Spring, it turns out, is a big deal in Russia.
I dunno. I quite enjoyed the snow. But perhaps when you have endured many more winters than one rather mild one, you do get quite excited when the earth finally heats up enough to sustain actual grass, leaves and tulips.
So perhaps it is not surprising that when this happens, which is the beginning of May in Moscow, Russians decide to celebrate All The Things! At Once! With Decorations! And Days Off! And (in Mama and Papa’s case) digging at my school for the ‘subbotnik’, when Russians get out there and tidy up their public spaces after the snow melts and everybody realises how much rubbish and how little grass is left behind.
Lenin kicked off this spring tradition by carrying a log across the Kremlin once. Papa says the log has increased in size over the years as more and more people claim to have been involved. Cool, huh? That Lenin had some tricks, huh?
It probably helped that that this year Orthodox Easter fell on May 1st too, which is already a public holiday. So Moscow was covered in painted eggs, chicks and other traditional Easter accessories, such as famous model churches from around the world.
Yes, I know you in the Catholic/Protestant block celebrated more than a month before that, but given that I get two Christmases and two New Years out of a weird calendar quirk, the only surprise is that I don’t get two birthdays as well.
Props to the person who decided to place the recreation of Jerusalem in sand, plastercast figures and a real donkey opposite the statue of Karl Marx though. Because the public holiday on May 1st is not officially about spring but actually for the seriously Communist one of Labour Day, just like it is in what I imagine must be that other bastion of Socialist values, the USA. Albeit on a different date.
Mama particularly enjoyed sitting next to the Bolshoi Theatre in the shadow of faux middle eastern palm trees listening to some old guard pensioners sing Soviet songs while drinking vodka and talking earnestly about politics.
Even Lenin in his mausoleum got dressed up for the occasion.
But for the non-partisan amongst us there were just lots and lots of artificial flowers, old shoes and springtime wildlife.
And arts, crafts and music.
And also, the three bogatyrs, the three legendary heroes, who battle dragons, rescue princesses and overcome other obstacles.
Not quite sure what they have to do with spring, but I Do! Not! Care! Because as well as displays of fighting, they offered a challenge to all comers and my Enthusiastic Big Brother and I got to whack away at large mail covered men with lightly padded giant sticks!
The ancient warriors might have been softening us up for the 9th of May.
It’s quite a big kuffuffle is Victory Day in Russia, although to be fair if you can’t celebrate the end of a war that left millions dead what can you celebrate?
There is a parade of such extravagance that it requires weeks of practice and many road closures. If you are Mama, you will stroll by all unsuspecting and be confronted with soldiers standing in little knots planning out their tank positions on one day and with the tanks themselves just a few days later. Goodness only knows what she missed the rest of the time.
We did not actually watch the parade itself, mind you. We went to Gorky Park instead. This is because, traditionally, this is where veterans of the Great Patriotic War meet up in their former units and celebrate, generally just by commandeering some plastic chairs and a table and taking over some pathways for their picnics. While they do this, passers by, especially children, give them flowers. It’s nice.
But not quite as much fun as climbing on the tanks down by the river.
We were so exhausted when we got home that we went to bed early. This was a mistake as at 11pm, the whole of Moscow erupted with firework displays and shouts of ‘oorah!’ from the impromptu street parties outside.
Russians make pretty good neighbours, Mama finds, but when they do cut loose, they do it in style. On which note, I give you, the tank car.
Thankyewverymuch and goodnight.
Not that any of this comes close to the strangest traditions and festivals around the rest of the world…. Probably.
If you want to know more about what to do in Moscow all year round, here is THE guide to Moscow, as written by Mama.
This link will take you to whatever festival Moscow is currently celebrating. At the moment it is fish.
This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how May Day became a workers’ holiday.
Labour Day is May 1st, which is a public holiday. It will be the holiday regardless of which day of the week it falls. If it is a weekend, a weekday will usually be given off in lieu. If it is in the middle of the week, Russians often find themselves working weekends, so they can get a block of days off instead.
Orthodox Easter is not a public holiday and shifts around just like the other Easter does. But because the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one it may (or may not) fall on the same day as the Catholic/ Protestant one. Fun, huh?
Victory Day is 9th May and is a public holiday. See above for the complicated dance this may involve. But basically, you can guarantee that from the 1st to the 9th May in Moscow, there will be lots going on.
Pin for later?