Traditions and customs of Russia

What traditions and customs are there in Russia?

From the largest country in the world, the customs and traditions of Russia.


Food in daily life

The most common food is bread. Potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and beets are the standard vegetables; potatoes are a staple food. Onions and garlic are used extensively, especially in soups, stews, and salads.

Russians love meat. Hunger means no bread, while poverty means no hard kolbasa sausage. Sausages, pork, beef, lamb, chicken, and dried or salted fish are widely available and relatively inexpensive.

Only a few can afford to buy such delicacies as beef, duck, sturgeon and salmon. The traditional food of the aristocracy included luxury foods, many of which are popular with today’s new wealthy classes.

For most people, breakfast is a quick snack of coffee or tea with bread and sausage or cheese. Lunch is a hot meal, with soup, potatoes, macaroni, buckwheat rice or kasha, ground beef cutlets, and peas or shredded cabbage.

This food can be eaten in the workplace cafeteria at noon or after people return home from work; a later dinner may consist of boiled potatoes, sauerkraut and bread or simply bread and sausage.

People consume a wide range of dairy products, such as tvorog, a kind of cottage cheese, and riazhenka, a slightly sour milk. These items can be purchased at big box stores or private farmers markets or can be made at home.

In provincial cities and towns, unpasteurized milk is sold from tanker trucks, although bottles and cartons of pasteurized milk are everywhere, as is sour cream. Hard and soft cheeses are also popular.

The fruits are highly appreciated and cultivated. In late summer, the fruits and berries are harvested and made into preserves, compotes, cordials and concentrates for the winter months. Mushroom picking is an art, and many people can identify edible, salted, dried, or canned local varieties. Cabbage, cucumbers, garlic and tomatoes are preserved by salting or pickling.

The Russians are experts in tea. Coffee has grown in popularity and is often served thick and strong. Although wine, beer, cognac and champagne are popular, vodka is the most common drink. Homemade vodka is a mainstay and serves as a crucial form of currency in rural areas.

Restaurants were not very developed under communism, but the post-Soviet period has seen an explosion of restaurants, cafes, and fast food places in cities. Most people never eat out, for financial reasons and because they feel that restaurants don’t offer as good food as what is prepared at home.

Restaurants and cafes are largely adapted to the new business classes. Workplace cafeterias and buffets still serve rudimentary midday meals for workers, but even these cheap meals are out of reach for many people.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Community parties are essential to mark birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, milestones, significant purchases, and major holidays. The table is laden with salads, appetizers, sausage and cheese, and pickled foods, followed by hot meat, potatoes, and pirozhki (meat or cabbage pies).

Vodka and wine are drunk throughout the meal, which can last from six to ten hours. Although table manners and lodging rituals are complex, the most important concern the rituals associated with the drinking of vodka.

Roasting is elaborate and can be sentimental, humorous, poetic, cheeky, or reverential. Vodka is always drunk neat, accompanied by a pickled or salty meal.

Many people observe Lenten fasts, in which they do not consume meat, butter or eggs and occasionally do not consume vodka. Easter offers the opportunity for a quick celebration with special foods.


Romantic love is considered the only acceptable motivation for marriage, and there is a long tradition in literature, poetry, and song of romanticizing the passion of lovers, usually with tragic undertones, although bawdy approaches to marriage are also popular. theme.

Contemporary practice also emphasizes more pragmatic and cynical aspects of marital relationships, such as improving financial status or housing prospects.

People often meet their partners at school, university or work, although discos and city clubs have become popular meeting places.

Premarital sex is generally accepted, and marriages arising from unwanted pregnancies are not uncommon. Since the 1930s, twenty-three has been the average age of marriage. Cohabitation is tolerated, but legal marriage is preferable.

Although economic uncertainty has led many to marry later or not at all, 97 percent of adults marry before age 40, and most before age 30. About half of all marriages end in divorce.

Economic hardship and alcohol abuse are major contributing factors. Ethnic intermarriage became quite common in Soviet times, with most people having at least one ancestor of a different nationality.


