TRADITIONAL RUSSIAN HOLIDAYS
NEW YEAR – JANUARY, 1
New Year’s day is a public holiday and has been celebrated throughout Russia since 1700. It was introduced by Peter the Great, who ordered that carnivals and mass national festivals were to be held around decorated fir-trees.
Nowadays New Year is one of the most beloved Russian holidays. It is celebrated on the night of December 31/January 1. When the hand of the clock moves closer to half past eleven, hosts and their guests take their places at the festive tables to ”bid farewell” to the old year. People discuss how successful was the past year for them and wish that the coming year treats them kindly. As the clock of the Spasskaya tower of Moscow Kremlin strikes midnight, people raise their glasses of champagne and announce a toast to the happy New Year, exchange gifts, light candles on the fir-tree and proceed to the festive dinner.
Though New Year is commonly perceived as family holiday, the New Year’s Eve itself is a magical experience for residents and visitors alike, with streets filling up around midnight, firework glittering all around, and everybody parting until dawn and beyond.
CHRISTMAS – JANUARY, 7
The first day of Russian Christmas comes from the Julian calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used by the most of the world. This difference in Christmas celebrations stretches back to 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII ruled that Catholic Church should follow a new calendar – called the Gregorian calendar, more in sync with the sun than the Julian calendar, which was established by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. So the difference between the calendars was 13 days.
Nowadays Christmas is one of the most spectacular festivals in the Orthodox Church. A divine service starts on January 6, at midnight, usually with magnificent coral chanting. On January 7, Russian believers congratulate each other with the holiday and receive guests. For the not-so-religious part of the society Christmas time is just a long holiday season.
EPIPHANY – JANUARY, 19
On this day the Orthodox Church remembers the christening of Christ in the river Jordan, and in recognition of this the church consecrates some local water. Solemn religious processions to reservoirs (rivers, lakes, springs, wells) are organized all over Russia. Praying and chanting the priests immerse a cross into the ice hole. After the service believers consecrate their own houses with sacred water. Russians believe that holy water blessed on Epiphany has special healing qualities. Many Russians store the water at home as a relic for the year and it is customary to drink a little every day.
SHROVETIDE (MASLENITSA/PANCAKE WEEK) – EARLY MARCH
The last week prior to the start of Lent (40 days before Orthodox Easter) is the ancient celebration of Maslenitsa. Its main idea is to say goodbye to cold winter and welcome spring. Ancient Slavs believed that rituals and ceremonies could make the Sun bring its warmth to the Earth and speed up the arrival of spring. The traditional Russian way of celebrating is to have carnivals and festivals with clowns and dancing around fires. People welcome guests and bake pancakes, symbolizing the Sun.
On the last day of Maslenitsa, the Forgiven Sunday, the Winter Scarecrow should be burned, and this custom means that winter has come to an end. People ask for forgiveness from each other, and everyone tries to make amends and forgive all old quarrels. In this way people meet spring with a clear conscience and an open heart.
WILLOW (PALM) SUNDAY – LATE MARCH
Last week of the Great Lent, which precedes Easter, is called Holy Week. Eve of the Holy Week is called Willow Sunday, a holiday of Entrance of Christ to Jerusalem. In Orthodox temples during a liturgy consecration of twigs of willow takes place – this is to remind about palm twigs with which the way of Savior to capital of Judea was covered. Everyone try to get some twigs to put them by icons till the next Willow Sunday.
EASTER – APRIL
Easter, a holiday of the Resurrection of Christ, is the main festival of the Orthodox Church. Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday, the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. People prepare for Easter by adorning their homes, baking kulich cakes, making a paskha out of cottage cheese, and painting eggs, which are divided equally between the members of the family. They greet relatives and friends by kissing them three times and saying “Christ is Risen!” It was a custom of Easter to visit cemeteries and leave painted eggs and a little bread and beer on the graves of the deceased.
TRINITY – MAY
Trinity is the unity of three God’s faces: God Father, God Son and Sacred Spirit. It is celebrated on the 50th day after Easter, hence it follows its another name – Pyatidesyatnitsa (the 50th day). On this day Holy Spirit went down on the Apostles and gave them Christ’s instructions to spread news of Christianity to all the peoples and languages. This holiday is hold according to folk rites. The dwellings are decorated with twigs of birch. People remember the deceased. In the evening people sing and dance in rings.