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National holidays and festivals in Russia

Russians love to celebrate, and Russia's public holidays should not be treated lightly.

For the most important holidays - New Year's, Christmas, and the May holidays - many shops close down completely and city streets become strangely quiet. All government offices are closed on public holidays, and most overseas embassies are too.

Sometimes it can be a little complicated figuring out which days the country shuts down.

If the holiday falls on a Monday or a Friday, then everything is simple - it's a day off. If it falls on a weekend, then the Friday or Monday will also be a day off.

If it falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday then the weekend will be shifted a day in the right direction and the Saturday or Sunday becomes a working day, with the three days off being Sunday-Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday-Saturday.

If the holiday falls on a Wednesday then there is no long weekend.

The Gift Tradition in Russia
What is Given on Russian Holidays
The gift tradition in Russia is very strong. It highlights a culture that is based on communal values, where society, friends and family are very important, and where one’s individual interests do not necessarily come first. As Russians like to say: “One is not a soldier on the battlefield.” In Russia, family is not simply the nuclear family of parents and children, but a much larger network of relatives. Family members all gather together for every holiday or important occasion. This is especially true of New Year’s.

In Russia, whenever someone travels overseas, family, friends and sometimes even co-workers expect that person to bring back presents. This likely stems from the Soviet era, when very few people had the wherewithal and freedom to travel outside the USSR. Thus, whenever someone went abroad, friends and acquaintances expected to hear stories of travel and to receive small presents and the story behind them.

There are many souvenirs and gifts that a traveler to Russia can bring back for friends or family at home. These include folk crafts ranging from small matryoshka dolls (available in a wide range of sizes and varieties, including with the faces of the Soviet General Secretaries and Russian Presidents) to more upscale items like Gzhel, Khokhloma, Faberge egg replicas, brooches, lacquer boxes, enameled jewelry, shawls and porcelain. High quality vodka or wine is also considered to be an appropriate gift in Russia.

Most holidays are celebrated at home; it is not customary to go to restaurants. Everyone gathers around the dining table, filled to overflowing with traditional dishes and deserts prepared by the women in attendance. The meal typically stretches throughout the evening and is peppered with toasts, jokes and anecdotes, sometimes a combination of all three! Some traditional dishes you would expect to find on the table include vinaigrette salad, Salad Olivier, fish aspic, kulebyaka, golubtsy and pelmeni.

After the meal, there may be dancing (especially at weddings or New Year’s) or going out into the city or for a picnic (in the case of Victory Day or International Women’s Day). On some holidays, many people like to visit museums and theaters.

The tradition of giving flowers as a gift is very widespread. Flowers can be given on any occasion (or even without any occasion) to a mother, wife, girlfriend, coworker or friend. From earliest childhood, Russian boys are taught the importance of giving flowers.

Russian Holiday Schedule

New Year's Day Day January 1,2
Christmas Day January 7
Defenders of the Motherland Day February 23
International Women's Day March 8
Labor Day/May Day May 1, 2
Victory Day May 9
National Day June 12
Day of Accord and Reconciliation
(The holiday formerly known as the
Day of the Great October Revolution)
November 7
Constitution Day December 12


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