The most significant elements of etiquette are the verbal markers of social status. People use the second person plural pronoun when addressing the elderly, except parents and grandparents, people of higher status, strangers, and acquaintances.

The informal second person singular is used only between close friends, within the birth family, and between close co-workers of the same status. The more distant two people are socially, the more likely they are to address each other in all formality.

Addressing someone formally also involves using the person’s full name and patronymic. The misuse of the informal modality is extremely insulting.

Behavior at the table is circumscribed by a code of manners. Hosts and hostesses must show unfailing generosity, even to unexpected guests, and guests must greet such hospitality with a display of willingness to be served, fed and pampered. Drinking together and toasting are important aspects of these rituals.

The dirtiness of urban surfaces means that one never sits on the ground or puts one’s shod feet on a table. Proper female behavior requires the observance of a number of specific practices: clothing must always be immaculately clean and pressed, fastidious grooming is essential, and behavior must be elegant and reserved. However, in crowds, in lines, and on public transportation, jostling is the norm.

In Soviet times, being demure and not drawing attention to oneself through dress or behavior were highly valued, but this norm has faded with the explosion of fashion and attention-grabbing subcultural identities.

The word “uneducated” is used by grandmothers and older people as a reprimand for behavior by their defendants or strangers that is considered rude or inappropriate.

The use of this reprimand has diminished as the social status of the elderly has fallen and openly offensive behavior in the cities has become a mark of the power and ‘coldness’ of the young merchants and ‘toughnecks’.


Religious beliefs

Although Prince Vladimir converted the East Slavs to Orthodox Christianity in 988, pre-Christian polytheism persisted for hundreds of years among the population, along with Christian beliefs and practices.

Many animistic elements, rites and festivals associated with the agricultural calendar have persisted. Christian practices, such as the healing application of “holy water” in a church, are structured according to pre-Christian customs.

Churches were often built on ancient holy sites. Traditional beliefs about forest and house spirits and metaphysical healing practices still exist among urbanized intellectuals and the working classes, especially among rural populations.

A number of behavioral prohibitions stem from ancient beliefs: whistling indoors invokes bad fortune, and evil spirits are attracted to boasting or drawing attention to good fortune or health. Telling people that they have a lovely child can cause awkwardness and that it is necessary to ward off the evil eye.

The Soviet Union promoted “scientific atheism,” severely suppressed all religious organizations, and destroyed or seized many religious properties and holy objects.

The recent revival of religious identification and practice has been swift and strong among followers of Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism, although many Jews have emigrated. Indigenous shamanism among many Siberian and Mongolian peoples is also being revived.

The state has returned to their respective communities thousands of churches, mosques and temples, as well as icons and other religious objects that were appropriated during the Soviet period.

Monasteries, religious schools and training centers for all faiths have sprung up or reopened, and the number of religious practitioners has more than doubled since the 1970s. There has also been an explosion of alternative and New Age spiritual movements, publications, and practitioners.

Most Russians identify as Orthodox Christians. A much smaller number are active in church activities, but observance of key holidays is increasing.

The Russian Orthodox Church has always been institutionally powerful, aligned with the state since the days of kyiv and even in the Soviet period, when it was allowed to function within strict limits. The control and reach of the state have often been secured through the administrative networks and ideological influence of the Orthodox Church.

Islam has been important throughout Russian history. It has been the main religion in the North Caucasus since the 8th century and in the Volga region since the 10th century.

Today, Islam is the second largest religion, after Russian Orthodoxy, with at least 19 million adherents, and among ethnic minorities the majority of Tatars, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Chechens and Avars are Sunni Muslims. Moscow is a center of Islam in Russia, with many mosques and organizations active to serve the one to two million Muslims in Moscow. There are also significant populations in many other large cities.

Before the revolution, most Jews in Russia were confined to rural settlements and suffered constant persecution. In addition to facing popular and official antisemitism in the Soviet period, Jewish populations were repressed and secularized to the point that most did not practice and Judaism was regarded as an ethnicity but not a religious identity.

Beginning in the 1970s, there has been a slow rediscovery of Jewish tradition, both sacred and secular, while large waves of emigration have reduced the number of Jews.

