Russian Language Blog

Overview of Public Holidays In Russia Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in Traditions, when in Russia


Russian holidays have been covered several times on this blog. Let us recap all the times Russians get time off for the holidays. This is different from vacation, which can happen at various times during the year. Since Russia adopted several tenets of the European Social Charter in 2002, employees are entitled to 28 calendar days of vacation a year. In addition to that, there are several holidays when people get time off.

New Year Shutdown

If you’ve ever been to Russia or have talked to a Russian friend, you know that New Year (Но́вый год) is a huge deal in Russia. Currently, people get some 10 days off, starting on December 31. Before the official holiday shutdown, people have parties at work.

People start celebrating on New Year’s Eve, when family and friends gather around the table for a never-ending feast that lasts a few hours. Many people schedule trips overseas or to their dachas for the holiday shutdown.

Towards the end of the winter shutdown, Russian Orthodox Christmas (Рождество́) comes on January 7th. Unlike in several European and American countries where it is the major winter holiday, Christmas in Russia is much more toned down and is seen as a religious and family celebration.

Reciprocal Holidays

Two holidays are only a few weeks apart and are, de facto, a chance for men and women to show appreciation for one another. February 23 (23 февраля́) started as the Day of the Soviet Army and later became the Defender of the Fatherland Day (День защи́тника Оте́чества). While it is technically a day to pay tribute to all the people who have served Russia over the years — including military and medical personnel regardless of gender — this holiday is widely perceived as a celebration of men. Women at work and in school collect some money to buy their male colleagues small gifts or to throw a party around the table (накры́ть стол – verb, or засто́лье – noun, can both describe this tradition).

Men return the favor on March 8 (8 ма́рта), which marks International Women’s Day. Originally a holiday meant to promote working women’s causes, it has become an occasion to show appreciation for women, when men give the women in their lives gifts and organize parties. March 8 also serves as a Mother’s Day of sorts, when children, regardless of gender, give presents and holiday cards to their female relatives and teachers.

Pomp and Circumstance

May marks another long public holiday that many take advantage of to travel or unwind locally. May 1 is International Workers’ Day. The holiday, which has roots in US and European labo(u)r movements, used to be associated with communist parades in the USSR. It has been re-branded as “Day of Spring and Labour” (День весны́ и труда́) in post-Soviet Russia in a nod to the pagan roots of May Day and has largely lost its focus on workers’ rights and the political left. Some people do hold rallies to voice their concerns about various areas of life, while most are just happy to get the day off.

Victory Day (День Побе́ды), observed on May 9, celebrates victory in World War II, known in Russia as Вели́кая оте́чественная война́ (Great Patriotic War). Parades are held and WWII veterans are honored.

In practical terms, people often get some three days off for May 1 and then also May 9. Many try to bridge the gap by taking the days between the two off and having a mini-vacation.

Confusing History

The remaining two holidays on this list are united not so much chronologically as by being relatively recent and not enjoying high public visibility. Russia Day, День Росси́и, is celebrated on June 12. It marks the day Russia declared sovereignty from the USSR. Many Russians are not sure of the exact date or what they are celebrating, to the point where almost half of poll respondents thought it was called “Independence Day.”

Another holiday that causes similar confusion is Unity Day (День наро́дного еди́нства). Traditionally, November 7 commemorated the October Revolution in the USSR. As Russia tried to divorce itself from its Soviet past, another holiday was established around the same time, meant to commemorate the unification of various opposition forces to the foreign intervention of 1612.

However, historians have expressed doubts about the holiday’s roots. Just like Russia Day above, Unity Day is confusing for many Russians, who still welcome the long weekend it brings.

Have you been in Russia for any of the holidays above? What celebrations did you witness or take part in? Are any of these holidays celebrated in your country?

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    Another important day is День города – day of the city, which I believe is connected to its founding. Please correct me if this is wrong. It is a day to celebrate the city. I have seen and taken part in these celebrations in Turukhansk (in northern Siberia), Yalta, Moscow and in St. Petersburg. Great fun!

    • Maria:

      @Moonyeen Albrecht Moonyeen, absolutely. These are different in every city, obviously. Some of the Muslim regions of Russia have additional public holidays to mark religious celebrations.