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High Days and Holidays

October Holidays
Text by Elena Rubinova

Monday, October 5 Teachers’ Day

Teacher’s Day is older in Russia than an international date that is celebrated under the same name. Between 1965 and 1994, it was marked on the first Sunday of October, but since 1994 it has been celebrated on October 5, to coincide with World Teachers’ Day set up by UNESCO to highlight the importance of teachers’ role and to commemorate teachers for their efforts.

It is one other day besides September 1 when schools are flooded with flowers. Graduates and former classmates visit their alma maters and apart from being the day when we give recognition to our teachers’ hard work, this day is for informal and heart-felt interaction between students and teachers.

Wednesday, October 14 Pokrov Den Protection of the Mother of God

The Feast of the Protection celebrates the day, over one thousand years ago, when St. Andrew, Fool for Christ, and his disciple, St. Epipanius, stood in church during the Vigil Service and beheld the Most-pure Virgin. Contemplating that event, we pause to consider the church building, to consider who is present, and who prays in the church. The Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God reminds us that Heaven reaches all the way to Earth. The Russian people have fixed this event, which took place in faroff Constantinople so many centuries ago well in their memories. They have made the day of its commemoration their own day, a Russian holiday in honor of the Most-pure Mother of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In times of national misfortune, as in times of individual trials and sorrows, Russian people rush to God’s temples, rush to the Protection of the Mother of God, and ask of the Queen of Heaven her protection and assistance. At many difficult times, Orthodox peoples have received help, comfort, strength, and salvation from the Mother of God.

Traditionally this day marked the autumn season of weddings in Old Russia and young unmarried ladies went to Church to pray so that God would send them good grooms. The Russian omen says: the more snow that falls on this day, the more weddings there will be this year.

Friday, October 30 Memorial Day of the Victims of Political Repressions

Soviet political prisoners declared October 30 the Day of Political Prisoners back in 1974. They went on the first coordinated hunger strike and other protest actions, which marked the beginning of their resistance. The Russian Supreme Council decided on October 18, 1991, to proclaim October 30 the Day of Political Prisoners.

In 1991 the monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, called the Iron Felix, which once dominated Lubyanka Ploshchad across from the KGB headquarters, was toppled by a cheering crowd with the help of a crane. The event symbolized the end of the Soviet era and repressions.

From that time on every year human rights activists, representatives of historical and educational associations, ordinary citizens come to the mourning meeting to the Solovetsky Stone installed at Lubyanka Ploshchad in the memory of those who died in the gulags.

According to the Memorial Human Rights Center, some 800,000 people are considered victims of political repression in Russia. The majority of them are children of the persecuted. According to Memorial, roughly 12.5 million citizens of the former Soviet Union can be considered victims of political persecution. The liberal political and cultural elite condemn the repressions and accuse Stalin of being the main perpetrator of horrific crimes against his own people. Views of different groups of contemporary Russians toward repressions show a strong polarization of opinions among the elite, and an extreme ambivalence of the views of the general public. Communist and nationalist political leaders try to deny or diminish the impact of the repressions and glorify Stalin as a builder of a great country. The general public is caught between these two positions. On the one hand, ordinary Russians do not deny that the repressions were carried out On the other hand, a majority consider Stalin’s role in history to be positive and believe that he was a great leader, under which Russia became a powerful state.

Saturday, October 31, Halloween

The year’s scariest night, Halloween, has had a difficult time in Russia for over the past decade when it desperately tried to take root here. It has certainly raised a lot more dispute and arguments than any other Western tradition since hitting Russia in the mid-1990s. There were years when Halloween events lasted for more than a week in fancy Moscow clubs. City club-goers, foreign community members and Russian celebrities all mingled together at the wildest parties and spectacular costume balls: Russians are well known for taking everything to extremes. At some stage Halloween celebrations became a popular practice at schools – but not for long. The leaders of Russian Orthodox and Islamic clergy deplored practices of Halloween, claiming that it was a kind of demon worship. Such harsh criticisms made the Moscow authorities issue an official statement banning Halloween celebrations in educational establishments. It is still an issue for further analysis why this pagan festival with Irish roots brought from the U.S., turned out to be so irreconcilable with Russian mentality and culture.

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