Some synagogues nominally functioned during the Soviet period, and these have been somewhat revitalized in recent years as some of Russia’s several million remaining Jews rediscover lost traditions and rituals.

Buddhism was officially recognized in Russia in 1741. It is the primary religion of the ethnic Buryats, Kalmyks and Tuvans. Heavily persecuted under Stalin, when most temples and monasteries were destroyed and lamas killed or sent to the Gulag, Buddhism has made a steady revival, and today counts several million followers, both among ethnic Slavs and among ethnic Slavs. traditionally Buddhist populations.

Roman Catholicism is mainly practiced in Poles, Germans, and Lithuanians. Several Protestant sects are long-established, especially among ethnic Ukrainians, and in the years since perestroika foreign evangelical sects have sought adherents among non-believers and members of other religious groups.

In 1997, the controversial “Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” was passed, granting full rights of organization and association to only four religions: Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Others have to go through a complex registration process and their activities are restricted.

Religious professionals

The administrative head of the Russian Orthodox Church is the Moscow Patriarchate. Bishops and metropolitans lead the 128 dioceses. The parish priests, trained in seminaries and forced to marry, serve the 19,000 parishes. The number of parishes and monasteries has grown substantially with the restoration of religious freedom.

Islamic muftis lead Muslim Spiritual Boards, with a variety of jurisdictions, but the hierarchical and regional structure of Islam in Russia is constantly changing, as numerous religious and religio-political organizations, institutes and cultural centers compete for authority and resources. followers.

The mullahs are the local teachers and interpreters of Islam; many are hereditary, but some young mullahs challenge existing authority structures. Among Buddhists, lamas are the most important spiritual leaders and teachers.

Rituals and sacred places

For most Orthodox believers, religious practice centers on the emotional experience of the liturgy, which is sung daily, on Sundays, and in long and elaborate services on feast days. Icons depicting the Virgin Mary and saints are highly revered, and worshipers light candles, pray, bow, and sometimes weep before these holy images.

The country cottage of the last century always focused on the “red corner” where the family icon hung, and many urban apartments have a table or shelf reserved for an icon.

Churches and cathedrals are the most important places of Orthodox worship. Local parishes across the country have raised funds to rebuild and restore churches destroyed by the Soviets, with some support from the Moscow patriarchate. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent to restore cathedrals in big cities.

Some, like the massive Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, torn down in 1931, have been rebuilt from scratch and are widely revered as symbols of the revival of Russian Orthodoxy.

Similar rebuilding and recovery of older cultic sites has occurred among the Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist communities of Russia.

Death and the afterlife

Proper care and remembrance of the dead are considered very important. Around the time of death, it is crucial to do certain things to prevent the dead from staying or returning: the mirrors are covered with black cloth, the body is arranged in a way that facilitates the spirit’s exit, and the mourners accompany the dead. deceased from house to house to church and from church to cemetery.

In the church or room where the body is displayed, mourners circle the open casket in a counterclockwise direction and may kiss or place flowers on the body.

After the burial, mourners return to the family home, where certain foods are served with vodka and the deceased is remembered with stories and anecdotes.

Food and vodka can be put in place to nourish the soul. The soul remains on earth for forty days, at which time the family holds a second meeting to say goodbye while the soul goes to heaven. The anniversary of a death is commemorated each year; some people travel great distances to visit the graves of their loved ones.

Secular celebrations

International Women’s Day, March 8, which celebrates the contributions and role of women in social life, is a legal holiday and a day off from work; men bring flowers to the women in their lives, or call or send congratulatory cards to female friends, wives, and relatives.

Television offers special programs dedicated to women, femininity and “feminine virtues”. May Day, or Labor Day (May 1), the day of international labor solidarity, once marked by parades, is now an occasion to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Victory Day, May 9, commemorates the Soviet capture of Berlin and the end of World War II. This holiday is taken seriously by older people, who gather to remember family, friends, and comrades lost in war.

Television pays solemn tributes to veterans and war heroes. Russia Day, June 12, marks independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It features parades and fireworks.

