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Inventing Russian Holidays

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Every year around this time, the Russian State Duma adopts a law declaring which days in the following year are going to be legal holidays. And, this being Russia, the process is always way more complicated than you’d expect. First, in order to create as many three-day weekends as possible, the lawmakers play around with the weekends themselves. Thus, if a holiday falls on a Thursday, for example, the law will declare Friday a non-working day as well, but in exchange for this, the following Sunday will be made a work day instead, thus creating an “early three-day weekend” out of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Second, there’s the vexing problem of two clusters of holidays close together – in January there’s the New Year (the biggest holiday of the year in Russia for some reason) followed by the Orthodox Christmas a week later, while in May there’s International Proletarian Solidarity Day (now renamed Holiday of Spring and Labor) followed by Victory of the Soviet People over the Germano-Fascist Invaders in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) Day nine days later. This one exists because the Red Army disobeyed Stalin’s orders during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). The Generalissimo had given explicit instructions that Berlin was to be taken on 1 May, but the plan wasn’t fulfilled on time due to fiercer than expected resistance on the part of the German people who were being liberated.

Third, in a country with some of the fiercest winters on earth, there seem to be far more holidays in the middle of winter than in the middle of summer. This largely benefits the well-to-do classes, for example the very people who adopt these laws about holidays in the first place. Because of the above-mentioned January cluster, the parliamentarians have a tendency to simply declare the whole first half of January a national holiday, when the government, financial institutions, and large enterprises all grind to a halt for more than a week, and those who can afford it fly off to catch some sun in exotic places like the Seychelles or the Dominican Republic, or perhaps some winter fun in the Russian elites’ favorite Alpine ski resort, Courchevel. The bulk of the population, however, gets a forced vacation it doesn’t want or need, and just sits around at home getting drunk and watching TV during the shortest and coldest days of the year.

And finally, as befits a society where history is constantly subject to revision, the holidays keep changing every year! Below we present our exclusive translation of an article from the Utro.ru daily electronic newspaper that discusses what the Russian holiday picture may look like in 2009, so you can go ahead and start penciling the dates in on your calendars!

holi121108.jpgNew holidays being imposed on Russians
09 December, 13:27 | Anton MESNYANKO

Deputies of the lower chamber of parliament are continuing to break their heads over what days in the year 2009 are going to be non-working. Tomorrow at a plenary session of the State Duma, the people’s choices will examine the latest proposals on introducing changes in the existing list of days off. About this on the basis of the results of the session of the Council of the Duma reported the head of the profile committee, vice-speaker Oleg Morozov.

The people’s choices are going to have to discuss nine alternative drafts of amendments to art. 112 of the Labor Code of the RF. However, not one of them has a chance of being taking flesh in reality: deputies from “United Russia” have already declared that they will not support the proposed amendments.

Now, besides Saturdays and Sundays, at the disposal of Russians are 12 non-work days. Half of them fall in January, when in Russia is announced the New Year recess. Another two days off are given for the celebration of the “women’s” and “men’s” days – 8 March [International Women’s Day, which has lost any revolutionary flavour it might have once had and has become a very bourgeois celebration of old-fashioned pre-feminist womanhood–Trans.] and 23 February [Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, formerly known as Red Army Day, when the male virtue of warriordom is celebrated–Trans.]. Two non-work days fall in May – the Holiday of Spring and Labor and Victory Day. The remaining two days off fall on the Day of Russia (12 June) and Day of National Unity (4 November) [Created several years ago to replace the Communists’ Great October Socialist Revolution Day on November 7–Trans.].
Most of all, it is the Day of Russia that gives the authors of the amendments no peace.

A series of parliamentarians are proposing to move the day off from 12 June to the 6th – the birthday of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin. Others, like, for example, deputy Gennady Gudkov, instead of the Day of Russia, about which “it is not comprehensible for whom it was thought up”, want to make the Day of Cosmonautics, commemorated on 12 April, an official holiday. “Show me even one person who celebrates the Day of Russia. This day was artificially created, after all, like the Day of National Unity. They’re now appointing all the holidays in our country, like they do the governors”, – bridles the parliamentarian. But the deputy is convinced that the Day of Cosmonautics, on the other hand, is something that people “unequivocally” will commemorate “sincerely”, after all “we were the first in the world to go beyond the bounds of the earth’s gravity”.

Certain deputies have proposed moving the Day of Russia from 12 June to 21 September. This date they consider “the most historically substantiated”, inasmuch as “on this day in the year 862 [That’s right, 862!–Trans.] began the reign of the Rurikid princely dynasty”. Together with this, Oleg Morozov connected this date with the anniversary of the signing by Boris Yeltsin of an ukase on the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet of Russia in the year 1993 [Why go so far back in history? Wouldn’t an even more appropriate date for the Day of Russia be 7 October, the birthday of National Leader Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin?–Ed.].

Besides this, in a series of draft laws is contained a proposal to introduce a 13th day off. In the capacity of such a one is named that same Day of Cosmonautics and, as paradoxical as this may be, 2 September – the day of victory over militarist Japan, which Soviet troops secured in the year 1945 [The Japanese surrender had occurred several weeks earlier, shortly after the dropping of the two atomic bombs, but the formal surrender was signed on 2 September; no comment about Soviet troops having secured the victory–Ed.]. Besides this, a series of legislators are proposing to bring back a day off on 7 November – on the day of the October Revolution.

A multitude of proposals, as could be expected, raised the question of the possibility of moving the January days off to the beginning of May. Speaker of the Federation Council Sergey Mironov proposed reducing the New Year days off by one day and increasing the May holidays. He asserts that it will be better for the health of citizens if they could rest longer specifically in spring. Deputies of the Yaroslavl duma are proposing to limit the celebration of the New Year to three days – from 31 December through 2 January, inclusive, – and another two days off to please dacha-dwelling cottagers to move to the beginning of May. Nizhni Novgorod legislators have proposed moving the days off on 3, 4 and 5 January to 6, 7 and 8 May. Victory Day has to be “systemically celebrated”, they declared.

Nevertheless, with a large proportion of likelihood, the status quo will be preserved in relation to holidays. “In society there has not yet formed a consensus relative to when and what we’re supposed to celebrate”, – considers Oleg Morozov. In his words, it will be possible to return to the question of moving the holidays later, when “passions subside, the political context recedes into the background”.