Russian Language Blog

Valentine’s Day in Russia – Love It or Really Love It Posted by on Feb 14, 2012 in Culture, News, Russian life

Do you like celebrating Valentine’s Day? If so, then I bet you had everything prepared days ahead – цветы (flowers), шоколад (chocolate), шампанское (Champaign), and, of course, a romantic валентинка (Valentine’s Day card). And if you don’t like this holiday, then you are probably too busy doing all the last-minute shopping to read this post.

День святого Валентина (Valentine’s Day) is a relatively recent addition to Russia’s long list of holidays worth celebrating. Back in the (not so distant) days of my youth, we had no such holiday and instead saved all the card-making and flower-buying for 8 марта (March 8th, Women’s Day).

So I am both amazed and amused by энтузиазм (the enthusiasm) with which Russians now отмечают этот праздник (are celebrating this holiday; lit. marking this holiday). Consider this article in Комсомольская Правда (Komsomolskaya Pravda). Turns out, в Петербурге в день всех влюблённых откроется пункт регистрации вечной любви (a Center for Registration of eternal love will open up in St. Petersburg on Valentine’s Day).

What’s the deal here? Ok, apparently, влюблённая пара (a couple in love) will be able to profess their deep and eternal love for each other in романтическая атмосфера (a romantic setting) complete with розовые воздушные шары (pink balloons), цветы (flowers) and ангелочки (little angels), the latter presumably pictures or статуэтки (figurines). And since no love is official without some form of документация (paperwork), an official certificate will be issued at the end of a ceremony. With love thus documented, couples can proceed to чаепитие (tea drinking).

Here’s something else I learned from the same article. For those wanting to get married instead of all this silly eternal love business, some restaurants will offer венчание по-американски (American-style wedding). And by American-style, they mean по-лас-вегасски (Las Vegas-style). That’s right. Imagine this – while you are waiting for your романтический ужин (romantic dinner), you can surprise your date with a real wedding ceremony complete with алтарь (an altar), пастор (pastor) live from Las Vegas via Skype, кольца (wedding bands), букет невесты (bridal bouquet), фата (bridal veil), живые бабочки (live butterflies) and Элвис Пресли (Elvis Presley) and Мерилин Монро (Marilyn Monroe) as witnesses. And, a few days after the ceremony, you will even get свидетельство о браке (a marriage certificate), exactly like the ones issued in Nevada.

Of course, that’s all fine and dandy if you are in St. Petersburg. But turns out, Екатеринбург (Yekaterinburg) is not a bad place either if you want your Valentine’s Day to be weird. Their plans include массовая прогулка по набережной (a group stroll along an embankment) and массовый флешмоб поцелуй (a group flash-mob kiss). Just to clarify this last one – couples are invited to start kissing during the song from the movie Titanic. For something a bit more mainstream, Yekat will also offer festive ice-skating and decorating trees with paper hearts. And although любовь греет (love keeps you warm), participants will be invited to warm up with a traditional чаепитие (tea drinking).

If you don’t like this holiday (or what’s become of it), then you better spend it in my native Волгоград (Volgograd). Sure, they will also have a kissing flash mob and a film festival. But one of the local churches is organizing a youth встреча (gathering) called Антивалентин (Anti-valentine) where such things as кризис любви (crisis of love) and любовь в поэзии (love in poetry) will be discussed and Catholic and Orthodox Christian saints will be compared. This gathering will conclude with, what else, чаепитие (tea drinking).

But since most of us are not in Russia on this holiday (next year, right?), maybe we can sign our Valentine’s Day cards with a simple «Я тебя люблю (I love you!) or a fancier «Ты всегда в моём сердце» (You are always in my heart). Then put a kettle on the stove, open a box of chocolates and sit down to чаепитие with your loved one.

P.S. As a tribute to the holiday, please post a line from a Russian poem about love. You don’t have to translate it, but if you do know the author and the title, please include that. 

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. Sarahjane:

    Yelena, it’s not a poem, but I had to mention this beautiful Russian word:

    ОДНОЛЮ́Б, -а, м. Человек, к-рый всю жизнь верен одной своей любви. (англ. constant lover).


  2. David Roberts:

    Мне нравится, что вы больны не мной, by Марина Цветаева

    This is the final verse:

    Спасибо вам и сердцем и рукой
    За то, что вы меня – не зная сами! –
    Так любите: за мой ночной покой,
    За редкость встреч закатными часами,
    За наши не-гулянья под луной,
    За солнце, не у нас над головами, –
    За то, что вы больны – увы! – не мной,
    За то, что я больна – увы! – не вами!

