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High Days and Holidays

April Holidays

April Fools’ Day Wednesday, April 1

Sometimes called All Fools’ Day or Day of Laughter; this is one of the most lighthearted days of the year. Its origins are uncertain. Some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons, while others believe it became widely observed in the Western world when a new Gregorian Calendar replaced the old Julian Calendar in the 16th century. The holiday is not rooted in Slavic tradition and came to Russia in the times of Peter the Great with other European influences. As in many other countries April Fool’s Day practices in Russia include sending someone on a “fool’s errand,” looking for things that don’t exist, playing pranks and trying to get people to believe ridiculous things. Even if you do not enjoy April Fools’ Day hoaxes, it is worth remembering the ironic line from Mark Twain: “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them, the rest of us could not succeed.”

Geologists’ Day (Den Geologa) Sunday, April 5

A decree, signed in March 1966 by a high-ranking communist Party official, was timed to the recent discovery of the first oilfields in Western Siberia. Since then, the first Sunday of April is marked as Den Geologa (Geologists’ Day). The profession of a geoscientist was highly regarded in the Soviet Union. Technocratic Soviet society looked at this occupation with respect and appreciation; the work of geologists and geophysicists involved rigorous working schedules in remote areas and under harsh climatic conditions. In the annals of Soviet propaganda, geologists were almost as popular as air force pilots or cosmonauts; they were portrayed in films and on posters as conquerors of nature. But one small difference was never publicly discussed in those days. Unlike other romantic and heroic professions, geoscientists enjoyed relative freedom from officialdom and their way of life served as some kind of an enclave for dissidents. Be this at it may, they were hailed as the embodiment of rationality. As one of the popular Soviet songs dedicated to geologists used to go: “Gather your strength, be strong, you are a brother to the wind and the sun!” Being a geologist was like belonging to an exclusive club. Many representatives of the Soviet intelligentsia–singers, actors and writers took part in geological field trips in their young years. Future Nobel prize winner, Joseph Brodsky was one of them.

Cosmonautics Day (Den Kosmonavtiki) Sunday, April 12

On April 12, 1961, a Russian Air Force pilot named Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, becoming “the Columbus of the Cosmos.” During lift off, Gagarin is known to have shouted: “Poyekhali! (Off we go!).” His historic flight on “Vostok 1” lasted only one hour and 48 minutes, but we are told that it changed the modern world as we know it. Gagarin became a national Soviet hero. In the sixties, every third boy born in the USSR was called Yuri. The significance of this holiday, established in the USSR on April 9, 1962, has never been played down, even in the difficult 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In modern times, Cosmonautics Day’ celebrations usually begin near Gagarin’s statue in the suburban city of Korolyov (Moscow Region), where Soviet Mission Control Center was located. Processions stream in to Red Square’s Kremlin Wall Necropolis to visit Gagarin’s grave and continue on to Cosmonauts Alley, a pedestrian street which leads up to the Monument of the Conquerors of Space in North Moscow. High officials usually use the occasion to visit space facilities and space-related locations such as Cosmonaut Training Center in the Star City.

Orthodox Easter (Paskha) Sunday, April 19

Russian Orthodox Easter is usually celebrated a week or two later than in western countries. The Holy Fire that is lit every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem the day preceding Orthodox Easter is believed by Orthodox Christians to be a miracle. A group of pilgrims delivers the Holy Fire from Jerusalem to the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow for the night service.

Easter celebrations have revived in Russia since the demise of the Soviet Union, with both practicing Christians and non-believers paying tribute to tradition. For the Orthodox, the celebration of Easter begins on Saturday night with a liturgy that often lasts into the early hours of Sunday. The service culminates in a grand midnight procession when all proclaim: “Jesus is risen!” The crowd in the church responds –“truly risen!” After the service, jubilant greetings are followed by members of the congregation kissing three times, and the exchange of Easter eggs. Parishioners and non-believers have family feasts with special dishes, including Easter cakes and generously spiced and sweetened cream cheese (paskha). People also bring cakes and other food to church on Easter Saturday to be blessed by priests. Russia’s other Easter traditions include painting and coloring eggs and cracking them on Sunday.

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