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High Days and Holidays

September Holidays
Text by Elena Rubinova

The Day of Knowledge Tuesday, September 1

The start of September heralds the beginning of the new school year in Russia, when millions of children across the country return to the classroom after the summer break. Most universities and colleges also start the new academic year on this day. Regardless of what day of the week September 1 falls on each year, it is a Russian tradition to celebrate education on this day: the first day back to school is known as The Day of Knowledge (Den Znanii). Officially the holiday was set up in September 1984 and was a major event in the Soviet Union and continues to be so today. Russians still place great hope in education, so September 1 was inherited by the new Russia as an important date.

It’s a very special time for the first-graders: streams of young children, accompanied by their parents, assemble in front of school for opening ceremonies. For a day schools all across Russia turn into botanic gardens: literally hundreds of pupils bring bundles of flowers for the teachers. The day involves speeches and ceremonies, with the new classes lining up for the first time, as well as the First Bell where a first-year girl is lifted on the shoulders of a final- year male pupil, and paraded around, ringing the first bell of the school year. In Soviet days the boys would have been wearing brand new military-styled uniforms. The girls would have worn white hair bows, blue dresses, and white pinafores. There are no longer uniforms in most Russian schools, but children as well as their parents traditionally dress up for this day.

It is now, sadly, also a day of remembrance. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the terrible events at School No. 1 in Beslan ( Northen Ossetia ) in 2004 when a group of armed terrorists, demanding an end to the war in break away Chechnya took 1,100 people hostage including more than 700 children.

Moscow’s City Day Saturday-Sunday, September 5-6

As usual on the first weekend in September, Moscow celebrates its birthday within the framework of the annual City Day. The date was introduced by Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) in 1986 when he was the Secretary of the Moscow City Committee. This year Moscow city authorities promise modest festivities for the 862nd anniversary of the Russian capital, taking into consideration the current financial situation. The celebrations begin on the Saturday with a series of parades and events including a procession of floats and city officials along Tverskaya Ulitsa finishing up at the Kremlin. Other celebratory events – there are about 500 this year including fairs, street entertainers, sports contests and live music; and there will be plenty of stalls selling food and drink lining the streets. Over 3.5 million people are expected to participate in the festivities.

International Day of Journalists’ Solidarity Tuesday, September 8

This date was established as a professional holiday in 1958 by the International Union of Journalists and has achieved official recognition by the UN. The date has not been chosen randomly, and falls on the day of imprisoned Czech journalist and anti-fascist Julius Fuchik’s tragic death. Fuchik wrote a book entitled Notes From the Gallows from prison.

Now the world scenario has changed. The political situation and developed technology seems to be in favor of journalists, but the threats to journalists have not deminished: journalism is still rated among the most dangerous professions and according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) over the past 12 years more than 1,100 journalists and media staff have been killed in the line of duty. IFJ considers modern Russia to be one the most risky places for journalists to work together with such countries as China, Belorus, Iran and others. The IFJ review shows that of the 313 journalists’ deaths in Russia since 1993 up to 124 have died as a direct result of their profession. In recent years the trend has worsened for journalists who criticize the authorities. Every year there are on the average around 80 attacks on journalists in Russia.

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) Sunday, September 19

The Russian Jewish Community all across the country celebrates the Jewish New Year that begins in the fall with the celebration of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These two holidays form the High Holiday period, arguably the most significant time in the Jewish year, as it marks the chance for repentance and forgiveness in the eyes of God. During the High Holidays, Jews cleanse their souls and get the chance to make a fresh start with an unburdened conscience and the intention of doing better in the coming year. It is a time for cleansing and renewal, a chance to receive forgiveness and clear the slate. The importance of the holiday is reflected in its two-day observance; most Jewish holidays are celebrated for only one day. It is customary on Rosh Hashanah to set the dinner table with one’s finest linen and china, and to wear new, special clothing to express the importance of the occasion. Apples and honey served for the holiday symbolize the hope for a good year.

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