  3. Rob McGee:

    I admit I sympathize with Russians who object to St. Valentine’s Day as a yet another example of “creeping Americanism” — after all, Russia already has Восьмое марта as a day for giving flowers and chocolates, and what’s more, Valentine’s Day is only about three weeks before this! It seems like “overkill” to have two such days less than a month apart. (As an American, I love having roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce on for Thanksgiving — but in many families, we have exactly the same dinner for Christmas, only a month later!)

    If Russia really needs a second “flowers and chocolates” holiday, why not invent and proclaim a “Cupid’s Day” in early September — that is, six months after Women’s Day — instead of simply copying Valentine’s Day, which is a secularized American custom loosely based on a Roman Catholic saint?

    On the other hand, Russia does not have a “native” day for маскарады (“costume parties”), so I can understand why Хэловин has become popular for many young Russians. Costume parties are fun, and if you make your costume instead of buying it, a маскарад encourages creativity. But до того, когда Хеловин был заимствован из “Пиндостана” (before Halloween was borrowed from “Gringoland”), there wasn’t a special holiday in Russia as an excuse to have a маскарад.

    On the third hand, we in “Pindostan” really had no particular need to borrow the Irish-Catholic holiday of St. Patrick’s Day, since we already had Thanksgiving and July 4th as occasions to have a parade, to eat special foods, and (in some cases) to drink too much. Even so, millions of Americans who aren’t Irish or Catholic participate in St. Patrick’s Day to some degree, just because it’s fun. However, “celebrating St. Patrick’s Day” usually isn’t very expensive — 17 March is a day for wearing green plastic beads and maybe a green-dyed carnation, not for sending huge bouquets of roses. A few cities that have large Irish populations, like NYC and Boston, may spend public dollars on a St. Patrick’s Parade because the event attracts tourism, but most cities don’t.

  4. Rob McGee:

    Hmmm, sorry about that off-topic rambling. But I did want to add one thing to finish up that line of thought:

    If Russia really needs a second “flowers and chocolates” holiday, why not invent and proclaim a “Cupid’s Day” in early September

    Better yet, instead of calling it “Cupid’s Day” (after an ancient pagan deity of non-Slavic origin), it could be День Сокола Фениста “Fenist the Falcon’s Day,” or something like that.

    Drawing inspiration from a classic Russian fairy tale about two lovers who are temporarily separated by fate, and one of them trapped in a sham marriage, but eventually they are reunited, the false marriage is dissolved, and the lovers are properly married to each other.

    Of course, there are other сказки about lovers who overcome difficult obstacles in order to be together, that could serve as the basis for a completely Russian alternative to Valentine’s Day, but “Ясный Сокол Фенист” just came to my mind first. (Maybe because Fenist and Cupid both had wings!)

  5. David Roberts:

    Rob, where does Пиндостан (Pindostan) for Gringoland come from? I thought I knew the origin of the Spanish American “Gringo” (GREEN[back dollar flashing person from north of the Rio Grande], GO!], but Pindo?

    The problem with all these special days like Valentine’s, Mothers’ etc is that although they all start off as small scale simple bonding occasions, they have all turned into major marketing events and everyone is made to feel obliged to spend lots more money than is good for them, and made to feel left out if they don’t fit the stereotype.

    But if you can make День Сокола Фениста into a marketing-resistant event, I’m all for it!

  6. David Roberts:

    Forgot to mention – the Halloween business has grown enormously over here. It used to be almost ignored, with November 5th (Guy Fawkes night, aka bonfire night) being much more of a big event (great fun but less of a marketing opportunity except for fireworks manufacturers)

  7. Rob McGee:

    David — Actually, many scholars say that “gringo” is ultimately a corruption of Spanish griego, meaning “Greek.” (As in, “The way those loco Yanquis talk sounds like Greek to me!”) And the claims that “gringo” derives from an English phrase like “Green go” or “Green grow the rushes” are probably pure folk etymology.

    And coincidentally, пиндос in the rude sense of “g*ddamn f*cking American” ALSO basically means “Greek”, believe it or not — although it developed independently from “gringo.”

    Originally, the Russian word пиндос (stressed on the “o”) referred to Greeks living in the Black Sea region of Southern Russia. The word was borrowed directly from a native Greek term that originally signified “a resident of northwest Greece, near the Pindus mountain range” — presumably, the Greeks who settled in Russian territory mainly came from the Pindus region.

    But in the late 1990s, during the Kosovo war, Russian soldiers began using пиндос as a rude term for their U.S. counterparts. Exactly why the word was applied to Americans is unknown — it may have been another example of “their speech is Greek to me.”

    Some have suggested that since there are many Hispanics in the U.S. armed forces, Russians may have heard the “Spanglish” term pendejo (пен-ДЕ-хо) — literally “a pubic hair,” but in Spanish slang “an idiot.” (Many Anglo-Americans who live in regions with large Hispanic populations are familiar with “pendejo”, even if they don’t speak Spanish at all.)

