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High Days and Holidays

November Holidays

Day of National Unification Wednesday, November 4

his is the youngest of all state holidays in the new Russia and since very recently an official day off. Only in 2005 did the State Duma finally scrap the October Revolution memorial day holiday, traditionally held on November 7; after an attempt to turn it into the Day of Pacification and Agreement. The anniversary of the October Revolution became an official pretext to organize pro-communist rallies and other protests; hard-liners still marched under red banners and the government decided to solve the problem radically. The new date was not chosen by chance. The new holiday is supposed to refer to events in 1612, when the Polish army was expelled from Moscow by troops led by Minin and Pozharskiy. Mikhail Romanov was crowned Tsar the following year and the “Smutnaya Vremya” (“Dark Ages” that stand for disarray between Rurik and Romanov dynasties) came to an end. The Romanov’s ruled for 300 years.

November 4 is also the traditional Orthodox Christian celebration of “Icon of Kazan God Mother” which was a talisman of the Minin and Pozharskiy troops. This icon was carried before their regiments as they fought to regain the capital from the Poles. When the Polish army was finally driven from Moscow, victory was attributed to the intercession of Mother of God, and the Kazan icon became a focal point for Russian national sentiments.

The vast majority of the Russian population is not against the idea of yet another holiday, but is absolutely indifferent in regards to what exactly is being celebrated. In 2008 less than 28% of respondents in the survey conveyed by the ‘Levada Analytical Center’ were able to name the holiday marked on November 4. The majority consider November 4 to be an “empty”, “false”, or “forced” holiday and 40% of recipients who participated in the VSIOM poll considered the date to be an alternative to November 7 and complain that this holiday was “withdrawn”. Despite the change of date, every year ultra-nationalist groups use the new date for political manifestations and rallies.

Day of Militia Tuesday, November 10

Unlike the newly established holidays, some Soviet professional holidays are very enduring, and have outlived the regime itself. The Soviet version of a law enforcement agency, as opposed to the secret police was the militia, founded in 1918. The USSR was rather lacking in social service agencies and militiamen had a broad mandate not only to maintain public order, but also to issue internal and foreign passports, register foreigners and citizens and keep track of domicile registration. Later on a special traffic police unit, now called GAI, was formed. The Day of Militia was established back in 1962 as a professional holiday with the slogan: “my militia protects me!” which has survived up to recent times. Maybe militia workers still unite for celebration on that day, but the public image of the Russian militia is far from ideal. Over 65% of the Russian population feel unprotected and furthermore see themselves as potential victims of power abuse on behalf of law enforcement agencies. Many visitors from abroad, especially from ex-Soviet republics, report cases of blackmail, artificial visa problems and prefer to pay a bribe than spend a few hours in the police station having their papers checked. The struggle against corruption seems to be an on-going campaign: just last month the Minister of Internal Affairs ordered the police to eradicate corruption among staff within a month. However, it seems that the minister has ordered the ‘militia’ to do the impossible – a kind of ‘mission impossible operation’ – because, according to Russian Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev, the highest level of corruption in state organs is in the police.

Beginning of Christmas Fast Saturday, November 28

The 40 days prior to Christmas from November 28 are known as Advent. For these 40 days, Orthodox Christians fast in spiritual preparation for the Feast. This fast is known as either the Christmas Fast or as St. Philip’s Fast, starting as it does the day after St. Philip’s Day on November 27. During this fast, Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy products and eggs. It is not as strict as Great Lent however, and on some days fish is allowed, as is food cooked in oil. However there are also strict days, in particular, the last week before Christmas is a strict fast. In Russia nowadays a growing number of Christians do not follow strict fasting guidelines, but the main fasts are generally observed by believers. Some restaurants offer special food for those on fasts. Besides food restrictions, Orthodox Christians try to pray more, as well as observe confession and communion. Christmas Eve is a very strict fast day. A Russian tradition is to fast during the day until the first evening star is visible, and then the dinner that follows is very much a celebration, although, meat is not permitted immediately. Traditionally, the “Holy Supper” consists of 12 different foods, symbolic of the 12 Apostles. Kutya, a type of porridge, is the primary dish. It is made of wheat berries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest.

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