It’s coming up to that time of year when all parents and kids start getting ready to go back to school. With this in mind, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share one of our own ‘back-to-school' stories through the eyes of one of our team.
In Russia, the first day of school is called ‘Knowledge Day’ (День Знаний) and may simply be known as 1 September as that’s the day all kids in Russia, Soviet republics and former Eastern countries excluding Romania go back to school (even if this is a weekend!).
Knowledge day was established by the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in June 15, 1984. The 1st September also marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.
It has special significance for the incoming first graders who are starting school for the first time and the kids in their final school year, which is known as year 11 in Russia.
From what I can remember, 1st September was the time where all the children would come to school and get specially dressed up in their school uniform and then present gifts to teachers, such as cards and a bouquet of flowers. That day everyone would come to school including parents and have an outside morning assembly where all students are stood in groups in their form year and class. The headmistress or master would give a speech which would be followed by the First Bell (Первый Звонок ).
In Russia, the First bell is symbolic and signifies the beginning of the school year. Russian schools have a particular way of ringing the First Bell which is still continued today. One of the boys from year 11 lifts a schoolgirl from the first year onto his shoulders, the girl from the first year will then get given a big hand bell which they can either just ring or ring as they walk past the other students. After this assembly all the students go back to their classrooms where they start their new class in some cases with new teachers.
It’s difficult to say whether kids are exited for this celebration or apprehensive, since it’s the first day when they have a chance to meet up with their friends or make new friends and meet teachers after a 3-month summer holiday (we always want more holiday!).
Kids across Russia get the chance to hear the first bell at the beginning of September but there is also another event called ‘Last School-Bell Day”.
Do you have fond memories of your first day of school? We would love to hear about them in the comments below.
No secret that White nights season in May-June is the perfect time to visit St. Petersburg. Be captivated by the lavish palaces and fountains and enjoy the scenic panoramas whilst strolling around the city. Study the majestic surroundings or take a trip on a river boat to admire the city from its waterways at night underneath the stars. But there’s so much more to do!
Russians highly appreciate culture, arts and traditions, and the beginning of the summer season is the best time to immerse yourself in a constant flow of cultural events and celebrations alongside the locals.
Here are the special events taking place in St Petersburg between May and June worth seeing!
Victory Day on 9 May
Victory day has always been a great celebration in Saint Petersburg, as the city survived an 872 day siege during WWII. The traditional Victory Day parade which consists of a concert, tulips for the veterans, joyful tears, and, of course, grand fireworks; all of these make this holiday very special. Read more about Victory Day in Russia.
Peterhof Fountains opening on 19 May
Every year the park of Peterhof hosts a special event, when its famous fountains are turned on after a long winter break. An all-day festival is held with a fanfare, classical music performance, fireworks and many other thrilling events.
The Museum night on 19 May
Straight after a busy day at Peterhof embark on a museum tour at night. Every year the Petersburg museums, libraries, Zoo, Planetarium and other venues join this international event and prepare many surprises, master classes, special exhibitions and original excursions. Take this great opportunity to take part in the special night programme of the Hermitage, explore the collection of the Russian Museum or set off to Pushkin to enjoy the midnight stroll in Ekaterina Park. The museums event programmes will be available later.
Peter and Paul Fortress at white night
City Day on 27 May
A tradition of Russian cities is to celebrate the day of the city’s founding. On 27 May 1703 Peter I founded a fortress on the Neva river, the Peter and Paul Fortress, that laid the foundation for the splendid city of Saint Petersburg.
The programme of the festive events is very intense: exhibitions, concerts, folk festivals, and, of course, the opening of the city fountains as a symbol of summer and new life. The celebration of St Petersburg 315th anniversary ends with a huge multi-colored burst of fireworks in the night sky.
Summer Garden – the most famous garden in St.Petersburg
‘The White Nights Stars’ Cultural Festival in May – July
The International Ballet and Opera Festival with over 20-year history takes place annually at the acclaimed Mariinsky theatre. It is one of the most interesting and largest musical events in the world. Every year, the Mariinsky Theatre delights lovers of opera, ballet and classical music with the best performances, great symphonic works, masterpieces of chamber music and theatrical premieres performed by the world stars.
Day of Russia on 12 June
St. Petersburg will celebrate this great holiday on a large scale – there will be many special events, various concerts, interesting exhibits and fireworks to complete the celebrations.
