Russia is known for its generous amount of public holidays and spring also offers many opportunities for locals and tourists to relax and have fun. Enjoy our list of events you can’t miss this spring.
Maslenitsa (4-10 March)
The week before Lent (post in Russian) is known as Maslenitsa and is one of the most popular Russian tradition. Running from March 4th to the 10th, and known in other cultures as Mardi Gras or Carnival, it gives an opportunity to fatten up for a whole week in preparation for 40 long days and nights of fasting. Though Maslenitsa has been absorbed into Ortodox tradition, it has ancient pagan roots and coincides with the period when the ancient Slavs would celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of spring (regardless of the fact that it is probably still snowing), hence many pagan activities, such as the burning of a scarecrow representing winter, are key elements of Maslenitsa.
Throughout the week you will find restaurants and cafes across town promoting special pancake menus, while in the city's major parks there will be special traditional events and concerts organized daily, as well as mounds of pancakes on offer. We advise to check two celebrations in the city:
On 10 March at the Kirov Central Park of Culture (TsPKiO) on Elagin island, a traditional Maslenitsa celebration, “Shumi, Maslenitsa!” (Make Noise, Maslenitsa!), will take place featuring games, ice skating, folk music concerts, sport contests, an equestrian show, carnival rides, and singing and dancing competitions. The finale will include a folk disco, bonfires, and a pyrotechnics show. The festival promises to not only acquaint guests with the varied traditions of Maslenitsa, but will also lighten up your winter blues, giving you the strength to get through the waning cold weather en route to warmer days.
Maslenitsa will go forward on Hare’s Island at the Peter and Paul Fortress on 9-10 March. As part of the festivities there will be a folk crafts fair, events for children, competitions, folk dances, ice-skating, and the traditional burning of the Maslenitsa scarecrow, which says farewell to winter and ushers in spring.
Women’s Day (8 March)
In Russia in 1917, women gathered on the last Sunday of February to rally for bread and peace. This demonstration was part of the movement that led to the February Revolution. Four days later, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate and women won their right to vote. After converting the February date to the Julian calendar, March 8th became Women’s Day. Following the October Revolution of the same year, Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make the day an official holiday and during the Soviet period they continued to rejoice ‘the heroic woman worker’. Women’s Day is still celebrated across all of Russia and gifts are given to girlfriends, mothers, daughters, sisters, female staff etc. – you’ll see men all over St. Petersburg waiting keenly at metro exits, clasping bundles of roses. It is one of the most popular holidays in Russia, second only to New Year - flowers are sold by the million!
Easter (28 April)
For many people in the west Easter is all about chocolate eggs and the Easter bunny. In Russia the Easter celebration is much about the religious aspect, although as it marks the end of Lent there is also a fair amount of eating involved, too. Russians typically celebrate Easter by eating kulich, a puffy raisin cake made from eggs, butter and topped with powdered sugar, as well as those lovely dyed or painted hard-boiled eggs. During the week before Easter keep your eyes open as markets, shops and street hawkers sell kulich and prior to the holiday, Russians often bring their cakes to church to be blessed by a priest.
The Easter service itself actually begins the night before Easter Sunday. People gather at church at around 23:00 to hear the Easter mass. At the end of the service, all the lights in the Church are turned off, except for the holy flame on the altar. Then at the stroke of midnight, Easter begins. The priest lights a candle from the holy flame and the congregation lights its candles from his, until the whole church is bathed in candle light. Bells begin to ring out across the city and the priest will then lead the congregation around the church three times in what is called 'the cross procession'. Finally, the doors of the iconostasis are opened symbolizing the opening of Christ’s grave after his resurrection. Easter services tend to last well into the night, although it is perfectly acceptable to arrive for just part of the service and light your candles. Finally, after the service people head home and get ready for a day of feasting on Easter Sunday. If you are interested check the Kazan cathedral, the Easter service there is just beautiful.