The Day of the October Revolution, November 7, is only celebrated by communists and those nostalgic for Soviet power. New Year’s Eve is the most celebrated secular holiday. Grandpa Frost and his helper, the Snow Maiden, leave gifts under a decorated New Year’s tree, and people gather to wait for midnight with laughter, song, feasting, vodka and champagne. These parties often last all night.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

State support for the arts was provided by the Soviet government because literature, art, theater and music were perceived as means through which political ideologies could be transmitted.

The state nurtured the production of the arts through organizations such as the Union of Composers and the Union of Writers, which provided monetary support and social services, while monitoring and guiding creative production.

After 1991, federal funding dwindled dramatically, just as artists were first experiencing creative freedom. While private publishers, galleries and theaters have sprung up, the public has turned away from this art to enjoy detective, romance, adventure and horror novels and movies. Popular culture has undergone a renaissance, with artists struggling to support themselves.


Russia has always been primarily an oral culture in which a wide range of folklore genres and traditions have flourished and provided the main form of entertainment. For the first time in the 17th century, pre-Christian epic ballads, farm songs, laments, and tales dating from before the 10th century were recorded.

Folk tales and epic poems were carried by itinerant storytellers; riddles, jokes, and word games were popular in every village; and there was a wide spectrum of popular poetry, from sacred ritual verse to risqué ditties.

Most of the great writers incorporated folk themes and genres into their works, and folklore remains widely known and shared.

The first written literature dates back to the 11th century, with the production of religious texts, including translations of Byzantine works, original sermons and other didactic works, and hagiographies. Chronicles such as the Russian Primary Chronicle are among the most important of medieval literature in Old Russian.

Igor’s Song of Songs Campaign, a saga of Prince Igor’s 12th-century campaign against the Polovtsy, is a work of extraordinary poetic beauty, metaphorical sophistication, and political commentary.

With the rise of Muscovy in the 15th century, a new literary tradition began to take shape with many historical, biographical, and instructional works, most of them religious in character, along with ecclesiastical texts. In the 16th century more secular and popular literature appeared. A period of classicism in the 18th century saw the development of political and social satire, comedy, and romanticism.

The golden age of literature began in the early 19th century with the poet Aleksandr Pushkin, whose narrative poem, Eugene Onegin, transformed Russian literature with its astute depiction of social life and romantic love.

The poetry and prose of Mikhail Lermontov; the stories, longer prose and plays of Nikolai Gogol; and Ivan Turgenev’s stories and novels broke new ground in terms of language, psychological insight, and sociopolitical commentary. L

he works of novelists Fyodor Dostoevsky and Lev Tolstoy took the novel to new levels of psychological realism, philosophical contemplation, and epic tragedy. Anton Chekhov’s stories and plays were deeply innovative. Most Russians know their national literature well.

The turn of the 20th century ushered in a renewal of poetry, with competing schools of symbolism, accentuation, and futurism. For a brief period before and after the revolution, experimentation and utopianism in all the arts coexisted with realistic and satirical fiction.

Many of the greatest literary figures of this period were imprisoned, exiled, or assassinated during the 1930s. Some key figures, such as Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, and Marina Tsvetaeva, managed to survive but suffered great personal losses.

Socialist realism became the only officially authorized and supported mode of artistic production. It was supposed to present a realistic picture of workers and peasants building a socialist utopia.

Thousands of paintings, sculptures, novels, plays, poems, songs, and movies were created in accordance with the doctrine of socialist realism; the vast majority were stilts and didactics. Works of art that deviated from the socialist realist mold were frequently suppressed. Writers like Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky were persecuted and eventually expelled.

Except for the time of the Khrushchev “thaw” in the early 1960s, much of the creative work took place underground or went unpublished.

Gorbachev’s glasnost policy paved the way for previously repressed works to become public. At the end of the 1980s, dozens of works criticizing Soviet politics or revealing the contradictions of Soviet life were published openly for the first time.

The post-Soviet years have brought to the fore writers of dark and humorous social realism, such as Tatyana Tolstaya and Liudmilla Petrushevskaya. The modern parables of Vladimir Makanin and Viktor Pelevin have become popular with literati and young reading audiences.

