Holidays and Occasions to Celebrate

New Year treeThe year starts with the most popular celebration New Years day. The New Year fuss begins long before the 31st of December. People begin to search for presents for relatives, friends, colleagues, bosses, everybody long before the thirty-first. This is a very busy time for there is much to prepare for. After the presents are found, bought and wrapped it is time to look for the fir tree. People spend lots of time crowding in the fir tree markets trying to find the most beautiful fir tree. They look for one without any defects and one that is fresh and fluffy. This is not an easy task, indeed! The 31st of December is a day for decorating the fir tree and cooking lots of food for the celebration. Some people do it all before, in advance, but for most the tradition is to spend the day cooking and decorating and enjoying time with family.

This is a special time for children. They are waiting for Father Frost to bring them presents. During the days leading up to the holiday they have enjoyed festivals in their schools and kindergartens. Sometimes parents invite a Father Frost to their home for their children. It can be a family friend or a man from a voluntary agency who wears a made big white beard, felt boots, a long red or blue fluffy coat and a similar hat. If no Daddy Frost comes, children find their presents in the morning on January the 1st under the fir tree.

At 12 o'clock, when the New Year starts, everybody drinks champagne listening to the chimes (In Red Square or on TV) and make wishes for the coming year. Then the celebration itself starts - Russians eat, drink, and are merry.

This is just the beginning of the following celebrations in a week that includes two or three days of mostly casual work.

Russians celebrate Christmas day. It's not as loudly celebrated as New Year for it is a holy day and in the days of the Soviet Union people didn't use to celebrate it very much. New Year is still more important. Orthodox Christmas comes on the 7th of January, twelve days after the Catholic Christmas, as the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old Julian calendar for religious celebration days.

Lately Christmas is being celebrated in an increasingly established manner. The leader of the Church, Patriarch Alexy II, is in charge of the main service that takes place at the recently rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The service is attended by prominent politicians, public figures and people of arts and aired live by RTR and ORT television companies. Some Russians celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. After the soviet period people felt free to choose any way to believe. Russians are not generally characterized as deeply religious. For example, it's common to give each other images or figurines of animals symbolizing the Chinese New Year.

On January 13th there is a special day called Old New Year. It comes, as well as the Orthodox Christmas, from the change of the calendars. Before the October revolution the Gregorian calendar celebrated the Russian New Year on The 13th of January. It's certainly not an official holiday now, but it is a reason to party for Russians.

The next festive day is on the 25th of January - Tatyana's fete. This is the end of the exam session for students, which had begun around the 20th of December and as they are studying for exams they do not get to celebrate the New Year in careless abandonment. So Tatyana's day means the restart of students' free life, it's their day. This is also a holy day and everybody remembers it, even though there are no Tatyanas or students nearby.

On February the 23rd the Day of the Defender of the Motherland is observed. It comes from the Soviet times and is not widely celebrated. It has never been a holiday, however this year it is one according to a law passed by the Duma. In fact, this is considered to be Men's Day, which precedes Women's Day in March.

The 8th of March is a holiday, which is widely celebrated by the Soviet tradition. The full name for it is the International Women's Day. Everybody gives presents and flowers to women, especially to their mothers, grandmothers, colleagues and bosses. Mimosa, which is sold everywhere in the streets at this time, has almost turned out into a symbol of this day. Traditionally this day is associated with the beginning of spring. However snow can stay till the end of April!

The 1st of April is a humorous day and is a day when everyone likes to play tricks and make an ass out of someone else. The most common jokes, which rarely fool anyone any more are: "Your back is all white!" "Your laces are untied!" There is also the practice of telephoning any number and asking silly things of the person who answers. This is really a day for being silly.

The May holidays are the first big holidays after the New Year. There is the 1st of May Labor Day (or, in the Soviet Union, the day of the Solidarity of Labor) and the 9th of May the Day of Victory (the end of the Second World War). Actually, Labor Day lasts two days. Usually these celebrations break the working weeks. Russians use this as a reason to take two weeks off to go somewhere. That's why the May Days turn out to be a big holiday. If people stay at work, it's difficult to work hard during these weeks. On Labor Day there is a tradition to "make subbotnik", when everybody cleans, washes and puts in order everything they can. In small groups, either at their work, school or in a yard, people tidy up everything together. It should be noted that not all the Russians are so responsible and as a rule, there should be a good organization to make them work on the free day.

Victory Day is very important for Russians, as it is the day that marks the end of the Second World War and the Russia forces who overcame a very difficult, nightmare of a time in our history and the history of the World. There are festive demonstrations and parades all day long and a salute in the evening. In fact, there isn't much need for the ceremonies to make these days happy, as the warm weather and free time are enough to create a festive mood.

On June the 12th there is a recently endorsed holiday - the Day of Independence. This may seem a strange day to celebrate, as it marks the end of the Soviet Union, where Russia had the leading role. From another perspective it was not a pleasant role for Russia (as being a leader is always a hard and ungrateful job) and the whole State and system turned out to be ineffective. This day is perceived as the start of new, different life. There are still lots of problems but they are new and we must positively celebrate our future.

As summer passes, and the 1st of September arrives children have to go back to school (their holidays last the whole summer) and students have to come back to the universities (they have one or two months to rest after the summer exams and working practice). Nobody is very happy to start working again, so Russians take time to party!

On the 7th of November there is the Day of Great October Socialistic Revolution, which is no reason to celebrate any more. However it would be sad to lose a day off, and the holiday was inconsequently renamed into the Day of Concordance and Reconciliation. In cities parades are and colour red is dominant.

The last opportunity to have a free day in a year is the Day of Russian Constitution. The role of this day is to show that Russia has chosen to be Democratic State with democratic rules that are fixed in the Constitution. Or, as some would say it is trying to become such a State.

Greetings and Courtesies
There are no established ceremonies to greet someone or to express gratitude that are not common to most people. When meeting someone for the first time or meeting a friend or saying goodbye, Russians shake hands. This concerns mostly to men. Towards women there is a courteous tradition to kiss her hand but as it seems too personal, women usually have to do with a simple nod and smile. Hello can be said as "privet" for a friend or "zdravstvuite" for an official greeting. Goodbye is "poka" or "do svidaniya" (accordingly). To express gratitude thank you ("spasibo") is enough. Russians usually greet by given names.