Aside from Orthodox Christmas that is buried somewhere in a 10-day long winter break, all other public holidays in Russia have soviet or post-soviet origin. February 23rd is no exception, it was declared in 1922 as a “Red army day”. In soviet times it was celebrated as “Day of soviet army and navy”. Nowadays February 23rd is officially called “Defender of the Fatherland Day”. Since all men in Russia are considered those “defenders”, this holiday is widely celebrated as “men’s day”.
February 23rd is a public, non-working holiday. February 22nd working day has to be shortened by one hour, because it precedes public holiday, this is the law.
February 23rd has no firmly established celebration traditions or rituals. Normally this holiday is observed by people in active military service or retired from military. Those serving in government security services of all kinds also consider this holiday as theirs. As usual, there will be some official events, in government organizations and agencies related to the military, holiday-related TV concerts and programs. There will be on-street events in larger cities, including Moscow: concerts and performances, exhibitions, holiday markets and so on — all military themed. There can be exhibitions of weaponry and free military-style food in some spots of larger places like Moscow.
On a private level if any family members or close friends have to do with military they might celebrate. Celebration is nothing special and happens in a typical Russian way: serving table full of food, eating, drinking, chatting.
Because February 23rd considered as “man’s day” it is quite common for women to express some congratulations to all men they happened to know. This is not like mandatory type of thing and if you forget someone, that’s no trouble. Gifts are not necessary, although some women use this as an opportunity to buy or do something for their men (close friends or relatives).
Some office-type businesses will celebrate February 23rd, normally the day before holiday. Female employees would put some money together and buy gifts for every male employee. As an option it can be some food organized to share during lunch time. Or it can be absolutely nothing, but just a verbal/email type of congratulations. Not every company would celebrate, but I would say in typical Russian companies such celebrations are common.
If you are a female expat, or member of an expat family, what you need to do for February 23rd?
If woman in your office are planning something, you wanna be a part of it in some way.
If you are in managerial position, do not forget to say few words of congratulations to all the men in your team. Does not have to be something official, any informal way would do fine.
If you know someone in your circle of friends or partners who have served in military on contract (important distinction), do not forget to express congratulations and maybe buy a gift if they are an important figure for your business or personal relationships.
Sometimes if your supplier or important customer business has predominantly male population of employees, you may consider buying gifts to key people of that business.
In general, February 23rd is less formal and celebrated more casually compared to other public holidays in Russia. I will be writing about all of them as they come, stay tuned.
February 12th through February 18th is a celebration of maslenniza. Celebration dates change every year, thus 12th to 18th of February is for 2018. Celebration is a week-long and it starts 56 days prior to Orthodox Easter (48 days of Easter lent and 7 days of maslenniza celebration).
Nowadays not many people, even locals, understand origins, history and meaning of maslenniza. Originally a pagan holiday, maslenniza is one of a few ancient cultural artifacts survived Christian and soviet eras of Russian history. Maslenniza is actually well blended into the Orthodox Church calendar and accepted as a traditional holiday (but not religious therefore not celebrated officially by church).
Maslenniza is a celebration of welcoming spring and saying goodbye to winter. Main symbol of maslenniza, for which it known the most, is a pancake (blin). Blin represents the sun, because of its roundish shape and yellowish color. In pagan times, before Christianity people worshiped Yarilo, the god of sun. Pancakes, blini were the symbol of Yarilo. It is very much simplified meaning of maslenniza and its symbol, but enough for understanding the concept.
Maslenniza is a week-long holiday, starting on Monday and running until Sunday. Each of seven maslenniza days has its own name, significance and specific traditional celebration activities of the day. Nowadays no one really observes each day of maslenniza in a traditional way. Probably the most known day of maslenniza week is Sunday, or so called “forgiven Sunday”. On “forgiven Sunday” people ask their friends, relatives and acquaintances for forgiveness for whatever wrong they might have done. On Sunday, as a part of celebration, there is ritual of burning straw dummy, which is a culmination and the end of maslenniza.
For people following Orthodox calendar and obeying all church traditions and requirements maslenniza if a last week to eat non-lenten food. Monday after maslenniza is over great lent starts that continues until Easter.