    So, one can speculate that U.S. troops started using pendejo as a “disguised insult” for Russian troops (knowing that most English-speaking Russian translators would not recognize the Spanish word), and the Russians responded by calling the Americans пиндосы. And later, derived words like Пиндостан (“the U.S.”) and the adjective пиндостанский appeared.

    The main thing to remember is that пиндос does not simply mean “Yank”; it means (at the very least) “bloody Yank”. Thus, use it with care.

  8. David Roberts:

    Thanks for this erudite response Rob – griego -> gringo makes sense. And with pendejo and тупой able to mean the same, we come again to welsh twp which we established can mean the same as тупой but doesn’t derive from the same root.

    Back to these special days – will you be celebrating Масленица next week?

  9. Rob McGee:

    will you be celebrating Масленица next week?

    Смотря какие есть планы у моей сестры и зятя — ведь они верующие католики, а я типа атеист, на всяком случае не християнин.

    (It depends on what my sister and brother-in-law have planned — after all, they’re believing Catholics, and I’m sorta-kinda an atheist, and in any case, not a Christian.)

    Два-три года назад, мы с сестрой совместно готовили целую кучу блинов накануне Великого Поста.

    (2-3 years ago, my sister and I collaborated in cooking up a huge pile of pancakes on the “eve of Lent” — i.e., “Shrove Tuesday”.)

    However, my nephew turns 5 this year, and he’s in the church preschool program, so possibly there will be some children’s activity at the church to mark the beginning of Lent, instead of pancakes at home.

  10. Rob McGee:

    From memory, here’s a two-line Russian “poem” about love, author unknown, circa 1993:

    Верный парень, нормальный,
    Ищет спутника жизни.

    I never met the author and don’t know his name; I doubt he had any intentions to be a poet, and I’m sure he would have laughed at the idea that his short объявление (“ad; announcement”) in the Знакомства (“Personals”) section of a бульварный (“low-brow; vulgar”) tabloid newspaper was anything close to “poetry”! Certainly, there’s nothing original or imaginative in the six words; it’s a rather standard and cliched first sentence in a “seeking love” ad.

    But it was poetry for me, as an American student of Russian who was teaching English in Moscow, as a 22-year-old homosexual who had just finished university and had only recently “come out of the closet”; who had already met some young gay and lesbian Russians, and who understood that their futures as gay people in Russia would be a bit more difficult than my own future when I returned home to America.

    For me, back in 1993, there was so much significance packed up in that short ad, which struck me like a haunting крик души из тюрьмы одиночества (“the scream of a soul from the prison of loneliness”).

    The ad probably appeared (if my memory is correct) in the back pages of СПИД-Инфо — which, in 1993, may have been the only Moscow publication that was willing to print gay/lesbian personals ads. (By the way, СПИД-Инфо literally translates as AIDS Info — but make no mistake, this was not a sober-minded educational journal intended to teach the public about AIDS and “safe sex”; it was a sleazy tabloid with celebrity sex-gossip and blurry B&W pictures of pretty women showing their breasts, and aimed mostly — though not exclusively — at heterosexual men. I used to buy it because I’d figured out that it was a good source for slang terms that you don’t learn in a college Russian course, such as трахаться с кем-нибудь (“to screw/bang/shag somebody”).

    So if the same two lines of Russian had appeared in a Brighton Beach newspaper in 1993, they would not have had quite the same Romantic impact for me — they would have seemed less like a послание в бутылке, одновременно полное отчаянием и надеждой (“a message in a bottle, simultaneously full of despair and hope”) — because by 1993, prospects for gays in America were considerably brighter than in Russia.

    It’s also possible that the words sounded more “poetic” to me, as a learner of Russian, than they would to a native speaker. The expression спутник/спутница жизни was quite new to me then, and it struck me as a wonderful, colorful, крылатое выражение (“unforgettably catchy phrase”; literally “winged expression”), though perhaps to a Russian it’s only a moth-eaten banality one sees in Знакомства ads.

    Let me try to explain the wonderful genius that this phrase holds for a foreign student of Russian. Every English speaker knows the word “sputnik”, but for most of us, it’s simply the name of a beep-beep-beep-ing metallic object, smaller than a basketball, that the Soviets launched into orbit in 1957. However, when you’re a beginning student of Russian, they teach you that спутник is actually the generic Russian term for “satellite”, including natural satellites — so the Jovian moons Io, Ganymede, Europa, etc., are спутники Юпитера, “satellites of Jupiter.” A bit later, your teachers explain that спутник can also refer to a person, with the meaning “traveling companion”, and that when used in this sense, it also has a feminine form, спутница. And even later, you are taught how to analyze the Slavic etymology of Russian words: the -пут- in спутник is related to the noun путь (“way” or “path”), and from the same root comes words like попутник, which was sometimes translated into English as “fellow traveler,” a Cold War euphemism for “Communist.” But спутник and попутник are not identical, because the prefix с- suggests a closer and more intimate connection than по- does… [etc.]