Graphic arts

Folk arts are ancient and varied. Animal, bird, plant, solar, and goddess motifs, and a palette of reds and golden yellows with traces of black and green favored by peasant artists are prevalent in a wide range of folk art media, particularly on painted wooden objects and textiles. embroidery.

There have been various periods of decline and revival as animist expressions were suppressed under Christianization a thousand years ago and then under the Soviet regime. In both cases, the peasant artists changed their production in accordance with the dominant ideology.

Soviet state studios kept many popular media alive, and the post-socialist period has seen independent craftsmen return to traditional mythological motifs, such as that of the Sirin, a bird with the head and breasts of a woman.

With the adoption of Christianity in 988, Byzantine religious architecture and icon painting came to Russia. A number of indigenous schools took root in Muscovy after ties with Byzantium were severed under the Mongols.

Although much of his work was destroyed by fire, Andrei Rublev (c.1360-1430) is Russia’s most renowned icon painter; the subtle colour, harmonious composition and spiritual serenity of his images are still revered.

After the 16th century, the tsar’s court, the nobility, and wealthy merchants supported metalworking, jewelry, textile, and porcelain workshops. A selection of these crafts is on display in the Kremlin Armory.

Secular painting, particularly portraiture and cityscapes, developed in the 18th century, prompted by Empress Elizabeth’s founding of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts in 1757 and the collections assembled by Catherine the Great. The 19th century brought romanticism and realism.

Realism characterized the work of the so-called Vagabond Society, a socially progressive movement of the 1870s; Ilia Repin is the most famous of the movement’s artists.

A popular art movement began later in the 19th century. The Art World movement in the early 20th century produced theater designer and ballet impresario Serge Diaghelev, abstract impressionist Vasilii Kandinsky, and the inspiration for a symbolist movement.

Abstraction dominated after 1910, especially in the form of Neo-Primitivism, Cubism, Suprematism, Futurism, and Constructivism. After the revolution, the abstract works of constructivists such as Malevich, Tatlin and Rodchenko were supported by the head of the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment.

These artists had an industrial aesthetic that valued proletarian utilitarianism, but their art was abstract and formalistic, out of step with the development of socialist realism.

After 1953, pluralism in the arts grew quietly until the flourishing of unofficial art movements beginning in the 1960s, with art circles rediscovering and experimenting with abstraction, expressionism, magical realism, and other suppressed genres.

Underground exhibitions were often held in artists’ apartments and studios and in city parks, and some of them were major cultural and political events.

With the relaxation of censorship in the mid-1980s came new waves of performance art, postmodernism, and minimalism, but there was also a wave of harsh, critical realism and romantic longing for a spiritually complete Russia. In the 1980s, avant-garde painting gained popularity around the world.

Performing arts

Performing arts include those considered “high culture” – symphonic music, opera, ballet and theater – and popular forms, ranging from gypsy ballads to folk choirs, from rock music to raves.

In the first category are the composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitry Shostakovich; as Fyodor Shalyapin; ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and dancers Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Rudolph Nurieyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov; and theater producer and acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky.

The Russians are still the most important in many areas of music and dance. Classical music and dance performances were subsidized by the state, so tickets were relatively cheap and attendance was very high.

Ballets and orchestras even toured remote regions in an attempt to “bring culture to the masses.” The level of appreciation for music and its amateur performance remains high.

Western rock music became popular in the 1960s, largely through illegal copies of albums circulating from hand to hand. Rock flourishes today among tens of thousands of rock groups and dozens of famous bands.

Estrada, an often vulgar or country form of pop singing and acting, has been popular since the pre-revolutionary period. Singer Alla Pugacheva is the most famous artist in this genre. Folkloric choirs sing traditional and contemporary folk songs, either a capellà or accompanied by a balalaika and other native instruments.

Bardic singing emerged in the post-war period as a quiet mode of protest, but became enormously popular, with ‘secret’ festivals in the countryside attracting thousands of fans.

No social gathering is complete without the passionate singing and playing of the guitar. Most people know the words to many songs. Many young people are engaged in contemporary musical forms such as techno, hip-hop and rap. Raves and other participatory music events are very popular in cities.

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