Russian holidays have always been bright, entertaining, and popular events. Some Russian holidays have long histories as traditional parts of Russian culture, and some are modern, international holidays. Many Russian Orthodox holidays have become more than just religious holidays, and are celebrated by many types of people.
There are some holidays that fall on the same day every year, and some that change depending on the church’s calendar.
Orthodox Christmas (Jan 7) - This religious holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. There are special dishes and church services specially organized for this date.
Baptism (Jan 6/19) - This holiday is celebrated on the day that Jesus Christ was baptized. In honor of this holiday, many people are baptized in lakes and rivers around Russia (even in the cold and ice).
Tatiana Day (Jan 25) - On this day in 1755, Empress Elizabeth endorsed a petition to create a new university in Moscow, leading to the founding of Moscow State University. Tatiana Day is thus celebrated as Students Day, since Saint Tatiana is the patron saint of students.
Valentine’s Day (Feb 14) - Although this day is originally a religious holiday from Europe, Valentine’s Day is now a popular day for lovers. Chocolates and flowers are the most common gifts, as well as presents and cards in the shape of a heart.
Defenders of the Fatherland Day (Feb 23) - This holiday is popular not only in Russia but across the post-Soviet world. This day honors the men (and some women) who served in the Soviet and Russian armies. Since service is mandatory for most men in Russia, the Defenders of the Fatherland Day is often colloquially known as Men’s Day.
Maslenitsa (Feb/March)- Maslenitsa is similar to Carnaval, and symbolizes a time between fasts and the change from winter to spring. There are lots of celebrations for Maslenitsa, including cooking blini (thin pancakes like crepes), sleigh rides, and general festivities.
International Women’s Day (Mar 8) - March 8th became a popular holiday starting in Soviet days. It is common to give women flowers and small gifts, and to honor all women.
Easter (March/April) - This religious holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the most important religious holidays of the year, the date of Easter celebrations changes every year according to the lunar calendar.
Labor Day (May 1) - This day, which used to be called International Workers Solidarity Day, is a nice spring holiday. It’s popular to spend some time in the garden, do some spring cleaning, or go for a picnic on this holiday.
Victory Day (May 9) - Victory Day is one of the most revered holidays in Russia and the former Soviet Union. World War II officially ended on May 9, 1945, and so the day is a remembrance of the high price paid during the war. People place flowers at the base of monuments, and organize small parades with photographs of those who served during the war.
Pentecost (May/June) - Celebrated on the 50th day after Easter, Pentecost marks the founding of the Christian church.
Russia Day (June 12) - Celebrated every year since 1992, Russia Day calls for celebrations in many cities. At the Kremlin, the president hands out awards.
Knowledge Day (Sep 1) - This day marks the first day of the academic year, when students and teachers go back to school. Younger children dress in nice clothing and are given flowers by their parents and teachers.
Unity Day (Nov 4) - This day, established in 2005, celebrates the battle in 1612 that liberated Moscow from Polish forces and established the Romanov dynasty. Even though there was no tsar or patriarch (religious leader), the Russians were able to unite successfully. This holiday takes the place of the October Revolution, which in Soviet times was celebrated on November 7th.
Catholic Christmas (Dec 25) - This religious holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, and is one of the most important Christian holidays. Christmas is not widely celebrated in December in Russia, as Orthodox Christmas is January 7th, and that is when services and celebrations are traditionally held.
Official Holidays (Non-Working Days)
New Year’s Holidays - January 1-5
Defenders of the Fatherland Day - February 23
International Women’s Day - March 8
Labor Day - May 1
Victory Day - May 9
Russia Day - June 12
Unity Day - November 4
Constitution Day - December 12
Tatiana Day - January 25
Valentine’s Day - February 14
April Fools’ Day - April 1
National Unity Day - April 2
Day of Remembrance for Those Killed in Nuclear Disasters - April 26
Day of Remembrance and Grief - June 22
Youth Day - June 27
Flag Day - August 22
Knowledge Day - September 1
International Day for Older Persons - October 1
Day of Remembrance for Victims of Political Repressions - October 30
Demetrius Saturday - November 2
Day of Accord and Reconciliation - November 7
Mother’s Day - Last Sunday in November
Catholic Christmas - December 25
Orthodox Christmas - January 7
Baptism - January 19
Easter - March/April
Pentecost - May/June