Russia is an amazing holiday destination. It is best visited during the festival season. The Russian festivals reveal the rich cultural tradition and fascinating customs of its people. While the festivals stem from the Christian legacy Russia shares with Europe and America, the manner of celebration is really unique. My advice would be to plan a Russian holiday during the festival time and rest assured the memories will last a lifetime! Here is an account of 4 of the most popular Russian festivals.
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Noviy God or New Year, is the most popular Russian festival. New Year traditions are centered around a New Year's Tree (conifer tree) known as Novogodnaya Yolka. In-fact there is a song dedicated to this New Year tree which is usually sung by Father Frost and children around the tree! It is decorated with sweets and special glass decorations and has a bright star on top.
The New Year in Russia cannot be visualized without the magic crowd puller Ded Moroz or Father Frost who is the Russian Santa Claus. He is accompanied by his fairy granddaughter, companion and helpmate Snegurochka or Snow Maiden. They come to greet kids with the New Year and give them long-awaited gifts. Children wait for them as they bring New Year presents and keep them under the New Year's Tree. Children sin songs to make Father Frost happy.
It is a well-known fact that the 4th of December is the date when children all over the world send letters to Santa Claus, Father Frost, Père Noël and other magical characters telling them what present they wish to get this year. Russian parents always invent some tricks so that the children thought that it is the Father Frost who came to their house and left presents for them. Therefore their parents leave a window in the living-room open, so that the kid thought Ded Moroz came through it and forgot to close. They also leave a small letter with the present “written” by the Father Frost.
Of course, no New Year is complete without a family get together and delicious meals and fireworks.
On the 31st of December people have a sumptuous dinner with a glass of bubbling champagne. Another tradition is to listen to the New Year Speech by the President of Russia on New Year's Day. Usually the President pronounces his speech on the Red Square in Moscow at 23:55 hrs. Then when Kuranty the Kremlin clock strikes 0:00 Russians take their glasses full of champagne, make a wish and clang their glasses at the TV-set screen as if they were clanging them with the President! And then the fireworks begin. People go outside, congratulate every passer-by, light Bengal lights and sing. Typically the celebrations go on till wee hours of the day.
On the 3rd of January you might think that the celebration is finally over, but that is not to be the case! On the 7th of January Russians celebrate the birth of the Christ Rozhdestvo (Orthodox Christmas). Actually, the religious ceremony starts in the church at 23:00 on the 6th of January. The next day is devoted to a family celebration. It is the day when the whole family gets together. All the relatives get together in the house of the eldest family member. The traditional dish for the feast is kutiya – sweet rice porridge with raisins cooked by a special recipe. Some of the more Religious type visit the Church and light candles there.
Now, you might probably sigh with relief assuming that the holidays are definitely over, but not so fast. On the 13th-14th of January Russians celebratethe most amazing holiday of the year – Stariy Noviy God or the Old New Year. Actually, there are not many people in Russia who remember or know the history of this tradition. Meanwhile, everything is quite simple and evident – it is all due to the new calendar that was introduced in Russia long time ago. But Russians enjoy holidays and keep celebrating their second New Year almost the same way they celebrate the first.
Maslenitsa (Pancake week) is the only purely Russian Holiday that dates back to the pagan times. It is dedicated to parting with winter and welcoming of spring. The essential element of this festival is Bliny a pancake. It is a symbol of the sun. It is as round, gold and warm as the sun. Bliby is served hot with either butter, or sour cream, or caviar, or mushrooms, or sturgeon - to any exquisite taste. Besides, every hostess has her own recipe how to cook it. Actually, Russian pancakes are more like French crepes – they are thin, unlike American thick pancakes.
Maslenitsa also includes masquerades, snowball fights, sledding, riding on swings and plenty of sleigh rides. Each day of Maslenitsa has its traditional activity.
Monday – “meeting”,
Tuesday – “fun”,
Wednesday – “sweet tooth”,
Thursday – “feast”
Friday – “visiting mother-in-law”
Saturday – “visiting sister-in-law”
Sunday – “farewell” “Forgiveness day”
The mascot of the celebration is usually a brightly dressed straw effigy of Lady Maslenitsa, formerly known as Kostroma. As the culmination of the celebration, on Sunday evening, Lady Maslenitsa is stripped of her finery and put to the flames of a bonfire. Any remaining blintzes are also thrown on the fire, and Lady Maslenitsa's ashes are buried in the snow to fertilize the crops! The last day of Maslenitsa is called the Forgiveness Day. Everybody asks one another for forgiveness in order to redeem themselves from their sins before the Great Lent. They bow to one another and say, “God will forgive you”.
Maslenitsa is over and so is the winter giving way to the spring. Maslenitsa is usually celebrated in February – March. Next Pancake week celebration starts on the 8th of February. Make it a point to be there!
The spring feast of Easter is a favorite celebration among most Russians. It is a light and kind feast that brings belief, hope and love. Russians call it “Paskha” which comes from the Jewish “Pasqua” and means passing with the Christ to other life, deliverance from death. Easter is meant as a sacred week of Resurrection of Christ during which, the Holy gates in churches remain open meaning that now Resurrection of Christ opened heaven for all.
Easter eve is the time for cooking some special dishes. Folks bake rich Easter cakes called “Kulichi”, make Easter cottage cheese cakes called “Paska” and paint eggs. Usually eggs are painted on Saturday, and then brought to the church to consecrate. During the paschal week people feast with a rich meal of meat, eggs and other items that were not allowed during 40 days Great Lent. Celebratory tables burst with many different dishes. Egg is the main paschal symbol of resurrection! There is a tradition of people greeting each other with three kisses on the cheeks and with the words “Christ Arise”! While greeting each other Russians also exchange red eggs. This custom comes from olden times. When Maria Magdalene came to emperor Tiberius, she brought him a red egg with salutation “Christ has arisen”. Red is the color of blood on the cross that Christ shed for atonement of sins of the world. However, nowadays the eggs are not necessarily red, they are multi-colored!
Easter is usually celebrated in March – May. Note that the next Paskha celebration will take place on the 10th April 2010. Make sure you are there!
A Russian Holiday is best enjoyed during one of these great festivals. And the best way to experience the festivals is to stay with a traditional Russian family. A great idea would be to live with a Cossack family in their home. Alekseyevskaya village is an option where several families accommodate guests.
For my travelogues on other Heritage holidays around the World, please visit Great Heritage Holiday Ideas.
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