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Russia's Top Annual Celebrations
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Russia's Top Annual Celebrations

Picture of Rika Schoeman
Updated: 3 January 2017
Russia plays host to many celebrations and phenomenal festivals throughout the year, so why not join in on the quest for fun, festivities and food? These are the top five bashes in Russia. Have a blast celebrating them!
Fireworks at the Kremlin in Moscow|© Daria Nosova /Wikicommon
Fireworks at the Kremlin in Moscow | © Daria Nosova /Wikicommon

New Year’s Celebrations For Seven Spectacular Days

Fairy lights brightening up the streets, fireworks lighting up the sky, and a deep quiet falls over the city just before the New Year’s celebrations start with a bang! In Russia, New Years even trumps Christmas celebrated on January 7. Not only is it said to be the most important holiday in Russia, it is also seven to ten days long! A ‘New Year Tree’ is put up, decorated with anything from sweets to Matryoshka dolls, and is adorned with a bright red star. New Years in Russia is a wonderful time for all carnivores, as most Russian meals are composed of meat and potatoes. During the celebration Russians enjoy herring under fur coat (also called dressed herring), rich Russian salad filled to the brim with mayonnaise, tangerines and the ever popular champagne. New Years is a time to celebrate, make wishes and speeches, and eat your heart out!

On December 31 when the huge Kremlin tower strikes at midnight, it chimes in the New Year as fireworks are set off all over the city and the words ‘S Novim Godom’ (literally: with the New Year) resounds across Russia. Tickets are sold to visit the celebrations at the Kremlin and The Palace Square in St. Petersburg, where at least 50,000 people gather for the event in the Kremlin alone. If tickets are not available, fear not, there are parties all over Russia during this time, and even walking around is a treat, as lights color the sky and Russians wear smiles on their usually stern faces.

A peek at the aerial performance of the 63th Victory Day| © Klaus Vienresh /Wikicommons
A peek at the aerial performance of the 63th Victory Day | © Klaus Vienresh /Wikicommons

Victory Day’s Vivacious Celebration

An unusual spin on the conventional commemoration of ‘The Great Patriotic War,’ the Russians do not only commemorate it, they celebrate it with a day that recalls the virtues of national pride and respect for the elderly. Victory Day is practically sacred for many Russians as it is claimed that there is not a single family who has not lost someone to The Great Patriotic War. Long before the actual day, you can feel the celebratory atmosphere and witness Russians adorned with colored ribbons on their bags, in their hair, and even on their cars. Part of the festivities include listening to the old stories of veterans or taking part in the thoughtful gesture of handing out purple flowers to elderly ladies.

The most notable event occurs on May 9th in the Red Square where the annual military parade takes place. Be swept away by the supreme aerial performance of the Russian air force, or marvel at the military precision of several national and international army regiments displaying their abilities. If you miss the parade, have no fear, Victory Day is celebrated all over the country. In fact, a military parade takes place in almost every major city in Russia. If a military parade is not your cup of tea, you could visit any of the fantastic parks in Moscow or St. Petersburg to enjoy the electricity in the air, fireworks, and the catchy deep-rooted Soviet songs that waltz through the air as the average passerby picks them up, unabashedly.

A depiction of Maslenitsa: an age old festival| © Simon Kozhin /Wikipedia
A depiction of Maslenitsa: an age old festival | © Simon Kozhin /Wikipedia

Maslenitsa : A Time To Burn Away The Blues

It is no joke that winter in Russia is long. Very long. By the time spring arrives, everyone feels like dusting off the winter blues and celebrating, and Maslenitsa is a Russian festival dedicated to exactly that. In ancient Russia, people used to light a fire and jump from one side to the other to symbolize winter’s icy grip being burned away. These days Russians generally do not jump over fires, but the excitement is still paramount. In the middle of the festivities a giant wooden doll (‘Chuchilo’) is built as a symbol of winter and trinkets people would like to forget from the season passed are placed at its feet .