In Moscow as well as in other cities there will be lots of public holiday events (especially on weekend of maslenniza week). Most businesses and public organizations organize celebration of maslenniza in their own way. Restaurants and cafes put pancakes on the menu if normally they don’t serve them. There will be special events in Moscow parks, downtown pedestrian areas, squares. For expats and their families maslenniza celebration is a good chance to go out and have fun, learn a bit of Russian culture.
If you wanna stay inside, baking pancakes at home can be a fun family activity, especially if you have kids. Traditional Russian pancakes must be very thin, larger in size, with little holes, which look like a needlelace. There are many different recipes of pancakes and each household has its own recipe. Look up on the internet or ask Russians about a recipe they use.
Kitty wants a pancake too.
What people think of traditional Russian staple food is vodka, caviar, black bread, “Russian salad” all these kinds of food. However, there is one product that is very often gotten overlooked — Russian chocolate.
Russian chocolate industry has beed developing since pre-soviet times. In soviet era development and production of chocolate was limited by inefficient government system and declining economy. It was difficult to buy chocolate back then, because everything, even food, was limited and in deficit. After Russia had become independent country, chocolate industry started to flourish. Aside from already well-known large manufacturers, new chocolate makers started to open their businesses. Nowadays chocolate companies make hundreds if not thousands of different types of chocolate products.
The most old well-known manufacturers are “Krasniy Oktyabr”, “Rot Front”, “Babaevskiy,” and some others. Their products are considered “classic” Russian chocolate — the most popular. However, a multitude of other manufacturers is on the market, supplying thousands of varieties of chocolate products. The picture above is just an example of very few.
Russian chocolate is of an excellent quality and testes real great. It is different from chocolate you find in other parts of the world, because recipes are all unique and locally developed. Quality wise Russian chocolate is on par with worldwide known chocolate makers such as Swiss ones. However, Russian chocolate and candies are different from everything you have tried before. If you are into eating chocolate, I suggest you give it a try.
Some vocabulary explaining types of chocolate to assist you in shopping.
Karamel’ — Candy. This is a product made of crystallized sugar in variety of styles and tastes. Karamel’ (the “l” is very soft in pronunciation) comes in small pieces, each wrapped individually and usually sold bulk or pre-packaged.
Konfeta (Konfety — plural) — Small chocolate bar. This is what’s on picture beginning of the article. Each konfeta is wrapped individually in paper and sometimes foil. Comes in hundreds of styles, fillings, and tastes. Each Konfeta is roughly 4-5 centimeters (1,5 — 2 inches) in length. Same as karamel’ it is sold bulk or pre-packaged.
Batonchik — Chocolate bar. Same type of product as Konfeta, but comes in larger size (same size as western brand chocolate bars). This type of product has much fewer varieties compared to konfety and karamel, but still widely popular.
Plitka shokolada — Chocolate bar. This type of chocolate is usually thin, larger, flat chocolate bar made of pure chocolate, sometimes with some basic filling. It comes in fewer varieties, but it has more cocoa in it. This product is what Russian people refer to as “shokolad” (chocolate).
There are other types of chocolate products, but mentioned above are the most popular ones. Russian chocolate makes an excellent gift. For this you can buy konfety in gift packaging. Usually, these are large carton boxes with one type or mix of konfety inside. The boxes are nicely painted in traditional Russian style and box alone often is a true piece or art.
You can buy chocolate in any grocery store or better go to a specialty store. (Please send me a message via Facebook or Linkedin if you need a specific recommendation on places with better choice of Russian chocolate in Moscow). Grocery stores stock limited variety of chocolate (mostly pre-packaged) while specialty stores have large selection of different products. In specialty stores, you can buy a little of everything to try and decide what you like the best. Specialty chocolate stores are self-service, and staff is very helpful.
There is one interesting soviet traditions remains today. For New Year, kids would receive a gift: a sack full of varieties of karamel’, konfety, batonchik. In companies very often parents get some money together to buy such gifts for all their kids, or company would pay for those gifts. This does not cancel other holiday gifts. But this is something like symbolic or maybe truly traditional that people adore. Those gift sacks with chocolates is one of New Year symbols that gets passed from soviet generation into today. So, do not be surprised if you kid brings such sack from school or some event.
