May is upon us and that means longer days and warm sunshine. In Russia, the first ten days of May have come to be known as “May Holidays” (Maiskie Prazdniki). Basically this is a time when the entire country goes on Spring break.
In the late 1800s, Russians introduced May 1st as International Solidarity of Workers Day (Labor Day) an official day for workers to picket against unjust working conditions. Duringthe time of the Soviet Union, labor and trade unions organized solidarity parades and celebrations in most major cities across the nation. Yet when communism fell in the early 1990s celebrations of May 1st lost their political and became known simply as the start of Spring.
As temperatures rise after a long and cold Russian winter, people take advantage of the May Holidays to spend time together at their country cottages (dachas). Picnics with friends and family at the lake, park, and forests are often time-saved traditions. The gatherings nearly always include freshly grilled shashliki (kebobs), bonfires, alcoholic beverages and guitars. Musically induced trips down memory lane often resonate with songs from popular artists of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s like Viktor Tsoi, Mashina Vremeni, and of course the legendary Vladimir Vysotsky.
Most public buildings, banks, schools and universities are closed during the May Holidays to give Russians a chance to relax and soak up the sun