- Russian holidays present a mixture of Soviet-era celebrations, traditional religious holidays, and a host of new official and unofficial celebrations. National Unity Day (4 November) replaced the Soviet October Revolution Day (7 November) in 2005. Symbolically, this new holiday avoids direct reference to the Soviet past, at the same time providing an opportunity for national reconciliation. However, it is grounded in imperial legacy and in contemporary Russian nationalism. In 1612, Russian forces led by Kuzma Minin and Mikhail Pozharsky freed Moscow from the control of the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth. The holiday was celebrated in the Russian Empire until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Therefore, the new post-Soviet holiday reaffirms Russian imperial aspirations and signifies Russia’s troubled relations with new members of the European Union (EU). The holiday also legitimizes the dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church since the public holiday coincides with one of the main religious celebrations.The new post-Soviet government institutionalized Russian Orthodox Christmas (7 January) as a national holiday. Vladimir Putin’s administration extended the winter celebrations from New Year’s Day (1 January) until Christmas Day, providing the nation with almost a week of festivities. Promoted by the Soviets as an agnostic alternative to Christmas, New Year became Russia’s most important and popular holiday and is celebrated by the whole nation irrespective of religious, social, or political denomination. Russia does not officially recognize Jewish or Muslim holidays as national holidays, nor does it prevent citizens from making alternative arrangements.Most recently, Russian presidents Putin and Dmitry Medvyedev began publicly attending church services at Easter, thus signaling the political primacy of Orthodox Christianity in the Russian Federation. Russia’s most obscure holiday is Russia’s Day (12 June), introduced by Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s Independence Day in 1992 and renamed by Putin in 2002. Designed to copy the United States’ Independence Day, the holiday lacked any historical resonance and was greeted without enthusiasm among Russian citizens. The government has found it difficult to promote this new holiday especially since its function is now replicated by National Unity Day and Constitution Day (12 December).Three public holidays continue the Soviet tradition: the Day of the Defenders of the Motherland (23 February), International Women’s Day (8 March), and the Spring and Labor Day (1–2 May). The first was introduced in 1922 as Red Army Day. The other two have a common history with European and American holidays, celebrating the women’s movement and worker solidarity, respectively. Postindependence, these holidays were stripped of their ideological content and rebranded for more popular appeal. The Day of the Defenders of the Motherland and International Women’s Day are commonly referred to in Russia as “Men’s Day” and “Women’s Day,” and thus serve primarily as a celebration of paternity and maternity, making them Russian equivalents of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. The gender-biased foundations of these holidays are subject to permanent cultural debates, especially in a country that has a very confused attitude toward women’s rights. Labor Day (1 May), a major holiday in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), once involved mass gatherings of workers in urban centers. In present-day Russia, political parties and associations use the occasion to demonstrate their strength in public. They, however, do not get much of an audience as the majority of the population celebrates the start of spring at their dachas.The holiday that has survived post-Soviet cultural metamorphosis with little revision is Victory Day (9 May). This is indeed a sacred day for most of the Russian population, and remains a holiday that has escaped any political, social, or cultural controversy since 1991 (at least within the Russian Federation). The holiday serves many purposes: it is a day of national mourning and unity, a celebration of common European history, and a manifestation of endurance, love, and patriotism. On the international stage, however, Putin’s glorification of the Red Army’s performance in World War II has created controversy, particularly in the Baltic States.Nostalgia has helped to retain some unofficial holidays that go back to the Soviet era or even pre-Christian times, namely, Maslenitsa (“Butter Week”), Ivan Kupala Day, Cosmonaut Day, and others. The First of September, also known as the Day of Knowledge and Education, is the official start of the academic year in all Russian schools and universities; unofficially, it symbolizes the end of summer and rites of passage. The celebrations of the day were tarnished after the Beslan school hostage crisis of 2004. Cosmonaut Day (12 April) marks the first space flight made by Yury Gagarin in 1961, and the day is a celebration of the Russian space program, as well as of science and masculinity. Maslenitsa and Ivan Kupala Day pay tribute to Russian pagan heritage, celebrating the cult of the sun and fertility (later adopted into Christianity as the Feast of St. John the Baptist).Some Western holidays and celebrations have been appropriated into Russian culture, most prominently St. Valentine’s Day (14 February) and Halloween (31 October). This type of holiday is celebrated predominantly by young people and involves Western-type consumerist practices. Halloween, however, has been criticized by the Orthodox Church as a manifestation of Satanism, creating some controversy.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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