The most widely celebrated holiday in Russia is the New Year on December 31st. Russians decorate their “Yolkas” (Christmas trees), and chop “Olivie” and “Herring under the fur coat” salads. No celebration goes without the traditional TV entertainment followed by the speech of the Russian President and bell ringing on the Kremlin’s Spasskaya tower. Once the bells ring twelve times, the real Russian New Year party starts and the entire country slips into a food and alcohol induced coma until January 11th.
The Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated two weeks after the Catholic Christmas on January 7th in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. The tradition to celebrate Christmas was reborn after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in modern Russia everyone who survived the New-Year’s hangover makes their way to church on January 7 to light candles for the loved ones.
With the Russians’ love for festivities it is not even surprising that they celebrate the New Year twice. The so called Old New Year is celebrated by the Gregorian calendar on January 14. The Old New Year consummates the winter holiday season in Russia and makes even the most avid party-animals sober up and go back to work.
If February 23 is not considered to be worthy enough to make an official day off, March 8 not only made a public holiday list but also bears a proud title of the International Women’s Day. On this day the flower stalls make annual revenue, and the men become submissive and supple. The women, on the other hand, look even more beautiful than ever and expect gifts and attention all day long.
The Defender of the Fatherland holiday is one of the most important in Russia, and it is something that decks out the whole city of Moscow because it is bigger there than it is anywhere else. You will see a massive parade that comes through the city on February 23rd, and you will be able to sit on the sidewalk while you see the parade go by. This is a piece of Russian history that you should not miss, and you will be glad that you had a look when you could.
Traditionally, Labor Day (First of May) commences the ten-day long “dacha” marathon. On this day, Moscow commuter trains are flooded with seedlings and baskets. May 1st is the official opening of the gardening season, when Moscovites rush to the country side to attend to their plots of land.
The day of commemoration of the end of World War II is celebrated in Russia with mind-bogging grandeur and includes the parade of the surviving WWII veterans and the demonstration of the Russian military might. Only on May 9 one can see the real tanks on Moscow avenues and admire the virtually empty Tverskaya Street – the main Moscow artery, chronically overwhelmed with traffic.
Independence Day is a fairly new holiday celebrated on June 12th and considered by most Russians as merely an extra day off to spend at the dacha.
The locals try to spend this summer day (2nd of August) in the country further away from the capital, while almost every city fountain becomes the gathering spot for rowdy strong guys in telnyashka shirts celebrating their professional holiday.
This back to school day on the first of September is celebrated nationwide by all school children and students. It also has an unofficial name “The day of bows and gladioli” – just go outside to see for yourself why.
While for the Moscow guests the City Day maybe a fun experience, for the city utility services the first Sunday of September is an utter nightmare. The city management is in the rush to finish all utility maintenance works before the City Day celebration, construction workers are putting in extra-long hours, while the locals are trying to avoid the city center staying home.
Russians have perfected the art of standing in line including several unwritten rules: First, when you queue up, ask the "last" person “Are you last in line?” (“Vy posledniy?”), as they might say “Actually, someone else is already behind me.” Then you need to wait until someone takes a spot behind you and can leave the line by telling that person that you will be back. If your line looks long, you can locate a male at the beginning of it and approach him with “Valera, here you are!”. This works best if you are an attractive blond.
Be prepared that there will never be enough alcohol at the table and someone will have to take an emergency run to a liquor store. As the old Russian tradition goes, one bottle is never enough, yet the liquor stores close at 10 pm in Moscow, be prepared to continue the festivities “at a bar nearby.” The main components for creating a “soulful” atmosphere are background music, the level of intoxication and deep conversations which ultimately end with the eternal question: “Do you respect me?”