Russian Culture

Russian Culture

Russian culture harbors a striking contrast at heart: Imperial cities nestling one of the most prominent social cultures in the world, and the barren isolation of the vast tundra on the other side. The result is a cultural makeup consisting of a firm way of life, splendor, and colorful traditions. Folklore and religious holidays are essential to societal integrity in Russian life. Tales of magical creatures and extraordinary beings take root in the pagan cultures in the region and constitute a majority of folk beliefs. Festive spirits find soul through newer traditions belonging to the country’s more recent past, mainly after the Russian Orthodox Church. At the heart of it all, a strong sense of “the homeland” acts as an anchor.

Soviet rule and communism changed some core values in Russian culture. Family and the concept of motherland play a much more important role when it comes to social values and customs. Yet, after the end of this era, older traditions reappeared and regained their place in Russian culture. These changes are best reflected in the myriad products of the golden era of Russian literature and arts. Today, the core values in the fabric of culture in Russia are generosity, a resilient character both individually and as a nation, and strength.

Russian culture has a collectivist nature, and you will see this play in social life both in the countryside and the big cities. You may observe that the concepts of interdependence and protectiveness are quite different in the western world. These are the most unique elements of the culture that you will experience during your travels in Russia.

Eating & Drinking

“The culinary scene you will experience in Russia is a fusion of ethnic and modern cuisine, offering rich recipes that originated in the surrounding landscape.”

From Caucasian to Uzbek and Tatar to Ukrainian, there are a number of culinary traditions that make up the Russian culture of food. It is best known for its substantial dishes rich in any produce that grows in a close environment. Most dishes originate from the peasant food of rural Russia, making use of plentiful ingredients and revolving around coping with the harsh climate. The ingredients are often simple and common across the vast country, including caviar, cereals, pork, mushrooms, and berries. Preservation methods are very enhanced in order to make the produce last the long and cold winters.

Cold soups, hot soups, hearty stews, fulfilling porridges… Russian food may seem austere, but it stars some of the most unique dishes that you will try in a lifetime. Milk-based soups are some of them. Of course, you are familiar with its star dish, the colorful and satisfying Borscht. There are plenty of other soups designed to make your insides feel warm. Fish and meat are the staples of Russian main dishes, while vegetables are usually beet vegetables and are usually served either as salads or in various pickled forms. Pickled apples are absolute delights to try. Also famous are pickled cabbage leaves, complementing the meals with their quirky sour taste. Tula gingerbread and pirozhki are worth trying, representing the domestic Russian culture like no other.

Not surprisingly, the most characteristic element of Russian cuisine is not food, but vodka! In Russian culture, it is much more than any alcoholic beverage drank in the context of entertainment. In fact, Russians almost never consume vodka without a reason. Whether it is a national holiday or a private celebration, vodka is there—all by itself, ice-cold, and served in a single shot. This is the way to drink vodka like a Russian.

Unique Crafts & Shopping

Blame it on the cold weather—Russia is not big on outdoor shopping. This makes Russia’s myriad shopping malls fun places to be. Outdoor markets make an appearance during the holidays, where you can buy a wide range of goods for lower prices. These markets are lucrative, but smaller shops are also where you will get a concentrated dose of Russian culture. Soviet art and crafts are represented in miniature paintings and jewelry boxes, while the myriad tastes of the country meet travelers in giftable forms.

When in Moscow, pay a visit to the stimulating Vernisaj flea market, remodeled after Old Russia with an authentic feel. This is the best spot to enjoy a bargaining experience on top of a variety of unique items such as handpainted Russian lacquer boxes and matryoshkas, the iconic Russian nested doll. St Petersburg’s crafts scene is even better for the more culturally inclined. Artisan shops offer the best antique and handcrafted items in the meandering alleys of this fairytale city. The best ones to buy are authentic Russian porcelain pieces, jewelry made of Baltic amber, and of course, a glimmering bottle of Tsar’s vodka. In the countryside towns like Suzdal and Vladimir, the best thing to do is to avoid the tourist souvenir shops and look for mead and ceramic workshops.

Faberge eggs decorated with quintessentially Russian patterns, Gzhel ceramics, vodka, and delicate shawls… These are the items that you won’t find anywhere else. So take your time in the crafts shops and choose the best memorable goods to take home. Meanwhile, local artists and shop owners will tell you about the history of these valuable traditions.

  • Takeaway: Head to the shopping malls for luxury, outdoor marketplaces for traditional goods, and antique stores for unique items.

Religion & Etiquette

Approximately 40% of the Russian population belongs to Russian Orthodoxy, and 25% identify as nonreligious but spiritual. Atheism is also prevalent in society, with the remaining population being atheists or undecided. It is true that many Russians follow the religion they inherit from their ethnic ancestors. Since the end of communism, religion plays a more important role in social dynamics. Russian Orthodoxy manifests itself in Russian culture most strongly through religious icons and blessings. Yet, what really influences cultural norms and practices is the folk religions. Folk beliefs such as house spirits and healing practices still have a place in the daily lives of most Russians, especially in the countryside.

Respecting elderly people, women, and children is very important in Russian culture. Some basic rules of etiquette include offering seats to these people in public transportation and always addressing elder people with respect. Acting too casually in public may be frowned upon. A sensitive topic is the turbulent history of the country and Russian politics. You may find it useful to practice caution when discussing such issues. Overall, don’t be too eager to criticize or say your opinions about these topics in public. Russians don’t like condescension. Also, jokes about drinking too much in the country may receive a negative response. A proper introduction with any Russian is a firm handshake and eye contact.

Festivals & Events

“Russian festivals cut the cold of the country like a knife, bringing together people in vibrant celebrations and cultural spectacles.”

Russia’s most special events celebrate folklore, the winter season, and religious days with boundless joy. Russian Orthodox holidays constitute a major part of the yearly calendar, while older religious traditions are celebrated in the countryside. Come in the winter season, and you will find yourself in the middle of a plethora of holiday events all throughout the country. From December to January, the Russian Winter Festival opens its doors to locals and travelers. Lights and jovial decorations adorn the sky, and the most iconic locations in Russia host magnificent spectacles. Gorky Park is perfect for capturing amazing shots, while Revolution Square hosts handcraft shops and stalls.

The Russian New Year may prove to be the most exhilarating. Listen to the stories of Father Frost and Snow Maiden, two iconic Christmas figures in Russian folklore, and decorate New Year’s Eve trees in the squares. Pay a visit to Red Square for a ride on the ice rink. Wherever you go joyful concerts, carnivals, and street fairs will keep you company. But, Russia’s main festival scene is not all about winter. In late spring, the world-famous White Nights Festival take over the majestic St Petersburg. Seeing the sun in the horizon until midnight will be the most epic experience of your visit. The demonstrations that come with is the icing on the cake.

If your trip doesn’t coincide with any of these special events, don’t worry. Some of Russia’s annual festivals last throughout the year, such as the International Theatre Festival. You will also find unforgettable events reflecting Russian culture in the big cities like Moscow and St Petersburg.

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