Come together for Unity Day!
Russia’s most anonymous holiday is celebrated on the 4th of November. The holiday is named Unity Day (День народного единства) and despite the fact that the majority of Russian doesn’t know why or when it’s celebrated, it is still a national holiday with an interesting history. Let’s learn more about it!
The origin of Unity Day dates back to 1612. During this period of time Poland and Lithuania were in union with each other and aspired to conquer Russia and to unify all Slavic’s under one single state. They invaded Russia and Moscow but the Russians, demanding their independence, got together and expelled the Polish-Lithuanian occupation forces from Moscow. What makes this day interesting, and is the reason why it is called Unity Day, is that despite being without a leader, Russia had no tsar at the time, Russians from all social classes participated and fought together for Russia. Dimitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin are considered the main leaders of the revolt and are today seen as national heroes. This event not only expelled the foreign troops but is also marking the end of the historical period called “the Time of Troubles”. Tsar Mikhail Romanov, who was the one ascending the throne after the revolt, instituted a holiday: ” Day of Moscow’s Liberation from Polish Invaders” in 1613. In 1649, Tsar Aleksei Romanov declared November 4th an official public holiday and it remained one until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. It was then replaced with a commemoration of the Revolution, a holiday celebrated on the 7th of November up until 2005 when president Putin reestablished the old holiday and renamed it Unity Day. The day of the Bolshevik Revolution was abolished at the same time. Unity Day symbols how people from different ethnicities, religions and political groups stood together as Russians for the common cause of their country against a shared enemy.
As mentioned in the beginning, this holiday is not the most famous or celebrated one. Many Russians doesn’t celebrate it at all and simply enjoying their day off. Others dislike it and would want the former holiday celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution to be reestablished, for example members of the Communist Party and others who sympathize with that ideology. But there are people who celebrate it. Here are some examples of activities on this day:
• Flowers are laid at national monuments dedicated to the memory of the two leaders Pozharsky and Minin. The original is placed on the Red Square just opposite Saint Basil’s Cathedral (see featured image). There is also a replica in Nizhny Novgorod.
• The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the day of the icon Our Lady of Kazan, an icon of Mary, on November 4. It is not linked to the Unity Day but since they share date it is worth mention. The Kazan Cathedral is located in the northeast corner of the Red Square.
• This is a great day to visit the State Historical Museum (maybe after a visit in the church since they are located next to each other). In the museum you will see exhibits and find information about this particular time in Russian history.
• Around the city there will be smaller festivals, concert and street gatherings. Hit the street and see what you find! One note of caution, public transports put on alternate schedules on this day, so plan your day.
I am a fan of holidays in general since they are “living history” and will definitely take the opportunity to hit the streets on this day. Russia is, and has always been, a country of many different ethnic groups and religions but they are all joined together, making Russia. Therefore I find Unity Day interesting since it demonstrates that, despite their differences, they are all people of Russia. Do you have experience of this day or maybe additional information that I haven’t mentioned? Please share it with a comment!