for this holiday include the evening of the 31st and all day on the 1st and 2nd.
The Russian Orthodox Church recognizes this day as the day Jesus was born. The holiday has not gained much in popularity since its official reinstitution in 1992. Some Russians do not celebrate the day at all, while some have a family dinner, and a very few exchange gifts.
January 14. Old New Year (unofficial holiday, weekday)
In 1918, at the request of Lenin, Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar (the one that Western Europe and the U.S. use). The Russian Orthodox Church, however, long clung to the old Julian calendar and, in fact, is still debating whether to fully accept the change. The two calendars disagree by about two weeks, so till these days Russians celebrating both dates. The holiday is celebrated with food and drink and sometimes, small gifts.
February 14. St. Valentine's Day (unofficial holiday, weekday)
The Russians, who take love and friendship quite seriously, recently adopted the holiday. It is celebrated much as in America, with cards, candy, and small favors.
February 23. Defenders of the Motherland Day(official day off)
Known as “The Day of the Soviet Army” until the fall of the USSR, this is still one of Russia’s biggest holidays. Men are congratulated, given cards, flowers, and gifts.
March 8. International Women's Day (official day off)
All women are celebrated with flowers, candy, a card all day long.
Orthodox Easter (always on Sunday)
According to the Orthodox Church, Easter is held on the first Sunday after the date of the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21. This holiday is traditionally celebrated with church attendance, incense, and traditional foods and ceremonies.
May 1-2. The Day of Spring and Labor(official days off)
Formerly International Worker’s Solidarity Day under the old Communist system, it seems that everyone calls this one something different now. May Day, Labor Day, and Worker’s Day all seem to be used, but everyone at least uses the same date. It is celebrated with parades, concerts, food, and drink and traditionally kicks off the dacha season.
May 8-9. Victory Day (official days off)
This day celebrates the end of WWII (The Great Patriotic War), in which Russia lost some 20 million people. It is celebrated by parades, concerts, fireworks, recognition of veterans (who usually dress up for the occasion) and, of course, food and drink. As it is quite close to the May 1-2 holidays, many Russians take some extra time off to escape to thier dachas (summer houses) for nearly two weeks so as to "open" it for the summer season.
June 12. Independence Day (official day off)
One of Russia's newest holidays, it commemorates the adoption of the 1991 Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation. The declaration declared the Federation's "independence" from the USSR, in interesting way to put it, but in effect, this dissolved the Soviet Union and established the Russian Federation in its place. It is celebrated similarly to Victory Day, with fireworks set off at 10 p.m.
November 7. Day of Accord and Reconciliation (official day off)
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the name of the day was changed from “The Day of the Great Revolution of October 1917,” and its official purpose changed to celebrate the unity of Russia.
December 12. Constitution Day(official day off)
The date of this holiday has changed several times over the course of history, with each new Russian constitution from Lenin to Stalin to Brezhnev to Yeltsin. Celebrated with fireworks, food, and drink.
Maslenitsa (unofficial local traditional celebration)
This full week of celebration is Orthodox Christianity’s version of Mardi Gras. Technically, the name means “butter week,” as it is the week in which Russians feast on eggs, butter, cheese, and milk (and abstain from meat). As a sun holiday, it also (usually) marks the end of the Russian winter, which is known for its severity and duration. The holiday is also sometimes traditionally celebrated with music, bonfires, a stuffed “Lady Maslenitsa,” and, if there is still sufficient snow, sledding and snowball fights.
City Day (unofficial local celebrations)
Each city in Russia celebrates its official founding date with fireworks, concerts, speeches by local politicians and other figures, food, drink, and other city-specific festivities. City day for Moscow is the 31st of August and, for St. Petersburg, the 27th of May.