Archive for the ‘Holidays & Tradition’ Category

"You're stronger and bolder from year to year, army of the Soviet people!"

"You're stronger and bolder from year to year, army of the Soviet people!"

Since the holiday began a many year ago when, of course, men defended the country and women stayed home to have babies and cook, I’ll save the discourse on sexist discrimination for another day.

The abbreviated history: the day was started under Lenin to honor those in the Red army, but once “the Fatherland”/USSR fell to pieces, they decided to call it “Men’s Day,” to balance Women’s Day on March 8. Or read the long history.

But, old names stick. Ryan and I went to a concert at the Philharmonic, bearing the name of the former holiday, attracting the age group of people most attached to such a name (i.e., seniors). It was also free, attracting a larger than normal attendance, as well as two poor American students, yours truly. (more…)

Last weekend, a festive craze swept Irkutsk into a mid-winter’s frenzy that would have been hard to produce any other way. Skies beautiful and clear, the winds calm, and the temperatures nothing too extraordinary at this point, there was plenty to be happy about, the first of which might very well have been the fact that winter, slowly, is leaving.

February 8-14 was the last week before the Great Fast (or “Velikii post”), which, in a religious sense, is the equivalent of Carnival or the New Orleans version of Mardi Gras. The weeklong festival is called Maslenitsa, with the root of “maslo” (butter), which is consumed in quantities of “mountains,” as the holiday rhymes go, in order to prepare for the forty-day abstinence from meat, milk and butter, and honey leading up to Easter.

Ryan, Romany, Romany’s ski friend Zhakko, and I decided to go to the cultural center/open-air ethnographic architecture museum, Tal’tsy, outside the city on the way to Listviyanka. (more…)

Wrapping up the end of a semester, year, and decade in Russia came with a few idiosyncrasies, challenges, and definite high points. Hardest of all was being away from family and friends in the comfort of my grandparents’ living rooms, wishing that my Christmas and New Year’s could be white. But, the trade-off turned out to be pretty darn good, too.

The night(s) before Christmas. I spent the few totally obligation-free days before Christmas doing some final shopping for the host family (travel picture book and a bottle of wine for the ladies, and a book of mostly politically incorrect Russian jokes for Yevgenii), wrapping them, and adding some final decorations to my room.

I had bought a package of festive napkins that I ended up using for wrapping paper for said presents and the ones I’d bought for Ryan earlier, adding (baller) hand-made ribbons out of newspaper or brown packing paper. The modest pile of presents (with the ones sent from home) on the window-sill, along with the stockings and snow-flake cut outs (I know, I’m a kindergardener at heart at Christmastime) hung on my shelves made me happy.

(more…)

From Russia on Christmas Eve, wishing everyone and their families the very best for a blessed and happy Christmas.

“Behold, the star they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”
-Matthew 2.9


To properly describe my experience in the realm of the Russian “holiday season,” if such a concept actually exists as a period defined apart from the general conception of everyday life in this country, then I should go back to my Thanksgiving holiday here.

Walking out of a delightful evening of intercultural dialogue (conversation over wine with Russians) on the last Thursday of November, passing the central market, my cohorts and I noticed that within the past few hours, a gargantuan “Happy New Year’s” light-up sign with accompanying fir garlands had been hung on the face of the main shopping mall. That may have made my Thanksgiving more complete than the sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie had.

I don’t consider myself a total minion of the U.S. of Consumerism Culture that I left behind in order to spend the holidays abroad. But, I won’t lie, the probably coincidental Black Friday start of the Russian end-of-the-year shopping season with the Irkutsk central market’s sign-hanging and Christmas-tree construction really did touch my little heart, somewhere between my conviction that Christmas is the “Season for Giving” and my capacity to get an adrenaline rush when I see big red signs including the symbols “-” and “%.”

Thanks to the Soviet reconstruction of, well, everything, (more…)

“. . . Thanksgiving, hooray! / We’re going to dinner / at Grandma’s today,” is the little stanza from Jack Prelutsky’s collection of Thanksgiving-related children’s poetry that I end up recalling every year about this time.

Obviously, I’m in Russia, and obviously, in Russia, American national holidays are not observed. So this year was a bit different. At the same time, I feel like the distance made me think about the whole “cultural exchange” idea in a different light, and out of that, I think I have a much deeper understanding of Thanksgiving, home, and similar luxuries.

The first and foremost discovery of Thanksgiving ’09 was how much the holiday is (and probably most holidays, cultural practices, etc., from which I’ve been isolated for the past months, are) based on tradition.

Here are the deviations from tradition, from unforgivable to perhaps pleasant, that helped me discover this.

1. We had school today. Rating of deviation from tradition: mostly unforgivable. I realized I’m now part of a probably small percentage of American citizens who have ever gone to school on Thanksgiving. Snaps for me, except not really.

(more…)

Proletariat of All Countries, Unite!

As we learned on Tuesday, the day before Wed., November 4, the National Day of Agreement? Peace?, no one really knows what the November 4 holiday is for. People just know that it was created since the fall of the USSR to replace the other, communist-celabratory holiday, today, November 7, the Day of the Great October Revolution (the October referring to the old-style calendar, when the Revolution took place in 1917).

And people also know that November 4 is now a day off work/school. Accordingly, a friend from my econ class, Vova, and I celebrated with beer and conversation the eve of our day off school. Three (or more) cheers for Russia and Agreement!

As for today, Romany and I and our friends Nelli and Ira are getting together to watch My Fair Lady in Russian and make American cookies po-russki, which in no way relates to Lenin’s and his cronies’ takeover of St. Petersburg over the course of a few hours in 1917. Although, Romany and I agreed, that they were overall molodtsi (“good fellows”) for as smoothy as they got the job done. . . as much as they kind of messed up the next century of Russian history, demographics, economy. . . everything. . . .

The People and Army United!Regardless, the beautiful thing about Russian, is that you can just say “S prazdnikom” (“Happy holiday”) whenever there’s an official or un-official holiday, and people generally won’t ask you which one you’re referring to. So to you new Russians and USSR sympathizers alike, s prazdnikom!