Russian Language Blog

Halloween in Russia? Posted by on Oct 27, 2010 in Culture, Russian life


When I left Russia back in 1997 we didn’t celebrate Halloween. In fact, we didn’t even know about this holiday. But here I am living in «Штаты» [the US] where this «праздник» is huge and of course we’re sucked into the celebratory frenzy. And of course, I’m not the only Russian in the States who is obsessed with the question of «как провести Хэллоуин» [how to celebrate Halloween]. But do they celebrate Halloween in Russia too?

Google to the rescue! Except, of course, when you type in “Halloween in Russia” you get a bunch of links to the expats and Russian immigrants celebrating the holiday here, in the US. But lo, here’s «статья четырёхгодичной давности» [an article dating back four years] from titled “Halloween and other borrowed holidays make Russians forget their roots and traditions”. The article mentioned that “Halloween in Russia has become quite popular.”

First of all, what’s the correct way to say Halloween in Russian. Well, as with many other «заимствованные слова» [borrowed words], it’s the case of «как слышится, так и пишется» [the  way one hears it is the way it’s written down]. And so we have «Хэлоуин», «Халуин», «Хэлуин» and other permutations. The most widely accepted however is «Хэллоуин» [Halloween].

What do Russians do «в канун дня всех святых» [on the All Hallows Eve]? Since it’s a «заимствованный праздник» [borrowed holiday], many of its traditions were adopted by «всеядными, в отношении культуры» [culturally omnivorous] Russians without any changes. BTW, the description of Russian people as “culturally omnivorous” is taken «слово в слово» [verbatim] from the same old article.

Yes, there are carved «тыквы» [pumpkins] that are called «светильники Джека» [jack-o-lanterns] or simply «фонарики из тыквы» [pumpkin lanterns]. As one of the many step-by-step instructions advises, «процесс вырезания тыквы на Хэллоуин не столько сложный, сколько трудоёмкий и требующий осторожности» [the process of carving a pumpkin for Halloween is not so much difficult as time-consuming and requires caution].

This, by the way, is a great example of using conjunction «не столько, сколько» [not so much… as] to bring together similar parts of the sentence (in this case, adjectives «сложный» [difficult], «трудоёмкий» [time-consuming] and «требующий» [requiring]). The words following «не столько» [not so much] are compared to the ones following «сколько» [here: as] with an assumption that the former carry less importance than the latter.

Here are some examples from Google search: «Молодые мамы спят не столько мало, сколько урывками» [Young mothers don’t lack so much the quantity of sleep, as its quality] or «России нужен не столько импорт продуктов и технологий, сколько умение их производить» [Russian needs not so much imported goods or technology, as the ability to create one’s own].

Back to the holiday… Of course, Halloween is not possible without «маскарад» [masquerade]. «Костюмы на Хэллоуин обязательны» [Costumes are a must for Halloween]. The choice seems to be much the same as in the US. As many articles point out, «Проще всего подобрать костюм на Хэллоуин для женщины» [women’s costumes are the easiest to find], although you might have to look for them in «магазины нижнего и эротического белья» [lingerie stores]. Finding a unique «мужской костюм» [man’s costume] is tougher. But turns out there are quite a few options for «костюмы для маленьких собачек» [costumes for small dogs].

Once dressed in costumes, Russians seem to spend Halloween pretty much the same way as Americans, «гуляя на вечеринках» [partying], but with some cultural differences. Actually, I came across this «сценарий корпоративной вечеринки на Хэллоуин» [script for a corporate Halloween party] and some of it seemed surreal:

«Фуршетный стол» [The buffet table] is to hold «виски и эль» [whisky and ale]. At some point «костюмированные каскадёры начинают драку на сцене» [costumed stuntmen start a brawl on stage], followed by «демонический костюмированный стриптиз» [demonic costumed striptease]. The script calls for a «роскошный фейерверк» [splendid fireworks] to end the party.

But that’s «неофициально» [unofficially]. Officially, Russian Orthodox Church takes an affront to the holiday not only because of its “demonic” celebrations, but because this holiday is simply «не наш» [not our own] and «угрожает народным традициям и обрядам» [threatens national traditions and customs].

What do you think of Halloween? Do you celebrate it? Does your company arrange for a «роскошный фейерверк» or at least lets you shoot some sparklers?

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  1. chaika:

    Since Halloween has its roots in the distant pagan past, the cross-quarter holiday called Samhain, I suspect Russian paganism has a similar holiday. Does it? You might also recognize some other cross-quarter holidays: early February (Imbolc) early May (Beltane). Groundhog Day and May Day.

    • yelena:

      @chaika Chaika, May Day’s been highjacked 🙂 In the USSR it became a holiday to celebrate proletarian workers the world over. It’s still celebrated as a holiday of spring and work, but the pagan association seems to be completely lost.

