In this article, I’ll review the holidays and main celebrations that take place in Russia annually. While religious holidays have to do with the Orthodox Church, many of the non-religious holidays commemorate victories or military events. There are also days dedicated to women, work, cosmonautics, etc.
If you are traveling to Russia, it is important to know the holidays and the main celebrations that take place, in order to know, if you happen to coincide with any of these during your trip. You may also want to know the holidays to schedule your visit on those specific days.
It should be noted that Orthodox Christmas and Easter holidays and celebrations differ from those of the Catholic religion. They also highlight many holidays dedicated to victories or military events, but also thematic days dedicated to women, work, cosmonautics, knowledge, etc.
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1. National Holidays in Russia
Holidays and long weekends are approved every year by decree of the Russian Prime Minister. The last decree, approved by the Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, in August 2019, establishes the holidays for the year 2020.
Normally, when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the preceding Monday or Friday of that week is also declared a holiday, in compensation for the holidays that fall on Saturday or Sunday. Also, some holidays that fall on Saturday or Sunday, sometimes move to Monday.
In addition to these national holidays, each city also celebrates its own holiday to commemorate the city foundation. In Moscow, for example, the first or second Saturday of September is celebrated (in 2020 the city will celebrate its 873th anniversary), while in St. Petersburg it is always celebrated on May 27 (in 2020 the city will celebrate its 317th anniversary). There are parties with lots of entertainment, many events and fireworks.
Holidays in 2020 are as follows:
New Year and Christmas Holidays
Just like in the whole world, in Russia the New Year is celebrated on January 1 very actively. After this date, Russians enjoy vacations, as from January 2 to 6 they are holidays too, not only for schoolchildren.
The New Year party is celebrated before the Orthodox Christmas, which takes place on January 7 of each year. Thus, despite the fact that after the October Revolution (1917) Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar, extended throughout Europe, the Russian Orthodox Church refused to abandon the Julian calendar, which is delayed 13 days compared to the Gregorian and, consequently, the religious festivities are shifted those 13 days. Therefore, Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7 of each year (holiday in Russia) and on the night of January 6th, Christmas Eve is celebrated.
For this same reason, many Russians continue to celebrate the New Year on January 14 (and New Year’s Eve on January 13), but these days are no longer holidays in Russia. Many Catholics also celebrate Christmas in Russia on December 25, though it is a working day.
During the New Year and Christmas holidays, shops and shopping centers are open.
The national holidays in 2020 during the New Year and Christmas are as follows:
- January 1, 2020 (Wednesday). New Year’s Day
- January 2, 2020 (Thursday). New Year party
- January 3, 2020 (Friday). New Year party
- January 4, 2020 (Saturday). New Year party
- January 5, 2020 (Sunday). New Year party
- January 6, 2020 (Monday). New Year’s Eve party (Orthodox Christmas Eve is celebrated at night)
- January 7, 2020 (Tuesday). Orthodox Christmas
February 23: Day of the Defenders of the Motherland
This date is commemorated since 1918, in which the Russian Civil War took place, when the first massive recruitment of the Red Army was made in Petrograd and Moscow. It was originally known as Red Army Day. In 1949, it was renamed the Day of the Soviet Army and Navy. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the commemoration was given its current name.
The party is celebrated with parades and processions in honor of veterans, and women also offer gifts to their husbands (or partners), parents and children. In more colloquial terms, this holiday is also known as Men’s Day.
In 2020 the holidays are:
- February 23, 2020 (Sunday). Day of the Defenders of the Motherland
- February 24, 2020 (Monday). The Popular Unity Day party, which falls on Sunday, is moved to the following Monday.
March 8: International Women’s Day
If Men’s Day is celebrated in Russia on February 23, Women’s Day is March 8. It is the day when men show their love and affection to their women, mothers, daughters, friends, etc., with gifts, especially flowers.
After the October revolution, feminist Alexandra Kollontai, achieved for March 8 to be considered an official holiday in the Soviet Union, though a working day. On May 8, 1965, by decree of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, the International Day of Working Women was declared non-working. Since its official approval by the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution of 1917, this holiday began to be celebrated in many other countries. In Spain it was celebrated for the first time in 1936 (though it is a working day).
- March 8, 2020 (Sunday). International Women’s Day
- March 9, 2020 (Monday). The International Women’s Day party, which falls on Sunday, is moved to the following Monday.
May 1: Spring and Labor Day
The country celebrated Labor Day for the first time as early as 1890, before the formation of the Soviet Union.
