Russian Holidays: A Window Into the Country's Soul

Caucasian tourists walking on cobblestone Leningrad street, Leningrad, Russia

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If you're traveling to Russia, it's helpful to find out about the country's holidays so you can join in the traditions and understand the culture to see a different dimension of the country. Officially recognized Russian holidays include New Year's, Christmas, Protector of the Motherland Day, International Women's Day, Spring and Labor Day, Victory Day, Russia Day and Unity Day. Unofficial Russian holidays like Easter, Maslenitsa, Ivan Kupala, and Cosmonaut Day are also celebrated.

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Jan. 1 to 5: New Year Holidays

Holiday lights in Russia
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Russians celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1. Because Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7, the days leading up to Christmas are also a part of the New Year-Christmas celebration. The New Year is celebrated with parties, food, toasts, and fireworks.

Some Russians also celebrate the New Year according to the Julian calendar, on Jan. 14th. This day, however, is a holiday celebrated privately with family members.

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Jan. 7: Christmas Day

Christmas Decoration At Red Square
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Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7 in countries that have traditionally observed holidays according to the Eastern Orthodox religion. Jan. 7 corresponds to Dec. 25th on the Julian calendar, which was used in Russia during czarist times. Russia has used the Gregorian calendar since 1918, but tradition dictates that ​​Christmas in Russia is still celebrated on Jan. 7.

Some Russians celebrate two Christmases -- one on Dec. 25 according to the Gregorian calendar and one on Jan. 7. However, Jan. 7 remains the more popular day to celebrate Christmas.

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Feb. 23: Protector of the Motherland Day

Red carnations assigned to the monument to Komsomol members in Volgograd.
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Protector of the Motherland Day (also known as Protector of the Fatherland Day), formerly known as Soviet Army Day, celebrates Russia's men, especially military veterans, active servicemen and fallen soldiers. It combines the meanings behind the United States' Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.

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Springtime: Easter (Unofficial Holiday)

High Angle View Of Easter Cake And Eggs On Table
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Easter in Russia is celebrated on a different date each year, just like in the West. Russians consider Easter an even bigger holiday than Christmas. Easter is celebrated with painted eggs, special foods, and possibly church services.

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Week Before Lent: Maslenitsa (Unofficial Holiday)

Maslenitsa Holiday in Russia
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Maslenitsa is the equivalent of Mardi Gras and derives from a pagan holiday that celebrates the spring. Certain rituals are often observed during Maslenitsa, like the preparation and eating of pancakes (which symbolize the sun), the burning of an effigy of winter, and bathing outside in ice cold water.

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March 8: International Women's Day

Red velvet cupcakes for Women's day
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International Women's Day loosely corresponds to the celebration of Mother's Day in the West, though in Russia's case, all women can share in the celebration. Women are usually given gifts of flowers or chocolates on this day.

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April 12: Cosmonaut's Day

Russians Remember The Pioneering Space Flight Of Yuri Gagarin
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Cosmonaut's Day celebrates Russia's achievement of sending men into space. While another version of this day is celebrated internationally, in Russia the gravesite of Yuri Gargarin, the first man in space, is visited, as well as monuments and landmarks related to space travel and achievement.

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May 1: Spring and Labor Day

Labour Day Celebrations in Russia
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Labor Day in Russia has traditionally been politically charged. Marked with parades in the past, it is now used as a day of relaxation for those who do not have a political agenda to emphasize at a rally or demonstration. It also recognizes trade unions.

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May 9: Victory Day

Victory Day Military Parade In Moscow
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Victory Day is an important secular holiday in Russia, celebrated with parades. Its significance arises from Russia's victory over Germany in World War II. Many Russians still consider this defeat heroic and worthy of memories and praise despite the extensive cost of life that Russia endured.

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July 7: Ivan Kupala (Unofficial Holiday)

Children splashing in lake
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Ivan Kupala, or the Day of John the Baptist, is a day that mixes religious belief with pagan traditions. While the day is closely linked to the practice of baptism, this day is most enthusiastically celebrated by children, who dumped water on unsuspecting relatives, friend or passersby. Ivan Kupala also marks the "official" day when the conditions become appropriate for swimming during the summer.

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June 12: Russia Day

Fireworks over the Moscow Kremlin on Russia Day
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Russia Day is the day on which Russia declared sovereignty and corresponds to the United States' marking of the Fourth of July. It is celebrated with parades.

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Nov. 4: Day of National Unity

Low Angle View Of Russian Flag Against Blue Sky During Sunny Day
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Unity Day, or the Day of National Unity, is a new national holiday that resembles a holiday celebrated for centuries until the Bolsheviks came to power that recognized Moscow's successful defense from Polish invaders. It replaces the Nov. 7 holiday (Revolution Day), which celebrated the October Revolution of 1917.

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