  2. Oxygen:

    Hi, I’m Russian. I know that Haloween is celebrated in USA and I now what it is, but I never heard about Russian Haloween celebrations. Maybe some company can organise a corporate Haloween party, but I’ve never seen Haloween parties in Russia. We celebrate St. Valentine’s day, but not Haloween. I also have to say that there’s one Russian unofficial and very old celebratijy like Haloween, it’s Коляда. This celebrating is connected with Xmas, children read religious lyrics and beg for sweets. But, of course, Коляда is celebrated only in countries, but not in cities. This celebration is not very popular.

    Outstanding post, thank you!

    • yelena:

      @Oxygen Thank you for reading, complementing and commenting! You know, Коляда somewhat reminds me of Halloween. But turns out, there’s another very old traditional holiday, Духов День, that’s actually more in the spirit of the All Hallows Eve. I think at this point the traditions of Духов День are mostly forgotten though and official calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t dwell on any customs that even hint at язычество.

  3. Minority:

    Well, actually, Russians celebrate Halloween. It’s not a holiday for every person, but most of young people like to make some costumes and make up.. every cafe and club prepare special program for this day.
    I’ve never heard about corporative celebration, but may be some companies do such things)

    As for me, I’m not fond of parties, not good at make-up and costumes, so I don’t do anything special during this day.)

    About Коляда. It’s not very popular. Mostly ’cause we used to be suspicious about any stranger. But there’re one more pagan tradition of Christmas – гадания [fortune-telling]. It’s non-orthodox thing, priests don’t like people do it.. but people (esp. girls) like it very much. Most of them are about knowing something about суженый [intended]. There’re plenty of гаданий:

    1. Go after midnight in the street, ask first man about his name – it’s name of your intended.
    2. Take 2 mirrors, place a candle between them, then watch – you should see your intended.
    And a lot of something like that – to see him in your dream, to learn if you will marry this year… )))

    • yelena:

      @Minority Minority, спасибо! Очень интересно узнать, как же сейчас празднуют Хэллоуин в России. А Вы еще говорите, что Вы – не писатель 🙂

  4. David Roberts:

    Excellent post! The bit near the end “this holiday is simply «не наш» [not our own] and «угрожает народным традициям и обрядам» [threatens national traditions and customs].” very much strikes a chord with me as an anglichanin. Until about 10-20 years ago we in England were vaguely aware of Halloween but we largely ignored it. Instead we had “bonfire night” on Nov 5th, when we celebrate the failure of a catholic plot to blow up parliament about 400 years ago. In the weeks leading up to this, kids would collect wood to make bonfires – this involved a lot of harmless children’s gang warfare, with raids to steal from other gangs’ stockpiles. Where I lived used to hide our wood in the communal brick-built air-rais shelters behind the rows of houses. Effigies of Guy Fawkes (the man who was caught in the act 400 years ago) were made and kids would display these on the streets and ask passers by for “a penny for the Guy”. We could buy fireworks even though aged less than 10, and there was a lot of low level mischief done with these – with the occasional highly publicised tragedy when someone got badly burned, lost an eye or worse. On Nov 5th the parents got involved, bonfires would be lit, ofen on waste land at the back of the rows of terraced houses, and the effigy guy would be burned, with fireworks being lit, potatoes roasted in the embers of the fire, and great fun being had by all. It was all rather anarchic, the fire services and teh hospitals used to hate this period, but for us kids (including the ones from catholic famiies) it was one of the big highlights of ghe year.

    November 5th hasn’t died out, but “Health and safety regulations” has made it a much more offically organised and tightly controlled affair, and less fun, though less dangerous. Meanwhile Halloween has been heavily marketed and is now harder to ignore. I’m sure it gives the present day kids a lot of fun, but it is more supervised and not a patch on what used to be <>.

    As for pumpkin lanterns – we used to make them from Swedes.

    This is more of an “English blog” than a Russian blog comment!

    • yelena:

      @David Roberts this is great comment and a very interesting read! what are “swedes”? what kind of veggies are they? anyhow, the old-style celebration with bonfires sounds a ton more fun to me personally than trick-o-treating.

  5. David Roberts:

    Ther are probably several other typos in the comment I’ve just posted but the most important is that I shouldn’t have used a capital s for swedes. It was the root vegetables, not Josefina’s countrymen, that we made lanterns frorm

  6. JoAnne Stein:

    Last year when I was in Russia we celebrated Halloween and even found shops selling Halloween costumes and accessories. I wasn’t in Moscow but heard from friends that the streets and clubs were full of people in costumes celebrating. Because our school teaches English we of course celebrated Halloween with our students. They seemed to enjoy it so I think this holiday is catching on in Russia. I don’t know about the trick-or-treating part though…doesn’t seem like it would work in Russia because you can’t really go door-to-door.