The annual festival “Scarlet Sails” on 23 June
A ship with scarlet sails on the Neva river
This celebration, organised in honour of alumnus and graduates, attracts up to 3.5 million viewers annually! Wonderful ships with scarlet sails, the symbol of hope and faith in the future, will sail on the Neva river accompanied by music, light show and fireworks, all making an incredible spectacle!
Contact our friendly team to find out more about any of these events and get a true insight into St. Petersburg history and everyday Russian life. Start planning your dream tour today with a range of excursions we offer in St. Petersburg!
An ancient peripheral town Suzdal is world-famous for its Kremlin and White Monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The annual Cucumber festival there is a unique opportunity to experience this town, and take part in contests and other amusing activities with locals.
Place: Suzdal, Russia
Location: 220 km (135 miles) North-East of Moscow
Date: 15 July 2017
The Cucumber Festival takes place annually in midsummer, during the harvest of vegetables in one of the most ancient Russian towns, Suzdal. It provides parades, contests and concerts, music and dancing, games and raffles, and, of course, cucumbers prepared in every way possible, making them Suzdal’s delicacies. Have you ever tasted a cucumber jam? The people here use cucumbers in thousands of different dishes, from cucumber soups, to cucumber cakes and rolls, and even cucumber drinks.
The region’s most famous entertainers perform different plays relating to cucumbers. Tourists also can buy cucumber souvenirs made of clay, wood and other materials.
One of the most important events of this festival is the cucumber eating contest, where competitors try to eat as many cucumbers as possible in the set time limit. Judging by the whole atmosphere of the festival, the winner probably receives some cucumbers as the prize.
Festivities. Photo by Andrey Atulkov
Once the Cucumber Festival is over, Suzdal returns to its routine of a provincial town barely modernized since its heyday back in the 11 -13th centuries. Suzdal will introduce to you another Russia; you can witness the rustic lifestyle of a peripheral town that tourists rarely see in the big cities. Suzdal will fascinate you with its white-stone walls, riverside convents and monasteries, as well as typical Russian wooden architecture around the main treasure-trove – Suzdal's Kremlin.
The Kremlin in the town of Suzdal
A wander around Suzdal will give you a glimpse of medieval Russia, with the decorative wooden frames of the houses, magnificent 12th-13th-century buildings and vegetable gardens that feed many local families.
If we inspired you to step back in time and experience an authentic and tranquil atmosphere of this provincial town, why not to contact our specialists to arrange your trip to Suzdal and find out all your options?
On the main image: Spaso-Evfimiyev Monastery, photo by Yuree Markevich.
Russian holidays reflect all aspects of Russian history and traditions. One of our national favourites is Victory Day, which is celebrated, unlike Europe, on 9th May, as Germany’s surrender was signed in Berlin late in the evening on 8th May when it was already 9th May in Russia, due to the difference in time zones.
9th May in Russia is a day of remembrance and joy, but, as the phrase goes, it is a joy ‘with tears in the eyes’. During the four years of war, the USSR lost around 25 million citizens. In Russia and in other countries of the former Soviet Union, there is no family who was not affected by the war with Nazi Germany. So, the social memory about it is still alive and is being kept by virtue of different events and ceremonies, which traditionally take place in Russia on Victory Day.
On the 9th May, a non-working day, celebrations and commemorative events are held all across Russia, with military parades, fireworks and other ceremonies. One of the most popular events is the tasting of the ‘soldier’s meal’ – made up of boiled barley groats – followed by drinking 100 grams of vodka, in remembrance of the meagre rations given to the soldiers.
Across Russia, a ceremony will take place in which flowers are laid at the feet of the Unknown Soldier, and a minute of silence is held, for soldiers killed in battles, members of resistance movements, prisoners of deaths camps and all the civilians, who perished to the hardships of sieges and wartime.
In the parks and squares throughout Russia, to the sound of the old tunes performed by orchestra, younger generations honour veterans, give them flowers (usually red carnations), thank them and ask for wartime stories.
The main military show of this day – parades – are usually invitation only events, and most people can see them only broadcasting on TV. On this day, before and after the Parade broadcasting, TV channels broadcast well-known, mostly tearful, Soviet films about the Great Patriotic War. People gather around the festive table to remember the passed-away relatives and to express gratitude for the peaceful sky over their heads.
Fireworks traditionally conclude the day of the commemoration.
The first Victory Parade was held on 24 June 1945 on Red Square in Moscow. Since then, Victory Parade has been an integral part of the Victory Day celebrations, aimed at honouring the heroic sacrifices of the past and demonstrating the might of the country and its latest military hardware.