    So — with the above in mind — if you’re an American student of Russian in 1993, and you see the phrase спутник/спутница жизни in the “Personals” section of a Russian newspaper, you quickly understand from the context that the meaning is close to “life partner” or “significant other”. But, recalling your professor’s explanation of the difference between спутник and попутник, you know that “life partner” totally fails to capture the metaphorical color of the Russian.

    After thinking about it for a while, I decided that an appropriately poetic and idiomatic translation of “спутник/спутница жизни” would be:

    “a driving buddy for the road-trip of life.”

    [Here’s a question for Russian students of English: Do you know the origin of the word “buddy”? Colloquially, it means “a friend,” but etymologically, it has deeper significance.]

    Anyway, there was another surprise waiting for me. Probably 95% (or more) of the population is heterosexual. Thus, if you saw the phrase “…ищет спутницу жизни” in an ad, you could generally be sure that the subject of the verb искать (“to seek; to look for”) was мужчина, парень, or мужик; and if you saw “я ищу спутника жизни”, you could safely assume that “я” was a женщина or девушка.

    And thus it came as a moment of astonishment when I read the words “парень ищет спутника…”, and I had to stop and remind myself that both парень and спутник were nouns мужского рода (“of masculine gender”)!

    Thus, a парень (“guy”) was looking for another male… not as a mere партнёр (which can signify “sex-partner”), but as a “traveling companion on Life’s journey”. More than that, the парень had described himself as верный (“honest and loyal”), and also нормальный.

    Usually, if a Russian writing a Personals ad describes himself/herself as нормальный/нормальная, you can translate it as “ordinary, likeable, down-to-earth”. But I would assume that for a gay or lesbian in Russia, the word might have a more assertive meaning: “I am not abnormal.”

    From Googling, I find that sputnik zhizni is still a popular phrase today, for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. And nowadays, the expression does not, and cannot, have the same poetic quality that it did back then — because the Internet has taken away much of the одиночество that was once the daily reality for Russian gays and black Republicans and Orthodox Jews with diabetes and other small minorities.

    But Верный парень, нормальный, ищет спутника жизни seemed like poetry to me in 1993, and спутник жизни will always have a poetic quality…

    • yelena:

      @Rob McGee I might end up reposting this as a separate post, Rob, since it has some great cultural insight and very useful vocabulary as well. If you don’t mind, of course.

  11. David Roberts:

    Buddy – I think it originally comes from british english, where it still just about survives as a dialect word, with a different spelling corresponding to a regular sound shift between American and British. I’ll say no more until our Russian friends have had chance to think about it

  12. Delia:

    Очень интересно!! Here’s a link to an interesting article from the other end: what a Russian journalist thinks about Valentine’s Day in Russia:

    No need to invent a new holiday in Russia: the author writes about Дeнь святых Петра и Февронии, который отмечается 8 июля.

    • yelena:

      @Delia Delia, thank you for the link. I liked reading it, but especially checking out the comments.

  13. David Roberts:

    Delia, your link is greatly appreciated! I printed it out for our “Zhuravli” group session tonight – next week we’ll use it as a comprehension exercise. The title “Вездесущие розовые сердечки” contain the unfamiliar (to non-russians at our level) word вездесущие. It was a good exercise working it out: везде = everywhere; сущие is obviously a present active participle so working back the 3rd person plural of the parent verb is суть, the now almost extinct word for (they) are. So вездесущие = everywhere-being = ubiquitous. All-pervasive would probably look better in English.

  14. Rob McGee:

    Yelena, I don’t mind if you want to repost it…

  15. Rob McGee:

    Delia, спасибо за ссылку про Петра и Февронию!

    Wikipedia has an English article discussing the secular-folkloric origins of the Petr and Fevronia story. (As with St. Valentine, St. George, St. Christopher, etc., the actual historicity of these individuals is questionable.)

    This particular detail from the legend:

    “…они молили Бога, чтобы им умереть в один день…” (“…they prayed to God, that they should both die on the same day…”)

    …reminded me of the Greek myth of Baucis and Philemon, a “saintly” old couple who were rewarded by the gods by being allowed to die together at the exact same moment.

  16. Rob McGee:

    David: “вездесущие = everywhere-being = ubiquitous”

    Incidentally, uses the noun form вездесущность to translate the theological term “omnipresence” (which is most often used when talking about the monotheist God — not in the context of pink Valentine hearts that seem to be everywhere!).

  17. Nadia:

    Я вас любил, любовь еще быть может,
    В душе моей угасла не совсем…А.С. Пушкин

    • yelena:

      @Nadia Thank you, Nadia. It is a very beautiful poem indeed.