    • yelena:

      @JoAnne Stein Hi JoAnne, you’re right, I too can’t imagine going door-to-door trick-or-treating in Russia 🙂

  7. Rick:

    My impression is that wearing costumes and having parties on 31 October is definitely done now in Russia, at least in larger cities with universities. However, I think this is something that is mainly done by adults.

    In the US, Trick or Treating by children for candy is the main focus of Halloween and is almost universal for children, while only a minority of adults dress up and “par-tay”. I think Trick or Treating by children for candy is not done in Russia, or at least is not very common.

    Is this correct?

    • yelena:

      @Rick Rick, this is correct as far as I know. Trick-o-treating is not done by kids in Russia. Maybe one of our readers and frequent commenters, Minority, can give a better, more detailed, answer?

  8. Minority:

    Rick, as I already said, Russians are very suspicious about other people. As for me, I live in my flat for 12 years. There’re 15 other flats in our porch (so, 15 families of neighbours). I hardly can say what’s their names, though I see ’em quite often.

    So, if I was a mom, would I let my children come to stranger’s flat and ask for treats?) No. =)

    Besides, it’s not our original holiday, so most of us do not know much about its traditions. We know about pumpkins and costumes a lot, and it’s fun. We heard about tricks and treats, but it’s hardly possible by now. And I don’t think russian people buy sweets to Halloween, so they’re not able to give some treats 🙂

  9. Peter L.:

    Этот сайт был очень полезным и содержит полезную информацию. Следите за хороший блог.

  10. locksmith nyc:

    Да уж, в России умеют отмечать праздники!

  11. Memee:

    I was wondering about the comment about the Swedes…it’s funny. They do a form of trick or trick on Easter of all things…the children look so cute and get dressed up.
    Now the next day is Reformation Day…you know, the good rebellious priest tacked his 95 thesis on the door, protesting the notions of the Catholic Church. No disrespect, I ♡ brothers & sisters of all faiths.
    Martin was hidden in Frederick the Wise’s castle in Wartburg, Germany after helping fake the priest’s death. There he worked on translating the bible.
    This coincided with invention of the Ausburg Fortress Printing press. This enabled the bible,previously only read by priests, to read by the common man.

    When your loved one died, you didn’t have to pay the church “INDULGENCES”…CASH $$$, to make sure grandma got into heaven…this was, in fact, like the Jewish money changers in the Temple, a blatant political corruption of the “powers of the “Church.”

    BUT Since no one could read the bible except the priests, they sort of had a monopolist hold on all the poor peasants living around the time Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

    Thankfully, the bible translation SUCCEEDED. The Protestant Reformain was born.

    In the Lutheran Church today, they decorate the altar in red and CELEBRATE this great day!

    I enjoy Halloween as one of my favorite holidays. I think about freedom, dreams, the spirit of faith, faking it a bit to understand rules & laws are guides .

    We all have an inner child, a secret magical part of us that believes in people, that we should know the truth and that to share ourselves, through a piece of candy, our favorite dressed up hero, recalling princesses and princes?

    Is the great power of faith and the human spirit. The Spirit of our maker, how and whoever we might chose to call him, lies within in our hearts and minds. Together we share ourselves by our actions, our love and coming together to share the simple pleasure of enjoying a child’s face when they nervously walk up, ring your bell and say Trick or Treat.

    I stock my candy bowls overflowing, invite them to ” help themselves,” then remind them to pick a special treat for mom, dad or their grandparents waiting in a car, or walking with them. I have watched the children grow up: many families bring their kids in from the country as I live a Southern state, but I live in a small housing development built in the early 1990’s.

    Happy Halloween and enjoy reading the bible, the Quran, the Tipitakas, the Sheemad Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Vedas, the Gurbani, the Four Books, the Avesta, the Tap Te Ching, Kojiki, the Agamas, Kitåb-i-Aqdas, Torah, the Great Spirit, the Asatru (had to throw that in, I am mostly Swedish), to the folks who have the oldest cultural history on our earth and understand through the Tjukurrpa (The Dreaming- translated as ‘to see and understand the law, ‘ information or stories shared by the Australian aborigines…how many other beautiful faiths do I not even know?

    The summation of my lengthy comment is simple: pursue the love for our children with the simple memorable gestures that they will treasure. Let your actions speak louder than your words in demonstrating care for others, our entire world, not just our individual spaces or countries. Share the candy, the laughter and your dress up vision of fun and heros, one day a year.
    Happy Halloween!

    Blessings- Simplee Red,
    The Good Witch of the East!