Military parades take place in major Russian cities, while the biggest parade always takes place in Moscow’s Red Square. Last year the Moscow parade “involved 10,000 military staff, 135 armoured vehicles, and 71 aircraft” (based on information from bbc.co.uk).
The State Historical Museum on the Red Square On Victory Day, Moscow.
The Immortal Regiment movement arose to commemorate the heroical deed and bravery of those who fought in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945.
Starting in 2009, this march became so popular that in 2016, in Moscow alone, it comprised of over 700,000 people. Beyond that, thousands of people in more than 50 countries around the world took part in the marches carrying the portraits of their family members who fought on the battlefronts of World War II.
As the founders of this movement say, the new war starts when the generation, who forgot what the war is, have grown up. Therefore, the Immortal Regiment aims to preserve and defend the memory of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War.
Immortal Regiment march in Moscow
If you are keen on Russian history and would like to feel the moving power of Victory Day or other holiday in Russia, contact out travel specialists to find out your best options.
Easter, an important religious holiday in Russia, often is celebrated even by non-religious families. At least, the main ritual meals – Easter bread and painted eggs – are on tables across the country.
Easter celebrations start with the Saturday night service, which lasts all night, gathers many people. They bring Easter food, such as decorated boiled eggs, Paskha (a dessert made of sweet cottage cheese) and, of course, Kulich (an Easter cake), to be blessed by the priests, and spend all night in the church standing, holding candles and praying.
Easter is the day of abundant food, the first day after the Great Lent, when the best and the most delicious food is on tables. The Easter breakfast brings all the family members together around a table for a sumptuous feast breaking the Lenten fast. Many will hear a knock on the door – the neighbour children have come to say, ‘Christ is risen!”, which is followed by, “He is risen indeed” and presenting to the children decorated eggs, kulich and sweets. A band of children with little bags striding along the street on a sunny spring morning – it’s a sure sign, Easter has come! On this day, everyone is with their families – and they are either at home or at church. People pay visits and present each other traditional Easter food.
Decorated eggs are one such item. In the tradition of the Christian Orthodox Churches, legend says that the first real Easter egg was given to the Roman emperor by Mary Magdalene soon after Christ’s ascension, following the custom to bring the emperor some gift, whatever you could. The emperor expressed his disbelief in Christ ascension, “Nobody can rise from the dead ….. as it is hard to believe this egg can turn red!” At once the egg became red, and since that time eggs have served as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, the victory of life over death. Nowadays, people dye dozens of eggs, with onion skins or food colouring and stickers, before Easter, to eat them through the Easter week and to share with others.
Russian Easter bread or Kulich is usually prepared a few days before Easter, blessed on Saturday before Easter and then eaten in the days following Easter. Rich, soft and delicious, it can be baked in tin cans or in paper molds.
A few weeks before Easter, Kulich can be bought in most bakeries and supermarkets in Russia. If you are in Russia around Easter time, take a chance to try this melting sweet loaf made with lots of eggs and butter. For the rest of you, we are publishing a Kulich recipe. Cook this traditional Easter bread and you won’t regret it! It is a sweet, rich and buttery pastry studded with raisins, lemon zest, candied citrus peel and almonds or walnuts. For me the best thing about Kulich is the heavenly smell in the kitchen while cooking! Cooking time is around 3-4 hours, but, finally, your efforts will be rewarded!
For 10-12 medium-sized breads you will need:
• 1 table spoon of dried active baking yeast
• 350 ml warm milk (about 40C)
• 2 cups of sugar
• 1 kg plain flour, sifted
• 6 raw eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 300-400 gr butter, melted
• 1 cup of almonds or walnuts, chopped
• 1 cup of sultanas or raisins
• 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
• 80 gr mixed peel – optional
• A pinch of cinnamon – optional
• 2 egg whites
• 250 gr caster sugar
• A pinch of salt
In the large mixing bowl combine 2 cups of warm milk and dry yeast. Leave for 15 minutes. You can chop nuts and zest your lemon while waiting. Add a half of the flour and mix well. At this stage, you need to cover this pre-dough with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place (on the radiator, or in a slightly warmed (below 50C) oven) for about 30 minutes.
While the pre-dough is starting to grow, divide eggs into yolks and whites. Whisk the yolks with 2 cups of sugar until the mixture goes white, then whip the egg whites into an airy foam. Melt the butter.
Once your pre-dough has risen, add to it salt, egg yolks with sugar, melted butter, egg whites and the rest of the sieved flour.
Knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands to make a very soft and elastic dough. Cover it with a cling film wrap and a towel, and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
Afterwards, stir in sultanas, candied citrus peel, lemon zest and nuts. Divide dough evenly into your molds (fill roughly half of them to leave the room for the rise) that have been well-oiled and, if it is necessary, covered with baking paper. However, if you use paper molds, there is no need to do this. Let dough rise uncovered in a warm place until you see a significant rise.
Bake at 350F/180C for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile, prepare the white crunch. Whisk the raw egg whites with salt into a foam. Evenly add sugar and whisk another 4 minutes.
Once the Kulich are at room temperature, spread the icing over the top of the them and let it drizzle over the sides. A finishing touch – sprinkle with raisins, nuts or other topping!
Enjoy your Easter bread!
This day celebrates all womanhood, and announces spring; however, the weather can still be chilly like in winter, but the warm sun, smell of melting snow and birds’ singing is a reminder of the beauty of spring.
International Women’s day played a great role in the Russian Revolution of 1917. As Revolutionary Leon Trotsky said, it “inaugurated the revolution.” As described in Wikipedia, “In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women's Day in Saint Petersburg (a capital at that time) on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution. Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for 'Bread and Peace' – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.“ Four days after that demonstration the Russian Emperor resigned, and Russia ceased to be a monarchy.
After the October Revolution, in 1918, the 8th of March became a public holiday.
Men offer gratitude to all women, no matter old or young, married or unmarried, mothers or not. It is an opportunity to honor motherhood, beauty, and the wisdom of women. As Russian proverb says, ‘the man is the head of the family, the woman is the neck.’ This proverb reflects the role of a woman in the family in Russia, her inwardness and ability to empower her husband.
Men give presents and flowers to significant women. School children present gifts and buckets of flowers to their teachers, and do crafts at schools and in nurseries to present to mums and grandmothers. Even little girls receive gifts from their relatives. At work places men organize celebrations on the last day before the holiday, with gifts, flowers and festive tables. Employers may also present something to the female employees.
Several days before the holiday the 'shopping fever' begins. One can come across a flower shortage and suitable presents fly away from the shop shelves. So, wise men buy them in advance, also not to overpay for the last-minute gifts. Men are always puzzled what to buy. Traditional presents are perfume and cosmetics, along with flowers (tulips, mimosas and roses). The yellow branches of mimosa are the symbol of the holiday. Mimosa and other flowers are traditional printed on postcards; they signify spring, which is a great deal in Russia, with its long harsh winters.
This is a true family holiday, people stay home, arrange festive celebrations, or may visit friends and relatives. Men and children can take over in the kitchen to prepare a festive meal. One can see happy women’s faces everywhere. The 8th of March is a special day for all women, a day full of congratulations, compliments and gifts.
We would like to take this opportunity to say congratulations to all women who celebrate this day!
If you think about travelling to Russia, why not get in touch with our travel experts about arranging a trip.
On February 24th, Russia celebrates Defender of the Fatherland Day. On this special occasion, most offices, banks and official buildings, including consulates and visa centers, are closed.
Defender of the Fatherland day is observed in Russia and several other former Soviet republics to commemorate the veterans and members of the Armed Forces, mostly men, but also women, who currently serve, or who have previously served, in the military. People treat it not just as a military celebration, but as a universal men’s holiday; an opportunity to congratulate all men of the country.
This day traces its history to 1922, when the fourth anniversary of Red Army was celebrated. However, some historians argue that this special day is in fact celebrated to laud the Red Army’s first important victory over German invaders in 1918.
Between 1936 and 1990, the holiday was observed as the Soviet Army and Navy Day. In 1991 the holiday was removed from the calendar, before being renamed and reinstated in 2002.
Though this day honors the military as a whole, many Russians regard Defender of the Fatherland day as a 'men’s day' because military service is obligatory for most men in Russia. Colloquially, it's a day of real men, broadly speaking, defenders, a day to honor them for their force, courage and spirit.
Women often give presents and postcards to their male relatives and friends, including those who never served in the military. On a workday before the holiday, many women also congratulate their male colleagues, and schoolboys may receive greeting cards and small presents from their female classmates. At schools and nurseries girls do simple crafts and banners to present to their fathers and other male relatives.
It is followed on the 8th March by International Women's Day, on which day the men of Russia honour the fairer sex.
Russian authorities may organize local parades and fireworks to honor the military and veterans on this day. The Russian President, military leaders, and representatives of Parliament and the Government, traditionally attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden near the Kremlin walls.
We wholeheartedly congratulate all our male colleagues, and everyone who will be celebrating this day!
