Complimenting “the way things are in Russia” often insinuates that “the way things are in America” is inept or is somehow lacking. By expressing fondness for something over here, I end up backhandedly suggesting that the American equivalent is sub-par. This is endlessly frustrating, first of all because liking something does not automatically come with disliking something else, and second, because broad cultural statements and comparisons are not true in all cases and are therefore dangerous.

With that being said, I’d like to talk about how enjoyable celebrating holidays in Russia has been! I missed the New Year’s festivities, but I’ve been here for Valentine’s Day (only recently have people started celebrating it here), Maslenitsa, Men’s Day, and Women’s Day. Valentine’s Day had its share of cheesy moments, to be sure, but there were some really great, sincere moments. I loved the impromptu hallway guitar and singing performance that everyone started to sing along with.

Then there was a show at the Institute of the Arts – mostly music and dancing with a little bit of theater to open and close the show. The backdrop and lighting effects were spectacularly overdone, but hey, that’s theater!

 

Maslenitsa in general is one of my favorite holidays here. It is similar to Mardi Gras in that you indulge in lots of fatty foods before Lent. The most common thing to eat is thin, crepe-like pancakes with various fillings. My friend and I stuffed ours with sour cream, dill, and smoked salmon and then enjoyed a special dessert pancake with sweetened condensed milk. The holiday also marks the end of winter, which is celebrated with the burning of a large, scarecrow-sized doll. There are lots of silly games and contests, including my favorite, standing on a log and hitting each other with flour sacks until someone falls off. Great fun. Then you go around asking each other to forgive you – «прости меня». Can be done with varying degrees of Sandra Bernhard style!  Here are some of the celebrations going on right outside the dorms.

Men’s Day/Defenders of the Fatherland day was a nice. You congratulate all your male friends and they get free entrance to the dance clubs. Oh, and you don’t have to go to work! And there are posters of sexy babes in military garb all around!

 

Women’s day is great because you get two days off – Thursday and Friday! It would be a four-day weekend, except for the screwy fact that Sunday gets converted to a Friday schedule and you have to come in then. Aside from that, it’s a really pleasant holiday. Lots of flowers, chocolates, and incredibly charming text messages! Here are some of my favorites I received today:
-С праздником весеним, я сердечно поздравляю! Долгих лет,любви,веселья От души тебе желаю! Пусть растают все напасти И развеются невзгоды. Я желаю только счастья – Пусть тебя не старят годы. Чтоб дела велись успешно, Будь всегда такой красивый, улыбающейся,нежной! I’m extending heartfelt congratulations for this spring holiday! Wishing you from my soul many long years, love, and cheerfulness! Let all your adversity melt away and your troubles fade. I wish you only happiness – and that the years will not age you. I hope things will work out successfully, always be the beautiful, smiling, tender person you are!
-С праздником светлым, с праздником ясным, с праздником нежным, чудесным, прекрасным, с праздником ласки, любви и внимания, с праздником женского очарования! To a colorful holiday, to a bright holiday, to a tender, miraculous, perfect holiday, to a holiday of caresses, love and attention, to a holiday of feminine enchantments!
-Желаю звезд, цветов, здоровья! Удачи, радости земной! Мечты, насыщенной любовью! Любви, насыщенной мечтой! С праздником! I wish you stars, flowers, and health! Good luck and all of earth’s joys! Dreams, fulfilling love! Love, fulfilling dreams! Happy women’s day! (The word насыщенный is more accurately translated as “saturated,” “deep,” and “fertile,” but it just sounds too absurd to say “Wishing you dreams and saturated love, love and fertile dreams!”)
-Поздравляю тебя с праздником.желаю тебе оставаться такой же веселой и творческой, какая ты сейчас. Happy women’s day. I wish for you to remain the same cheerful and creative girl that you are today!
-С праздником весны Вас, волшебницы наши! Огромной любви и необъятного счастья! Happy Spring Day to You, our lady-wizards! Huge love and immense happiness! (Fine, fine, волшебница is more like magician or sorceress or enchantress, but lady-wizard sounds legendary!)

So, as fantastically over-the-top these sound, they’re actually quite common messages. (Er, except for the lady-wizards comment!) Randianne and I were laughing over Skype about the abundance of “May you forever stay as you are” comments and jokingly attributing that to the whole Russian “thirst for stability” thing. As far as conventional cultural values go, America loves change and Russia loves stability, and apparently that comes out even in happy holiday wishes! Who knows though, we’re just selecting details to support our own conclusions. Anyway, celebrating these holidays has been lots of fun. Music, high spirits, games, bright colors and decorations, and an endless stream of congratulatory text messages and postings on vkontakte have made the days bright and lively!  Some decorations:

"On the 8th of March, we wish to not do this (to the left), but that (to the right)!" Also, Helga from Hey Arnold makes a nice appearance in the corner!

"The most beautiful women in the world". Darn, for women's day, shouldn't there be a poster of the most handsome men in the world? Argh.

Here are some of the images that friends and students posted on my vkontakte (Russian facebook) wall:
  
And this gem:

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