Russian Language Blog

May in Russia – Celebrate, Study, and Plan for Summer Posted by on May 6, 2011 in Culture, Russian for beginners, Russian life, Traditions


«Май» [May] is my second «самый любимый месяц» [most favorite month] to be in Russia. The first one is «август» [August], «по личным причинам» [for personal reasons].

«Весна в разгаре» [Spring is in full force] or to recall the famous line of a fairly obscure poet:

«Это май-баловник, это май-чародей»

[It is May the imp, May the enchanter]

May in Russia is glorious. Winter snow and early spring’s «грязь» [mud] disappear. Instead, «травка зеленеет» [grass is getting greener], «цветёт сирень» [lilacs bloom], «школьники считают дни до летних каникул» [schoolchildren count days to the summer break], «их родители предвкушают начало сезона отпусков» [their parents look forward to summer vacations season].

It is also a month of holidays. Ok, there are only «два больших праздника» [two big holidays], but compared to «апрель» [April], that’s plenty. In short, «настроение приподнятое, праздничное» [the mood is elevated, holiday-like].

The two big holidays of May are «День Весны и Труда» [Spring and Labor Day] formerly known as «День международной солидарности трудящихся» [International Workers’ Day] and «День Победы» [Victory Day].

These two occasions are collectively referred to as «майские праздники» [May holidays], as in

«В этом году на майские праздники россияне будут отдыхать шесть дней» [This year Russians will have six days off from work to celebrate the May holidays]

«Вы куда-нибудь едете на майские праздники?» [Are you travelling somewhere for the May holidays?]

How do Russians celebrate the Labor Day? In the olden (Soviet) days, everything was clear and regimented – «маёвка» [workers’ parade] in the morning, followed by some form of public works project, such as «облагораживание местного парка» [improving a local park] – planting a few trees, picking up trash, repainting park benches, that kind of thing. Then it was off to the «праздничный стол» [holiday meal] with its «шпроты в масле» [sprats in oil] and «салат Оливье» [Olivier salad].

Nowadays the «маёвка» gatherings are still there and «главы местных администраций» [local authorities] still «толкают речи» [informal and not very respectful way of saying “give speeches”; lit. – push speeches] or as newspapers report it «произносят речи» [give speeches]. Various political parties and movements hold «митинги» [rallies], if they manage to get permits from the authorities.

Festivities might continue throughout the day, taking form of «гулянье» [street festival] with live music, performers, and street vendors. As for the «праздничный стол», to borrow a line from another classic, «и какой же русский не любит салата Оливье» [What kind of Russian doesn’t like the Olivier salad].

A few days later it’s time to celebrate «День Победы» [Victory Day]. I already wrote about Victory Day celebration last year. It is a somber holiday. There is a military parade, «возложение венков и цветов» [laying of wreaths and flowers] at war memorials, «чествование ветеранов» [honoring of veterans], more speeches, and yes, more Olivier salad.

But «застолье» [holiday meal] aside, this is «праздник со слезами на глазах» [a bittersweet holiday; lit – a holiday with tears in one’s eyes] for all Russians. I highly recommend reading the wonderful “Cranes” post that one of our guest bloggers, David, wrote some time ago. It is a translation with cultural notes, of one of the most beautiful and moving songs about «Великая Отечественная война» [The Great Patriotic War].

The rest of the month goes by quickly. Schoolchildren get ready for their end-of-the-year exams. In addition, high school students are getting ready for their university «вступительные экзамены» [entrance exams]. «Студенты» [college students] are in a rush of «подготовка к сессии» [preparing for end-of-semester exams], «курсовые работы» [term papers] and «защита диплома» [final research paper defense].

With this much studying (mostly reviewing previously studied material) going on in Russia in May, we should probably follow the suite . Fortunately, last May we had a few good grammar posts for students of all levels:

Russian Grammar – «по-русски» post reviews various «части речи» [parts of speech]. So if you need to brush up on «существительные» [nouns] or «союзы» [conjunctions], head over here for some helpful Russian grammar tips.

Continuing with Russian grammar theme… If you are not sure of how to use possessive pronouns, read this post (it also has some interesting pictures of news headlines from Yuri Gagarin’s space flight).

I can’t pronounce this word, but I sure can spell it – “onomatopoeia”. But really, why did they have to come up with such a hard-to-pronounce and awful-to-spell word to talk about words that are short, simple and fun to learn?

And if you still have time left, find out what being a “person of culture” means in Russia and how to achieve this coveted distinction.

Tags: , , , , , ,
Keep learning Russian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Minority:

    As for me, I never celebrated Labor day, it’s just one more holiday, so good opportunity to go out of the town with friends and open the season of shashlik and barbeque. =)

    And I’m surprised you called Victory day a somber holiday. It’s really one of my favourite holidays. First of all, The Great Patriotic War was a great cross for our country, and this day gave happy and peaceful life for all of us. Everybody knows that fascists didn’t mean to keep the Slavs alive.

    Here, in my city, we have a lot of interesting places and events to visit and take part except the parade. Different exhibitions, parties, marathon race for everyone who would like, bicycle lap around our region (50-100 km, they visit memorials of The Great War), airshow, fireworks…

    • yelena:

      @Minority Hi Minority. I used the word “somber” in a sense of “solemn and mournful”. It is most definitely a great holiday celebrating a defining moment in the history of Russia. It is joyful, but also “со слезами на глазах” as it came at such a terrible cost to the Russian people. Ah, can you send some pictures from the festivities? I can upload them to the blog then so the readers can see (I wish I were in Russia for the Victory Day, but this year it’s just not going to happen).

  2. Nick from California:

    I congratulate the Russian people for their observance of V-E day (Victory in Europe). As an American, I wish our two countries could proclaim April 25, ‘Russia-America friendship day’ in memory of the link-up of armies at Torgau, Germany in the final weeks of the war. Maybe some day this will be done.

    • yelena:

      @Nick from California Nick, as the Russian saying goes “from your lips into God’s ears”. Yes, it would be great to have a Russian-American friendship day.

  3. Peter:

    Thank you very much for your excellent articles from which I learn so much!
    I particularly liked “Летний Сад” Some time ago.

    A comment on an English Idiom. You wrote
    “follow the suite”. Though logical as you have it, the expression really should be written “follow suit”. It comes from playing whist or bridge.

    • yelena:

      @Peter Peter, thank you so much for the correction. The more I learn about English language, the more I realize how illogical it is 🙂 But that’s what makes it so fun.

  4. Learn Russian Online:

    This is SUPER! Spasibo

  5. Minority:

    Елена, извини, у меня нет фотографий с прзаднованием. Я обычно предпочитаю принимать участие, а не фотографировать. А вообще, в этом году мы ездили к родне в другой город, и как раз 9 мая провели в дороге.