Spring and Labour Day (1 May)
International Workers' Day or Spring and Labour Day as it is now known, initially came about to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago where workers were striking for an eight-hour workday. After a bomb was thrown the police, who had been trying to quell the demonstrations, reacted viciously killing dozens of demonstrators. The first legal celebration of this holiday occurred in Russia in 1917, although there had been illegal manifestations in the years prior. It was important an important state holiday in the Soviet Union, with elaborate parades held in major cities. Of course, Red Square was the epicentre of celebrations and where the General Secretary of the Communist Party would preside over the festivities. While the further Russia moves away from its communist past the less salient is its original meaning, it is still an official state holiday. While there are still some popular celebrations held, it is a shadow of its former self, and is more representative of the beginning of the warm weather season, and more immediately, the beginning of the long May holidays period, the spring equivalent to the New Years holiday.
Victory Day (9 May)
Victory Day is one of Russia’s most popular public holidays. The date marks the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. The celebrations start at 10:00 with a huge military parade down Nevsky pr. and across Palace Square.
The parade is followed by the famous "Immortal Regiment". Since 2012, millions of Russians participate in this march to commemorate their family members who participated in World War II. In started in the Siberian city Tomsk and today, carrying placards with the portraits of their relatives, people organize marches in cities across the world, from Seattle to Sevastopol. Even Vladimir Putin always leads the march in Moscow, carrying a portrait of his father, who fought in the war. The crowd of a million people becomes a river of pictures of the dead, a stark reminder of the cost of World War II for Russia, flowing down Nevsky pr. It is a very emotional, significant event and everybody can join the march. It starts at 15:00 on Aleksandra Nevskogo Square and ends on Palace Square.
In the evening, a big street party follows with singing, music, and lots of hugs and flowers for the veterans and just for each other. The day ends with a huge firework display over the Neva river and Peter and Paul Fortress area at 22:00.
To get into the spirit of things buy yourself a big bundle of red carnations and greet any veterans you see with a hearty ‘S dnyom pobedy’ (Happy Victory Day) and a flower.
City Day (27 May)
On 27 May St. Petersburg celebrates its 316th birthday. If you are anywhere near the city centre on this day it will be a hard event to miss. The festive events start with the divine liturgy and laying flowers at the monument to Peter the Great on Senate Square. The ceremony will be held with the participation of the city’s first persons. It will end with the march of the honor guard company down the Admiralteiskaya embankment. At the Peter and Paul Fortress, the city day will be marked with the Midday Shot, fired from a cannon at the Naryshkin Bastion. In the Peter and Paul Cathedral, flowers will be laid at the tomb of the Russian emperors. Also on this day, the traditional ice cream festival will be held on Ostrovsky Square, and the Ball of Nationalities will be held at the Spit of Vasilievsky Island. The main event of the day will traditionally be the free concert "Classics at the Palace Square".
Fountain opening ceremony (May 18)
Drawing millions of visitors every year, the fountains of Peterhof are one of Russia’s most famous tourist attractions. Fountains were intrinsic to Peter the Great’s original plans for Peterhof and subsequent generations competed with their predecessors to add grander and ever more ingenious water features to the parkland surrounding the Grand Palace. You simply cannot miss the traditional annual opening ceremony of the fountains in Peterhof. Complete with spectacular views and festive fireworks displays, the event is beloved by both children and adults who visit the park each year. It is worth noting that although this is the ‘official’ turning on ceremony of the Peterhof fountains, the fountains actually will start working from April 29.
Museums night (May 18)
As is tradition, once a year St. Petersburg museums - big and small – keep their doors open to visitors late into the night and often prepare a special program just for that night (one-day exhibitions, concerts, performances, author tours, workshops, historical reconstructions, etc.). Museum Night is an international event that takes place annually in 42 European countries. Nearly 2,000 museums “do not sleep” once a year, opening their doors to all who are interested to see a museum at an unusual time of the day. This year, the event falls on May 18, so if you’re in town, make sure not to miss it!