I mentioned meeting and greeting rituals in the recent article on a typical working day in Russia.
This article is about daily meeting and greeting rituals in a typical Russian office. Those rituals are nothing special compared to most “western” cultures, but few specifics worth mentioning. Meeting and greeting rituals are important for building and keeping relationship in Russian business environment. If you will be working (or are working) in Russia, be attentive how people do it and never neglect rituals even if they seem unimportant for you. Following meeting and greeting rituals ensures that you are accepted as “ours”. Being accepted as “ours” has great importance for success in business and in social life as well.
Russian offices greeting rituals for woman are simple. Woman just use verbal greetings. No shaking hands, no hugging or kissing. Hugs can be used if two women are in a good personal relationship and haven’t seen each other for a long time (like vacation time or maternity leave). But, generally you do not see hugging very often in the office environment.
Common verbal greetings in Russian:
“Zdravstvuite” — Hello. Universal greeting used all the time everywhere. Literally means “be healthy” or “be good”.
“Dobroe utro” — Good morning. Used until noon, roughly.
“Dobriy den” — Good day or good afternoon — same thing. Used Noon till, say 6-7 in the evening.
“Dobriy vecher” — Good evening. After 6-7 in the evening or when it gets dark.
“Privet” — Hi. Very casual and informal greeting. In the office environment used between friends and people who have good relationships. Very common though since relationships have got to be good.
Russian greeting ritual for men is a handshake plus verbal greeting, but ritual rules are is a bit tricky. General, unwritten and unspoken rule is this: you have to shake hands of all male employees you know personally (or have met) when you meet them for the first time on a given day. Time of the day is unimportant. Usually, it happens in the morning. But, if you bump into someone in the afternoon you must handshake with them. Normally, people do so many handshakes during the day, so they forget who they have already done a handshake with. It sometimes happens that two men meet somewhere in the office and get confused if they need to do a handshake, or they have done it already. Usual way out of confusion is to smile and maybe laugh and do it again “just in case.”
If you are working in a smaller office, you must do handshake with every man upon arrival. If it’s an open space type of office layout you handshake with people around you, those you can easily reach or walk to say within a few steps.
Handshake must be very firm and using full palm. Using just fingers, or lightly squeezing hand considered feminine.
Handshake must be done with an eye contact. If you are on the go, you can just glance at the other person, but some eye contact is a must.
Very slight half bow with your upper part of the body is a sign of respect and very commonly used.
If you do handshake outside you MUST take off your glove regardless or temperature or weather.
It is more polite (and more formal also) to be standing when shaking hands. In the office people don’t really stand up from their desks to shake hands, but just lift their butt off the chair to sort of follow this rule.
It is not acceptable to extend hand, offering a handshake to someone in much higher hierarchical position. Those on top of hierarchy shake hands with ordinary employees as a sign of respect and recognition.
To close the subject, hugging is not common in Russian office environment (although used in some situations). Kissing is not acceptable at all, even formal type of “not for real” cheek kissing like people do in many other countries.
Special note on using greeting “How are you?” in Russia. It is a bit risky, because not all Russians understand what is expected in reply. Those with extensive international experience understand how this greeting works. A typical Russian may view this greeting as a question requiring full answer. Thus instead of “fine!” or something short in reply, you will hear some story of their life, the one most compelling for them at a moment. Interestingly, quite often, in Russian we also use same type of greeting “Kak dela?”. “Kak dela?” meaning “How are you?”. Another form of it is “Kak ono?” (how is it [going]?). The short answer for both greetings would be “horosho” (good) or “normalno” (okay) or something like “dela v poryadke” (my business is in order). How people react to this type of greeting depends on a situation and a specific person. But most often this type of greeting provokes lengthy reply. Therefore, this form of greeting will start a conversation. If you are getting a longer reply to “How are you” type of question you absolutely can’t interrupt it or just leave without listening. You have to listen and somehow react, be emphatic; otherwise, it will look offensive.
There will be a different article on Russian meet and greet rituals outside office.
It is October 22nd, and Moscow gets first snow today. It’s going to melt, but this truly is a first sign of winter coming.
Enjoy last sunny days before winter darkness sets in.