The Russian Winter Festival in Moscow is an annual attraction, running from mid-December to mid-January, with over-the-top ice sculptures, entertainment, and events. This festival pays homage to Russian Christmas, Russian New Year, and Svyatki (Russian Christmastide) celebrations and traditions customarily observed during winter.
While there are other Winter Festivals across Russia, the popularity and size (thanks to the city's resources), make the Moscow version of the Russian Winter Festival one of the biggest and best to attend.
You'll also find Russians traveling to Moscow from across the country to enjoy the celebration, so joining in the fun if you are in town during this time is a great way to enjoy the Russian winter and get a good understanding of Russian culture.
The Russian Winter Festival
The Festival is a major cultural festival celebrated on an annual basis with more enthusiasm and grander events each year. Events at Izmailovo Park and the more central Revolution Square feature performances of traditional Russian song and dance, games, crafts, food, and more.
The Christmas Village at Revolution Square is an excellent place to shop for Russian Christmas gifts including traditional folk crafts like nesting dolls, wooden toys, and painted lacquer boxes. It's a great place to find unique Christmas ornaments and traditional winter-weather wear like shawls and valenki, traditional felt boots.
At Gorky Park, you can go ice skating or watch people play hockey–there's also the option of cross-country skiing if there has been recent snowfall.
What To See at the Moscow Winter Festival
Besides sampling Russian traditional wintertime foods, like bagels, jam, and tea, visitors to the Moscow winter festival will be able to experience many local cultural events.
Ded Moroz, Old Man Frost, and Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, make appearances at the Winter Festival, too. The city sparkles with decorations that light up the night, and New Year's trees contribute to the festive atmosphere.
Past Russian Winter Festivals in Moscow have included displays of large, culturally significant ice sculptures. Over the years, the ice sculptures have included animals, cathedrals, a giant valenki, and an enormous ruble coin. There's a large-scale ice chess game that takes place between Moscow and London, which also hosts a Russian Winter Festival. The huge chess pieces, carved from ice, are a tradition with both festivals.
Other features of the Moscow winter festival, like fur fashion shows and balalaika concerts, draw diverse crowds. You never know what aspects of Russian culture you'll encounter during the Russian winter, and the displays are sure to be larger than life.
What To Do at the Moscow Winter Festival
Some activities at the festival hearken back to Russian days of old but are still present in today's culture. Sledding, with or without snow, is a favorite game at the Moscow Winter Festival. Swings, replicas of those used in 16th-century Russia, are also put to use.
A troika ride may be one of the most exciting of the old-fashioned activities: three horses attached to a sled replace the warm-weather horse and carriage. You've seen the romantic Troika and beautiful horses in Russian folk art, movies like Dr. Zhivago, and paintings.
Winter in Russia can be dark but the Moscow winter festival lights up the city and creates an exciting, happy time in the middle of a cold season with short days. Who says the Russian winter has to be bleak? Certainly, if you attend Moscow's Russian Winter Festival, your image of Russia in the winter will be forever changed for the better.