Originally, it was called the International Solidarity Day of the Working Class. In 1997 the name was changed, being called Spring and Labor Day. This date has always been a symbol of the revolution and the eternal class struggle. Demonstrations are held, which historically have been heavily influenced by the Communist Party.
- May 1, 2020 (Friday). Spring and Labor Day
May 9: Victory Day
The victory of the Soviet Union and the Allies over Nazi Germany is celebrated on May 9, 1945, the end of World War II, or the Great Patriotic War, as it was called in the Soviet Union.
Holidays in 2020 are:
- May 9, 2020 (Saturday). Victory Day
- May 11, 2020 (Monday). The Victory Day party, which falls on Saturday, moves to the following Monday.
June 12: Day of Russia
It is the National Day of Russia, what would become the Independence Day of Russia, which took place on June 12, 1990.
It is a relatively new holiday and the main Russian cities enjoy great entertainment events with street concerts, sports competitions, exhibitions and also many fireworks.
- June 12, 2020 (Friday). Day of Russia
November 4: Popular Unity Day
It commemorates the popular uprising that expelled the occupation forces of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania in November 1612, which put an end to the time of revolts of the Tumultuous Period and Russian intervention in the war with Poland.
Between 1613 and 1917, the Moscow Liberation Day of Polish invaders was celebrated. The idea of reviving that celebration as the Day of Popular Unity was proposed by the Inter-Religious Council of Russia in 2004. With the new name, the holiday began to be held since 2005.
Many Russians have seen this holiday as an attempt to replace the celebrations of November 7, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
- November 4, 2020 (Wednesday). Popular Unity Day.
2. Non-holiday celebrations in Russia
As in all countries, in Russia there are many celebrations, both religious and non-religious, among which I would highlight the following:
The maslenitsa is a Russian tradition that is celebrated for a full week and ends on the Sunday before the eve of Lent. There are many activities, events, music and games. It coincides approximately with carnival celebrations around the world. In its origins it is said that it was a pagan holiday, since the farewell of winter and the arrival of spring was celebrated, but today it has been accommodated into the Christian calendar and is called the “Butter Week” or the “Pancake (blinis) week”, since in this week the consumption of meat is prohibited, being eggs and dairy products such as butter or cheese the allowed products
During Maslenitsa the important thing is to meet with family and friends, and it is the ideal date for singles to expand their social circle and find a partner. Each day of this week has a traditional name and its own symbolism, burning at the end of the party a straw doll that symbolizes winter.
- From February 24 to March 1, 2020 (Monday to Sunday). Maslenitsa
April 12: Cosmonautics Day
For Cosmonautics fans, it must be said that on April 12 of each year this holiday is celebrated, established to commemorate the first manned space trip, which took place on April 12, 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, which orbited the Earth for the first time.
- April 12, 2020 (Sunday). Cosmonautics Day
In Russia, Orthodox Easter is celebrated every year. Like Christmas, Orthodox Easter is governed by the Julian calendar. However, we must bear in mind that the celebration of Easter is based on the first full moon after the spring equinox.
Therefore, the coincidence of dates between both religions occurs once every 3 or 4 years. The remaining ones are separated one, four or five weeks. In 2017, Catholic and Orthodox Easter coincide (as it happened in 2014). However, in Russia, Orthodox Easter has no holidays. Both Holy Thursday and Holy Friday or Easter Monday are business days, but the Russian faithful actively celebrate them.
Currently, there is an initiative that aims to unify Easter for all religions on a fixed date.
- April 19, 2020 (Sunday). Orthodox Easter
July 8: Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia Day
Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia Day, also known as Family, Love and Faithfulness Day, was officially introduced in Russia in 2008. Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of the current Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, is one of the most active promoters of this new holiday. Its symbol is a white daisy.
It would be like the orthodox version of Valentine’s Day celebrated on Valentine’s Day, on February 14 (and also celebrated by the Russians). The “competition” between the two celebrations (Valentine’s Day and Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia) has sparked a lot of controversy in the country.
- July 8, 2020 (Wednesday). Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia Day
September 1: Knowledge Day
September 1 is the day on which the school year begins in Russia every year (and in many other former Soviet republics). It is called Knowledge Day, and it marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn (which comes quite soon in Russia). Children celebrate this day well dressed and arriving at school with a bouquet of flowers.
- September 1, 2020 (Tuesday). Knowledge Day
I hope this article has helped you to better schedule your visit to Russia. Have you been to Russia in any of those holidays or celebrations? Below you can leave your comment.