If you would like to take in the incredible atmosphere of one of Russia’s many public celebrations, why not speak to our travel specialists in Russia about any of the services we offer?
Russians celebrate the week before the beginning of Lent as Maslenitsa, which means ‘Butter Week’ (from the Russian word ‘maslo’, meaning butter). Since the dawn of time people have celebrated an ancient Slavic holiday related to the Vernal Equinox which, after Christianity, was implemented in the orthodox religious tradition. During this week, Russian Orthodox Christians ease into their Lenten fast by removing meat from their diet. Butter, milk and cheese remain. So, the week before the Great Lent is also the last opportunity to try delicious and filling pancakes. But not just this. Butter Week includes many celebrations and entertainments which people avoid during Lent, aimed at the cleaning both their body and soul.
In past times, traditional Butter Week entertainments included strolling through public places in fine clothes or in masks and costumes, visiting friends and relatives, enjoying rich foods, taking sleigh rides, attending plays put on by troupes of traveling actors, playing winter games, such as sliding down specially constructed hills of ice, and participating in rituals marking the death of winter.
Maslenitsa celebrations, Russia
Every day of Maslenitsa has its own traditions.
Monday is the meeting of Maslenitsa, who is personified in a giant straw doll, dressed in old woman clothes, and snow games including tobogganing.
Tuesday is a day of merriment, when everyone participates in games and competitions for adults and children including, folk festivals, puppet shows, sleigh rides, ice-skating and horse-riding. Pancake Week in 18th century Russia was hard to imagine without bear shows; trained bears amused the audience. Bear fun was very popular among all classes of the population of towns, cities and villages.
Wednesday is a day for those with a sweet tooth, as people begin to eat pancakes, honey gingerbreads, drink brewed beer and hot sbiten (an alcoholic drink made from water, honey and spices), and every mother-in-law is to treat their son-in-law.
Thursday is a day of revelry, with the hottest fist-fights, games and fun.
On Friday, every son-in-law must treat their mother-in-law.
Saturday is the celebration of daughters-in-law, including presenting gifts and pancakes.
On Sunday, everyone asks forgiveness from each other, followed by the response, “God will forgive you”. On this day, also called ‘Clean Sunday’, people visit a banya and burn everything left from this festival, including a solemn burning of the Maslenitsa doll in a great bonfire. Burning it symbolizes the farewell to winter. On this day people also besiege and occupy the snow fortress, once again signifying the defeat of winter and the arrival of spring.
Nowadays, many Russian cities offer Maslenitsa celebrations. Events will take place all week throughout the cities' main streets and parks, and include pancake tasting, fairs and concerts, as well as workshops and presentations.
Russian blinis with red caviar
Pancakes, or blinis, have become a symbol of the celebration. They signify warmth and prosperity. Russian blinis should be thin, golden brown, and about the size of a saucer. After removing them from the pan, Russians roll the blinis up around a variety of rich fillings. These fillings include cheese, meat, sturgeon, caviar, sour cream and jam, apples, mushrooms and onions, poppy seeds, and much more.
You can check out 'interesting' attempt at making blinis from a few years ago, here. We should probably try again soon …
If you are interested in Maslenitsa and would like to experience Russian' culture, why not get in touch with our travel experts about arranging a trip.
Now that Vettel's Red Bull car has had a particularly difficult week, catching fire on course in Russia, and Hamilton's Mercedes also caught fire in Hungary last month, competition for the Formula 1 Grand Prix of 2014 has reached a new level!
As many of our staff are real F1 fans, we will be watching with anticipation to see if Red Bull can get Vettel's victory car back on course, in the run up to the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, in Sochi, on the 12th October 2014.
With conversations in place with the Russian organizing committee to simplify the Russian visa regime for people attending the event, it means Sochi will be a great place to get involved with Formula 1!
Though what to do once the final flag has fallen and with the rest of your holiday to enjoy? Why not try taking the overland railway to Moscow? or the high speed railway, Sapsan, from Moscow to St Petersburg? Travel arrangements is simplified by our trains page that describes European trains direct to and from Russia, as well as domestic trains within Russia too, such as the Trans-Siberian Railway.
If you would like to take your trip even further, we can even help with accommodation, full tours and excursions, such as a boat trip gliding along the river in Moscow, an opportunity to uncover the history in the Kremlin and Armoury , or city tours within Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, as well as many more!
Our award winning travel specialists are knowledgeable about travel in Russia and the surrounding areas, therefore we can offer you the best local insight to make sure your trip goes exactly how you would like it to!