National Unity Day in Russia falls on every November 4th, which is the anniversary of a 17th-Century Russian uprising against Polish and Lithuanian occupation forces.
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It was a time when all Russians united in a common effort designed to preserve the integrity of the Russian state. For this reason, the date was chosen as a day for all ethnic, religious, and political factions within Russia to stand together for the common cause of national unity.
In the early 1600’s, Poland and Lithuania united under a single government and took advantage of the weakness of the state of Muscovy (Russia). They conquered most of Russia and even took Moscow. They had a dream of unifying the northern Slavs under a single state, but the Russian people demanded their independence. On November 4th, 1612, which was actually October 22nd on the calendar used at the time, Russians in Moscow revolted and drove out the invaders. All economic and social strata of Russian society united behind the effort even without any Czar to lead them.
The two main leaders of the revolt were Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, both of whom are today considered to be Russian national heroes. The new Czar who took the throne of Russia after the revolt, Mikhail Romanov, declared a holiday with the long title “Day of Moscow’s Liberation From Polish Invaders.” In 1649, Czar Alexei Mikhailovich declared November 4th an official public holiday, which continued to be celebrated until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918. At that time, the new Communist government eliminated the holiday and replaced it with the November 7th remembrance of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 2005, about a decade and a half after the fall of the USSR, November 7th was eliminated and November 4th reinstated as a national holiday, this time called “National Unity Day”.
Russians are somewhat divided on how to celebrate National Unity Day, or even on whether to celebrate it. However, we list below some celebrations that locals and tourists in Russia for National Unity Day can attend along with some other activities appropriate to the occasion:
- Flowers are laid at national monuments dedicated to the memory of Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, who led the fight for Moscow’s freedom from Polish rule in 1612. There is a solemn ceremony held at the statues, the original of which is in Moscow’s Red Square and the replica of which is in Nizhny Novgorod. The monument is constructed out of huge granite blocks and over 1,000 pounds of copper.
- Russian Orthodox churches will hold services in honour of “Our Lady of Kazan,” which was an icon of Mary, who was considered the patron saint of the Russian city of Kazan. It was stolen and, probably, destroyed back in 1904, but there are replicas that are used in church services. November 4th is one of the feast days of the Our Lady of Kazan icon, besides being National Unity Day. You may wish to visit the two “Kazan Cathedrals,” one of which is in Moscow and the other in St. Petersburg. There are processions at the end of the services.
- This is an excellent day to visit the State Historical Museum in Moscow, not far from Red Square. This museum covers the full span of Russian history, including the period of the Moscow revolt. There are literally millions of artifacts, ranging from ancient relics of the region to Romanov-era artwork. Here, you can learn much about the Russian state that National Unity Day calls Russian citizens to rally around.
To others, November 4th is little more than an extra off-work day, and many members of the Communist Party resent the replacement of the November 7th with the November 4th holiday. You should also be aware that certain “ultra nationalists” take opportunity on this day to demonstrate against non-ethnic Russians, though most people are not in favour of these groups. Also note that post offices and government buildings will be closed and public transportation put on alternate schedules on this day.
National Unity Day is a prime opportunity for learning about Russia’s past and seeing the patriotic fervour of its people. Those visiting Russia on November 4th will find much to learn and much to enjoy.