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High Days and Holidays

June Holidays
Text by Elena Rubinova

Saturday, June 6th Pushkinsky Day of Russia

lexander Pushkin’s place at the center of the Russian literary canon is unassailable. He is not only the nation’s most revered bard but also the inventor of the modern Russian language. This is the man who bridged the gap between the stylized literary Russian of the past and the vernacular.

For all these reasons, Pushkin’s birthday has been a nationwide holiday since Soviet times when it was marked as a national day of poetry with poetry readings, recitals, discussion groups and lectures.

One can scarcely find a man or woman in Russia who cannot at least manage a line or two of Pushkin’s poetry as if approving the belief that a poet in Russia is more than a poet. It is not unusual to see a child barely four feet tall take the stage and recite from Pushkin by heart for 20 minutes or so. Several years ago an opinion poll held across Russia asked people which Russian they thought had made the biggest contribution to world history. Alexander Pushkin, came second, in between Peter the Great and Lenin. In 1998 the decree of President Yeltsin turned this day into Pushkinsky Day of Russia.

Sunday, June 7th Troitsa (the Trinity)

The Holiday of the Holy Trinity is one of the few feasts that is celebrated as a doctrine instead of an event. The day is devoted to the contemplation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity that sees God as an indivisible unity, but also as revealed in three distinct roles, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The actual Descent of the Holy Spirit also has symbolic meaning: the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on the fiftieth day after Easter and they, never having studied, began to speak in various foreign languages. Through unification, people became united in God. Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Despite the fact that for decades of communism, the celebration of most holidays and religious rituals was forbidden, the custom of decorating churches and houses with trees, plants and flowers, and most often in Russia with young birch branches has survived.

According to the Orthodox calendar, early summer around Trinity Sunday is believed to be a suitable time for weddings.

Friday, June 12th, Russia Day

This is Russia’s newest holiday that until very recently was called and celebrated as Independence Day. For most people in Russia the holiday is confusing because more than a decade after the events of the early 1990s, ideological roots of the holiday split society into the supporters and opponents of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin.

On June 12, 1990 the First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation thus officially burying the Soviet Union. Since 1994, June 12 has been proclaimed Russia’s national holiday. The creation of the post of the President of the Russian Federation, the adoption of a new Constitution refl ecting the new political reality, along with the national flag and anthem of the Russian Federation, were major landmarks in the consolidation of Russian statehood. In 1998 President Yeltsin suggested that the holiday should be renamed Russia Day to avoid discussions about the collapse of the Soviet Union and to emphasize a new national agenda. Officially the name Russia Day was approved in 2002.

Opinions differ whether the time has come yet for a national holiday like this. Many still believe that national holidays should be born inside society before authorities officially institutionalize them. An opinion poll held in 2008 in 46 regions of the country showed that 58% of Russians still do not attribute great political significance to this date, but take it as an extra chance to enjoy an official day off usually spent in the countryside. The early summer is a perfect time for such a holiday in Russia.

Monday, June 22nd The Day of Memory and Grief

Unlike Victory Day on May 9, which is a triumphant event dedicated to winning the Great Patriotic War, June 22 is viewed as a sad, but significant turning point in the county’s history. It is a memorial day when the country commemorates the beginning of war with Nazi Germany that broke out on June 22, 1941. On June 8, 1996 the Russian president signed a decree establishing the date as the Day of Memory for war victims. The day is often observed with candle lighting ceremonies and reburials of soldiers in collective graves by volunteer groups that continue their search for the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers that have never been found.

In 2006, the Russian Ministry of Defense published lists of missing soldiers on a memorial website. This gave another impulse to the work of volunteer battlefield detectives. More than 400 search groups currently work across Russia, especially in the regions that were famous for battlegrounds of the Great Patriotic War. Teaming up with professional historians and archivists and using modern metal detectors, these volunteer groups have achieved really amazing results: since 1990 over 120,000 soldiers have been reburied.

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