In addition to public holidays, Russia has numerous holidays and celebrations that are a mix of religious and historical significance. Major cities in Russia also have their own special “City Day.”
On public and any weekend holidays, plan for a lot of time to get anywhere, as the city will be very congested. Normal traffic rules may be abandoned, as roads near the central fireworks display, for example, turn into impromptu parking lots.
January 1 – New Year – see Bank Holidays
January 7 – Christmas – see Bank Holidays
January 14 – “Old New Year” marks the new year for the Orthodox, according to the Julian calendar. It is generally celebrated by religious and non-religious Russians alike, although the parties are smaller than on January 1st and gifts are not exchanged. “Old New Year” typically marks the end of the winter holiday season.
February 14 – “Valentine’s Day” is not a traditional Russian holiday, but Russians are never ones to reject a holiday! It is now becoming far more accepted and is often celebrated, especially by young people. Typically, cards are given. Some of the older generation may be a bit confused about this holiday and cards or small gifts are often given not just to sweethearts.
February 23 – Day of the Defender of the Fatherland – see Bank Holidays
March 8 – International Women’s Day – see Bank Holidays
February-April – “Maslenitza” is that last week before Lent, or the 7th week before Orthodox Easter. Its exact dates shift with the Orthodox Easter. Its history is also connected to ancient Slavic paganism, in which it marks the end of winter. Menus throughout the city become much more extensive as restaurants struggle to cater for religious people who are fasting by not eating meat, fish and dairy. Needless to say this is a good time to be a vegetarian in Moscow. Non-religious Russians will also honor this holiday by eating lots of traditional blini, thin pancakes resembling a slightly more buttery French crepe.
April 12 – “Day of the Cosmonaut” commemorates the first time man entered space, which took place in 1961 when Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Space program completed an entire orbit around earth.
April-May – “Easter” falls on a different day every year, depending on the Julian calendar, the lunar cycle, and Jewish passover. It can either fall on the same Sunday as Western Easter, or can occur one week, four weeks, or five weeks after. Orthodox Easter is celebrated by the religious with all-night religious services. Most Russians, even the non-religious, decorate eggs that are dyed red or decorated with images of religious icons. The typical Easter cake is a yeast-based sweat bread with bits of candies fruit. Both eggs and cakes are often taken to the church to be blessed, and blessed water may also be purchased at churches for Easter.
May 1 – Spring and Labor Day – see Bank Holidays
May 9 – Victory Day – see Bank Holidays
June 12 – Russia Day – see Bank Holidays
1st Sunday in September – “City Day” of Moscow was first celebrated in 1947 to mark the 800-year anniversary of Moscow’s foundation. On this day, almost every region of the city sets up celebrations on local squares. You may be awakened by loud music as children and local singers perform on small stages set up in parks or even parking lots. It is tradition for the city government to pass out free kasha – a buckwheat-based oatmeal – to people across town. At night, there will be huge fireworks displays.
November 4 – People’s Unity Day – see Bank Holidays
December 12 – “Day of the Constitution” was an official public holiday as recently as 2004, but is no longer marked by a day off. It commemorates the day in 1993 when the Constitution of the Russian Federation was accepted by public referendum.