Winter Holidays In Russia

January holidays and traditions in Russia
January holidays and traditions in Russia

January holidays in Russia are diverse and fun. Of course, summer seems to be the most comfortable season for visiting Russia. However, winter is a season of many activities which could be interesting, too. Have a look at this list of holidays which Russian celebrate in January.

We all love January because for Russians it’s a month of long days-off, winter amusements, and favourite traditions. Besides the usual tourist attractions as museums, theatres and must-see places, Russia has to offer her visitors unique cultural events. The first month of the year is always entertaining and fascinating. Let’s go!

Red Square in Moscow during winter holidays
Red Square in Moscow during winter holidays

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1 January — New Years

New Years is the most loved and loud of all holidays in Russia. It is celebrated all night long in the most joyful manner.

Usually, Russians have a long festive holiday which lasts from the 31 of December till the 8th of January. This allows many people to spend holidays with their families (especially for those who live far from each other), to visit friends or to make a trip. Thus, I can say that New Years is the longest holiday as well.

Holidays in Russia: New Year
New Year tree on Palace Square, Saint Petersburg

Fortunately, shops, museums, theatres, exhibitions are open, so there’s no difficulty to enjoy these winter days off. Despite cold weather, winter sports lovers go skiing, snowboarding, sledging or just building snow castles with kids.

Festive markets are still open, so even if there is no need to buy gifts, they are an amazing place to hang out and to eat out! For example, the famous Christmas market at Manezhnaya Square in Saint Petersburg invites us to taste traditional food from different countries. Mulled wine, caramelized almonds, grilled sausages, choucroute, trdelniks, bubble waffles, tea from a samovar, bretzels — so many tasty foods to try!

Every country has its own pavilion. Besides, you can take pictures with Ded Moroz (Russian colleague of Santa Claus) or dance with Snegurochka (granddaughter of Ded Moroz).

7 January — Christmas

Yes, Orthodox Christmas is on 7th January. Why so late? The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, so the same Orthodox holidays are celebrated 13 days later than Catholic.

Nowadays, Christmas is not so important as New Years. After the Revolution of 1917, Bolsheviks banned all religious feasts. And many Christmas traditions — like decorating trees and making gifts — turned into New Year’s traditions.

Winter holidays in Russia - celebrating Christmas

Christmas is a quiet family day when we cook a nice dinner, send wishes to friends and colleagues, light candles. The other tradition is to make ring small angel-shaped bells — because it brings luck to hear an angel. Many people attend Christmas liturgy in cathedrals and churches.

Christmas Eve is called in Russian “sochelnik”. The word “sochelnik” derives from “sochivo” — the name of a traditional Russian Christmas meal. Sochivo is a sweet porridge made of rice or wheat with a lot of honey, raisins, dried apricots, nuts and poppy seeds. Sochivo is served in a common bowl, from which everyone eats with his own spoon. This common bowl symbolizes unity.

Unlike other religious holidays, Christmas in Russia is always an official day off.

14 January — Old New Year

“Old New Years” is a strange name for a holiday, isn’t it?

The existence of this Russian holiday is due to the 13 days gap between Julian and Gregorian calendars — the same case as with Catholic and Orthodox Christmas. Properly speaking, it’s not a big date and not a holiday at all. But people love the “old-new” oxymoron, so Old New Years is just one more reason to smile and to make jokes.

19 January — Epiphany

On Epiphany day, Orthodox Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. That is why Epiphany traditions are related to water.

First, we believe that the water on this day is blessed. People go to churches to take on bottles of this holy water, which is deemed to possess protective and healing properties. Firstly, it’s necessary to wash the face, drip a bit of holy water in the house and take one sip of it every day. These activities make the believers feel protected from evil, illnesses and other troubles.

Winter swimming in cold water is an Epiphany Russian tradition
Winter swimming in cold water is an Epiphany Russian tradition

Winter swimming on the Epiphany Eve is another popular Russian tradition. As water is considered to be blessed, people go to springs or cut holes in the ice on rivers or lakes. Believers immerse themselves 3 times in cold water to honour the Holy Trinity. There is a belief that such an icy plunge erases a person’s sins. In spite of the fact that the water is really freezing, nobody gets sick (this is true!)


Fortune-telling is a popular tradition, too. During winter holidays in Russia girls and women love to gather together for a little bit of sorcery 🙂

The Epiphany Eve is considered to be the most dangerous time when unholy mysterious forces are especially powerful. Fortune-telling was (and still is) the main maiden amusement. Many maidens desired to see the future and, even with the help of the evil spirits, to know who their husbands would be and how their lives would look like.

Fortune-telling rituals are multiple and diverse. For example, if a maiden is willing to know the name of her future fiancé, before going to sleep, she has to brush her hair, to put the brush under her pillow and to ask: “My fiancé, come to me and brush my hair!” At night, her fiancé would come to meet the maiden in her dreams.

The most “reliable” and the most “dangerous” fortune-telling rituals are considered to be rituals with mirrors.

Mirrors are seen as a borderline between 2 worlds: real and the world of spirits. The best place for this ritual is banya (Russian sauna), an unholy place. The best time is midnight, when the border between two worlds is the most porous.

Alexander Novoskoltsev. Svetlana (1889)
Alexander Novoskoltsev. Svetlana (1889), Painting depicting one of the most famous Epiphany rituals — fortune-telling.

The maiden should be alone, she should release her hair, put in front of her a mirror, a candle and cutlery for two persons. Looking in the mirror, the maiden asks: “My fiancé, come to have dinner with me!”

At midnight, she will see a man behind her shoulder — he will be her fiancé.  After seeing his face, the maiden should say: “Keep away from me!” This spell would protect her from evil spirits. If she doesn’t pronounce the spell in time, unholy spirits will steal her soul.

Though we can hardly believe we can see any men reflection in a mirror, the ritual remains scary. I would never do this, because what if I see someone?!

Here are the main holidays and traditions in Russia in January. To sum up, I can say that January is an interesting month full of various activities: family holidays, meetings with friends, mysterious rituals and religious traditions.

Snow and cold can’t stop exiting living, so if you visit Russia in winter, be assured you’ll find plenty of truly Russian events to see and to participate in.