Russia Day commemorates the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the democratic government of the Russian Federation.
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The overthrow of Soviet power was a gradual process that took several years to complete, but it began with the issuance of the Declaration of Russian State Sovereignty on June 12th, 1990. Russia Day was first celebrated in 1992 but did not become an official holiday by presidential decree until 1994. It was originally burdened with the long name “Day of the Signing of the Declaration of State Sovereignty,” until Boris Yeltsin worked for a name-change to “Russia Day” in 1998.
While the holiday occurs on June 12th, the date is moved to the following Monday if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday. Thus, it will occasionally occur on June 13th or 14th. Though more accepted as a holiday than at first, only 45 percent of Russians celebrate Russia Day and only 42 percent get it off work. Because it is a public holiday, expect government offices and schools to be closed and public transportation to operate on a reduced schedule.
Russia Day is celebrated by proud and prominent displays of the Russian Flag and the Russian two-headed eagle. There are also fireworks and concerts held in many places all across the country. On occasion, you can also see military parades, air shows, cultural celebrations, and various events that vary from year to year and place to place. Even those who do not observe Russia Day will often get off work and go to their “dachas” (country houses) to relax.
One of the most important Russia Day traditions that has developed is the awarding of “Russia Medals” by the sitting president in front of crowds gathered in the street outside the Kremlin. Gold and silver medals and cash prizes are distributed to scientists, artists, actors, musicians, religious leaders, writers, and good Samaritans to thank them for their contributions to Russian society.
For the tourist visiting Russia on Russia Day, here are some of the major activities they may wish to partake in:
- Visit Red Square, located in the very heart of downtown Moscow. Every Russia Day, huge crowds swell the square the whole day long. The Kremlin, the royal citadel of the former Czars, the president’s residence, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the historically significant merchant quarter of “Kitai-gorod,” and a number of parks and restaurants all surround Red Square. It is also the central hub where all of Moscow’s major streets converge.
- Attend Russia Day celebrations outside of Moscow. Another large celebration takes place in St. Peterburg, but there are other, smaller gatherings in Novgorod, Kazan, Nizhny, and other Russian cities. If you want the fireworks, parades, and music concerts without the gigantic crowds, there are many good options.
- Enjoy the warm June weather by spending some time walking outside and visiting city parks. Especially consider visiting Moscow’s Gorky Central Park, which not only has relaxing walkways and peaceful ponds but also offers roller coasters and other amusement rides.
- Admire Russian artwork at the State Russian Museum or the State Hermitage, both of which are located in St. Petersburg. The former first opened in 1895, and the latter was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764. These museums contain an immense quantity of Russian paintings, sculptures, and other artefacts, far too much to explore in a single day.
Touring Russia on Russia Day will give opportunity to learn about Russia’s long history, culture, and the events that led to the fall of the Soviet Union. While many Russians do not observe it, many do, and the holiday is beginning to become more and more accepted and to gain its own set of traditions.