As Maslenitsa is the precursor of the Lenten fast, it is an ideal time for feasting and the most delicious part of Maslenitsa are the pancakes! Pancakes range from the savory caviar or meaty pancakes, to the tasty homemade jam or condensed milk filled ones. However, Maslenitsa is not complete without the tangy and seductive taste of Medovuha; a divine beer made from honey and the perfect drink to wash down all those pancakes. There are also several things to watch while munching on treats, such as old school Russian folk music, mock fights in ancient clothes, or the hat throwing game where two groups of giggling people throw their shapkas (fluffy Russian hats) at each other. The games are tons of fun, as long as you put your pancakes down first and make sure you are not too attached to your hat.

Remember the big wooden doll? At the end of a week of pancake munching and shapka throwing, Maslenitsa’s grand finale consists of burning down the Chuchilo in an attempt to symbolize finally letting go of winter and practicing the idea of forgive and forget.

The Red Sails celebration in St. Petersburg |© Irina Mobiovyc /Pixabay
The Red Sails celebration in St. Petersburg | © Irina Mobiovyc /Pixabay

Petersburg’s Legendary White Nights

Imagine a lovely summer day that feels like it has no end, a sea of partying people dressed in white, shops and restaurants that close at unimaginably late hours – it’s every lively tourist’s dream! Russia is not alone in the natural occurrence of White Nights, but in no other place are the White Nights so wrote about or celebrated like those celebrated in St. Petersburg; in fact, some of the performances date back to the 1960s, while the literature dates back even further to Fyodor Dostoyevsky who wrote a short story about the White Nights in 1848.

On top of the multitude of spectacular places to visit in St. Petersburg, there are several exciting events to attend at this time. During June and July, the White Nights festival runs round the clock. The city swells with music from classic opera, ballet, and an assortment of modern musicians. Part of the festivities include the ‘The Scarlet Sails,’ a celebration which involves a massive public event with fireworks and tons of boats full of pirates setting off across The Neva River. The ‘Scarlet Sails’ tradition started just after World War II, when schools celebrated the end of the year based on the symbolic book ‘Scarlet Sails’ by Alexander Grin.

There is something for everyone in St. Petersburg during the White Nights. For the more active, St. Petersburg hosts marathons, midnight bike rides, and late night boat tours. For the history fanatics, there are moving performances running at Mariinsky theater and people at the pristine natural Peterhof Fountains dress up in the flamboyant styles of the 17th and 18th centuries. As you stroll through the historic city center in St. Petersburg, next to the river Neva or the myriad of narrow canals, watch as the ordinary surroundings turn into a magical event in a romantic golden glow, even in the wee hours of the morning, creating an unparalleled ambiance in the stunning streets of St. Petersburg.

One of the buildings at the VDNKH Park all jazzed up! |© Pavel Kazachov /WikiCommons
One of the buildings at the VDNKH Park all jazzed up! | © Pavel Kazachov /WikiCommons

Be Electrified By The Light Festival

The Circle of Light is an annual international event based in Moscow in which 2D and 3D designers use the marvelous Moscow architectural landscape as a massive canvas to display their multimedia masterpieces. Local and international artists gather to express their creativity in a cutting-edge and eye-grabbing fashion that is bound to mesmerize you for the duration of the show.

Watch famous landmarks, statues, and buildings like the Bolshoi theater, Chistiye Prudy, The Moscow River’s shore, and the group of buildings of the Ministry of Defense come to life as these remarkable technicians and artists take you on an adventure of a lifetime with the use of light and sound. There is even an event at the Central Children’s Store on Lubyanka Street where you could watch incredible stories about fantastic creatures and other fairytales. A final perk of this event is that it is completely free. So, pick a weekend in September or October, pack a picnic basket full of warm goodies, sit back and enjoy the spectacular display of modern story telling in motion!