From time immemorial each folk holiday in Russia had its own, peculiar ceremonies, traditions, songs. The origin of many holidays doesn't often relate to the Christian holidays, as far as the source of most ancient ceremonies lays in the remote times of the past, the times of paganism. Christianity had finished with the religious ceremonies of paganism. However, many traditions were preserved by the people in the forms of merry entertainment and festive occasions, some of them were even adopted to the Christian ceremonies and traditions.
Peter the Great, an outstanding Russian monarch, introduced many changes to the life of Russia and the Russian calendar. For example, Christmas, while remaining one of the main Christian holidays in Russia, is celebrated on the 7th of January, in compliance with the Russian calendar, but not on the 25th of December.
The festive and merry days of Christmas are called yule-tide in Russia. There is no any other holiday celebrated in compliance with so many specific traditions, ceremonies, etc. One of the ceremonies is called Kolyadki. The ceremony includes wishing of wealth and happiness for everybody. During the ceremony a snow-lady is made with a carrot nose, eyes of prunes and teeth of green beans. Lady Kolyada comes to the holiday to congratulate people and enjoy merry games and fun. Lady Kolyada is accompanied by some people bearing stars. They sing and dance in a ring on the snow with fired torches and push the festive Wheel.
By the end of winter, a Pancake week comes right before Lent, it is also called a "cheese week". The Christian historians say that those were really "mad" days in the past. People wore funny masks and costumes, sometimes, men wore women clothing and vice a versa. Such masquerade gave start to merry festival, when nice food and a lot of wine was consumed. A big man of straw was burned as the final act of saying goodbye to the already passed winter. The feast fighting was one more great fun which helped to warm up on cold winter days. Tsars and Grand Princes used to find a lot of fun in feast fighting. At present special performances are held on Pancake week.
Through the whole week people cook pancakes served with honey, caviar, fresh cream and butter. In Russian Pancake week is called Maslyanitsa, this word means "butter" in English. It means that many different food, including butter, may be eaten before the time when Lent comes. On the whole, the pancake week may be segmented into three parts, i.e. meeting of Maslyanitsa on Monday, broad Maslyanitsa, or the peak of festive occasion, on Thursday, and the last day, the good-bye day, which comes on Sunday morning.
Like in all Christian countires the Easter Holiday is also celebrated in Russia. Special round-shaped sweet bread (Easter cakes) is cooked. On the Easter's Eve the Easter cakes are on sale in nearly all bakeries. Moreover, Paskha (rich mixture of sweetened curds, butter and raisins) is also prepared on Easter and eggs are painted in different bright colours. The red egg is considered a symbol of Easter. The Easter egg has many specific purposes, it is a traditional Easter present given to friends and relatives as an Easter salutation . There is a proverb saying that once you wash your face in the water with the Easter egg in it, you will always be healthy and beautiful; the fire will die, if the Easter egg is thrown into it, etc. On Easter people usually visit their relatives. The traditional greeting, if translated from Russian, says: "Christ is alive", the answer is "Christ is truly alive...".
The first Sunday, which comes right after Easter, is called the Red Hill holiday. This day is considered the best for wedding ceremonies. In the past people welcomed spring during this holiday, as if "inviting" it to their lands. The first green leaves on the trees were usually met by singing and dancing in round.
In the Orthodox countries, as well as all over Europe, people celebrate the Holiday of St. John the Baptist. In Russia this holiday is called Ivan Kupalo. Everything in the holiday relates to water. In the past boys and girls used to swim in rivers till late at night, they burned fires and, taking each-others hands, jumped over the fires. If after the jump they still held their hands together, it considered to be a good sign saying that the wedding is close.
The folk holiday called "Troitsa" is widely celebrated in Russia. On Troitsa the houses are usually decorated with fresh green branches. The maiden's clothes are put on the young birch-trees and songs and dances round the birch-trees take place. The garlands made of birch branches and flowers are put into water for fortune-telling.
The August, the last month of the summer season, when the harvest is sown, is usually celebrated by three holidays called "Spas" in Russia.
The first "Spas" is called Honey Spas (August 14);
The second "Spas" is called Apple Spas (August 19);
The third one is called Nut Spas (August 29).
Spas brings cold dew to lands and meadows. After the first Spas honey is collected, the second Spas brings fresh fruit and the third one, nuts.
They still celebrate the ancient holidays in many rural regions of Russia. The urban citizens also remember about these holidays and, somehow, try to stick to old traditions. Try to inform your tourist agency that you would like to watch the ancient Russian traditions and ceremonies, and some special arrangements can be made for you on the days of your visit to Russia. Many tourists use such an opportunity and get a good chance to admire the beauty and peculiar spirit of the Russian culture.