On public holidays, government offices are closed, although most shops (and some banks) remain open. The holiday itself (or the following Monday, if it falls on a weekend) is a day off in most offices, but it is often observed in an office celebration the day before.
Government holidays may shift annually to accommodate longer weekends, and some companies may move holidays internally for convenience, for example, from a Thursday to a Friday. It’s best to verify the holiday schedule with your employer.
Russian holidays often have a complex history, and many have undergone several re-namings, so you may hear them referred to by different names. To simplify things, most holidays are referred to in Russia by their date, as opposed to their name.
January 1-5 – “New Year’s Day” is the biggest celebration in Russia. New Year’s trees are on display across the city, and people set them up in their homes. A festive meal is prepared and gifts are exchanged. Fireworks are always part of the New Year’s celebration, and sometimes, costumes are as well (especially for children). The official holiday extends 5 working days but is often extended past Orthodox Christmas, on January 7. In 2010, the official holiday period was Jan 1-5.
January 7 – “Christmas” in Russia falls on January 7th, in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. It is a far lower-key celebration than New Year’s, and gifts are not exchanged. Religious Russians will go to Orthodox church services, and a family festive meal is generally part of this holiday.
February 23 – “Day of the Defender of the Fatherland” was previously known as both “Red Army Day” and “Day of the Soviet Army and Navy.” While in theory it honors men who have served their country in the military, in practice, it becomes the male equivalent of March 8 (see below). Women usually give small gifts to all male relatives and close friends, regardless of military history. The day is usually honored with a parade.
March 8 – “International Women’s Day” is a day to honor all women. Men and women give flowers, cards, and gifts such as chocolates or perfume to female relatives and friends.
May 1 – “Labor and Spring Day” was known in Soviet times as “International Worker’s Day.” Its current name shows that it is one of the most conflicted Russian holidays! It is observed mostly by simply enjoying the day off work and hopefully pleasant weather. In some years, it falls on or close to Orthodox Easter (a shifting holiday), which may be observed with religious ceremonies and special Easter cakes.
May 9 – “Victory Day” celebrates Allied forces victory in World War II, known in Russia as “The Great Patriotic War.” An impressive military parade through the Red Square and nighttime firework displays across the city are always part of the celebration.
June 12 – “Russia Day” was originally known as “Day of the Adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation” and does, in fact, honor this day in 1990, when Russian parliament formally declared its sovereignty, a mark of the break-up of the Soviet Union. If you try to say the original name three times fast (especially in Russian!) you will understand why it was renamed. It is typically honored with a fireworks display.
November 4 – “People’s Unity Day” is a relatively new Russian public holiday that marks a popular uprising in 1612 to defeat Polish invaders to Russia. It was first observed in 2005. Symbolically, it represents all Russians, regardless of class or stature, uniting to defeat outside threats to the fatherland. Some consider it an attempt at replacing the previous November 7 commemoration of the October Revolution, which is often marked by Communist demonstrations.
|New Year||January 1-5||January 1-5|
|Christmas||January 7||January 7|
|Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland||February 23||February 23|
|International Women’s Day||March 8||March 8|
|Labor and Spring Day||May 3||May 2|
|Victory Day||May 7||May 9|
|Russia Day||June 11||June 10|
|People’s Unity Day||November 4||November 4|