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High Days and Holidays

December Holidays
Text by Elena Rubinova

Tuesday, December 1 World Aids Day

tarted on 1st December 1988, World AIDS Day was set as a special date to increase global awareness about the disease called the ‘plague of the 21st century’. Twenty years later this date is still about fighting prejudice, raising money and improving health education. Russia joined a worldwide initiative a lot later, in the mid 1990s when the AIDS problem was publicly recognized by the authorities. From 2006-2009, the Russian Federation spent nearly 1 billion roubles on HIV prevention programmes, focusing on the most affected communities. More than 18 billion roubles have been allocated from the federal budget for HIV diagnosis, treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS and over 50,000 people living with HIV are provided with the required treatment. World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for all - individuals, communities and political leaders - to take action and ensure that human rights are protected, and global targets for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care are met. The World AIDS Day theme for 2009 is ‘Universal Action and Human Rights’.

Saturday, December 12 Russia’s Constitution Day

Russia’s Constitution Day celebrates the adoption of the first Constitution of the Russian Federation, which came into being on December 12, 1993. A nationwide referendum on a new Constitution was held on that day and shortly afterwards Boris Yeltsin, the first President of Russia, convened a constitutional conference to work out a new constitution. The new main law of the state substantially changed the structure of the supreme bodies of state power and took a serious step towards creating the federal system in Russia. This constitution does not provide, as earlier, for a single economic system based on state ownership; it equally protects all forms of ownership, thus ensuring the freedom of the development of a civil society. December 12 has replaced the previous Soviet Constitution Day - the Constitution of the USSR, adopted in 1936 (called the Stalin Constitution) and the one adopted in 1977 (called the Brezhnev Constitution - after the name of the country’s leaders at that time) that was in effect until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Three constitutions in 70 years might have been too many for one country! This may be the reason why Russia’s Constitution Day, marked on December 12, since 2004, is no longer a day off.

Saturday, December 12 Hanukkah

Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of its great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas and New Year. Many non-Jews think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is ironic that this Jewish festival of re-dedication, which has its roots in a revolution and suppression of the Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on the calendar. The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The Jewish tradition has it that even one small candle drives away the darkness. As recorded in the Talmud at the time of the rededication there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks (the story of Hanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great). Oil was needed for the Menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to procure a fresh supply of oil. An eight-day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.

It is only in the past several years that the Mayor of Moscow and Rav. Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, have lit the Hanukkah candles in the centre of Moscow and greet hundreds of members of Jewish community gathering on Manezh Square. Such a cordial agreement between confessions was unimaginable until very recently, but it would be fair to say that even now not all confessions favour a similar attitude in Russia. Russian Jews, though, celebrate their holiday as all their adherents do around the globe.

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