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Halloween in Russia: How to Scare Baba-Yaga and Stay Alive
October 28, 2011 15:30

 The term "Halloween" (and its alternative rendering Hallowe'en) is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the eve of "All Hallows' Day", which is now also known as All Saints' Day. Some modern Halloween traditions developed out of older pagan traditions, especially surrounding the Irish holiday Samhain, the day associated both with the harvest and otherworldly spirits. Halloween is now celebrated in several parts of the Western world, most commonly in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdomm and occasionally in parts of Australia and New Zealand. There is no prize for guessing that Russia, with its cultural and religious traditions, doesn't look like a country where such holiday can be very popular. But why are there so many vampires and witches on Russian streets on October 31?

Is My English So Scary?
In Russia Halloween has been celebrated since the mid-1990s. The exact places of spreading are still unknown, but, more likely, there were two main channels. The first of them were schools with English as the second language, English special schools. colleges and other educational establishments. During English lessons pupils often read about Halloween in European countries, discussed it with teacher, wrote essays and made wall newspapers about it, and later began to organize small Halloween events and plays. Being called to help children with their English, the holiday gradually grew into a funny all-school celebration.

  However, Halloween wasn't able to become a children's holiday in Russia, as there weren't any family traditions for it. The other big channel were young adults who actively adopted all West culture and customs, and Halloween became another part of it. Of course, the holiday lost all its religious or mystical meaning, as youngers weren't much interested in it. They just wanted to put on strange clothes, have some fun and bring to Russian clubs and parties something exotic, that they had never seen before.

Now the Russian clubs and bars are the most popular places for celebrating of Halloween. Almost every club in every Russian city prepares its own programme, usually consisting of dances, special "scary" menu, thematic show programs, fire shows and contests for the best costume. The clubs are decorated just as every club in Europe or the USA, with ever-present Jack-o-lanterns, black candles, and other "cute" stuff.

Who are you, Mr. Ghoul?
    Young people like to walk in Halloween costumes in the city's streets, so they often hold improvised procession of vampires, zombies, witches and other "evil spirits". Several years ago all the costumes were handmade, as there weren't any places to buy it, so people had to make them from anything at hand. Now the situation is better, and there is no    problem with buying costumes, masks and other accessories through numerous online stores. But many people still prefer to make costumes and make-up themselves, as it is much more interesting. 

Of course, Halloween in Russia could not get on without a unique national colouring. Russian folklore is rich with scary fairy-tales, legends and insidious evil spirits, who usually oppose a herioc protagonist. So Russians use these stories and characters during celebrations, creating unique costumes and even playing short scenes from favourite films and books. By the way, look at the right image: surely Baba-Yaga is so pretty!

National and military Russian costumes are very popular too, with fur-hats, felt boots and even toy Kalashnikovs. The other popular style is costumes of some famous tsars or politicians, like Stalin, Lenin, Ivan the Terrible, or Rasputin. But the most popular is...well, you know...the Russia's current prime-minister. Don't be frightened if you see five PMs drinking together in a Moscow club.

Church Does Not Approve of Sugar Eyes
The Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly expressed its discontent with celebration of Halloween in Russia. They say its improper for Russian men, women and especially kids to dress like vampires or demons, pretending to display monsters’ qualities in real life. That opinion is partially supported by some patriots who say Russian people should stick to their own national holidays and give less attention to festivities of foreign origin, like Halloween. They believe that Russian people can easily forget about their national roots and follow customs, rules and traditions of a different culture or religion.

 In the meantime, spokespeople for the Department of Education in Moscow say that Russian schools must not organize any events devoted to Halloween. The position of the department has remained unchanged since 2003, when the administration signed a letter to headmasters of Moscow schools asking them not to hold any events dedicated to Halloween. The official said that such decision was made in connection with religious aspects of the holiday – the cult of death, gloating over death, the personification of evil spirits, etc., which statement obviously contradicts the secular character of education of state-run schools in Russia.

So, one of the places where the mass Halloween celebrations came from, has become the safest place from it in the whole country. However, according to some witnesses from Russian schools, the prohibition is not strictly supported by all schools, and some of them let pupils organize the most neutral events. And the number of such schools increases every year.

Is Pumpkin Jack a Rebel?

In Russia Halloween even became a part of political protests. Thus, in 2008, more than 20,000 activists of one pro-Kremlin youth movement held an action of protest in front of the US Embassy in Moscow. Each activist was holding the traditional Halloween pumpkin heads with burning candles, as a symbol of those people those who fell victims to the foreign politics of the United States. 

So, what does Halloween mean for Russians? Most  Russian people never celebrate this holiday and don't know anything about it. For others it is just another cause to have some fun, to do something new and exotic, to show their creativity, to become a bit closer to the foreign culture and traditions. Halloween in Russia was revealed, supported, welcomed, blamed, prohibited, used for different reasons, but still never forgotten. And it looks like it is not the last page in its history. Well, let it be more funny than scary. Trick or Treat!



Sources: Hallo-Ween Zatevai DP Cool Halloween

Julia Alieva

Author: Julia Alieva

Tags: Russian holidays Halloween in Russia Russian customs   

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