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28Jan/160

How to celebrate Russian Christmas in the Urals

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On January 9th 2016 our international team of tourists went to the village of Kostino (130km East of Yekaterinburg) where we celebrated Svyatki. Svyatki or saint days is a mixture of pagan believes and Christian traditions celebrated between Ortodox Christmas (Jan.7th) and Epiphany (Jan. 19th).

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The first week of Svyatki is called a saint week and includes celebrating of Christmas. The second week is called "scary". Slavic people believed that evil forces are particular dangerous during that week.  It includes fortune telling at night, carroling and playing outdoor games.

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Fortune telling is one of the traditions in January. Young girls got together in a banya at night to find out who they would marry and how soon. But first a girl had to take off her cross. Christian and pagan rites had to be separated.

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In Kostino we used candle wax and a bowl with water to predict the future. You can guess the meaning of the shapes made by the drops of wax.

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 When carrolling people wear masks of animals (bears, goats, bulls or geese etc) so that they can't be recognized   and one man should be dressed as a goat. If a host refuses to share drinks and treats with carrol singers, the goat can do some mischief. That's why we were treated well and our ‘goat’ – a French guest Gerard got a lot of drinks.

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We all agreed that Kostino is worth coming back in summer. So on July 9th we'll have another weekend tour to the village to celebrate a pagan slavic day of Ivan Kupala!

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9Special thanks to my Moscow friend Katya Sverchkova for the beautiful photos.

4Mar/140

Maslenitsa in an old style in the village of Kostino

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On March 2 we organized a one day tour to the country to celebrate the pre-lent pancake festival called Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is probably the only pagan celebration in Russia that has survived until nowadays with all the rites and traditions. After Christianity of Russia the Orthodox Church had to change the dates of the Lent so that people could eat pancakes and go crazy on Maslenitsa. As for the Russian Tsars, they liked to have fun too. Even the Soviet regime couldn’t change Russian habits.

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To have a proper Maslenitsa fest it’s a good idea to go to the country. Our group of Russians and expats from Italy, France, USA, Serbia and India went to the village of Kostino 130km East of Yekaterinburg. Kostino is one of the most prosperous villages in the area thanks to the Kolkhoz (a collective farm) which is still active. Our Maslenitsa began in the local museum where we were greeted with bread and salt (a Russian tradition of greeting special guests) – everyone has to try a bit of bread with salt before entering the house.

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After the excursion in the museum we had a workshop – learnt how to make an obereg – a special maslenitsa talisman that symbolizes the sun and protects from the evil spirits. Considering the fact that we met no spirits on that day, the talisman worked!

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The folk performance in the museum consisted of songs and blinis. Some of the maslenitsa traditions were quite brutal. A son-in-law would beat his mother-in-law with a wooden stick thus wishing her good health and longevity. Another tradition was a mass fist fight of men. It was called a-wall-to wall fight. The most dangerous one was a fight with a bear. Surely, such fights involved drinking including drinking vodka with a bear!

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Fortunately, there were no bears in Kostino and instead of vodka we were treated with a local liqueur. The main part of the festival was held outside. Having dressed up a little bit all the guests took part in fun skiing and horse riding competitions, a race with a frying pan full of pancakes etc. Finally we burnt down the maslenitsa doll saying farewell to the winter.

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Even though we are still having minus temperatures in March in the Urals, the spring has come to the people who follow the traditions of their forefathers. Well, except for beating your mother-in-law!     

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special thanks to Irina Loktionova and Venu Panicker for the photos!

17Jan/140

Epiphany in the Ural village: crazy Russians and Scotts bathe in freezing water

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January 19th is known in Russia as the Epiphany. The blessing of the waters takes place in the middle of winter when temperature drop dramatically however, it doesn’t prevent many Russians from cutting holes in the lakes to bathe in the freezing water.

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This period around January 19th is called Epiphany Frosts (Kreschenskie morozy). Somehow the weather worsens exactly for the Epiphany as if to test Russians’ bravery. This week has been very warm in Yekaterinburg -2 -4 but exactly on Jan 19th we expect -20 in the city and around – 30 in the north of the region.

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Last winter I was invited to the village of Chusovoye for the Epiphany by the organizers of the Ural-Scottish Festival. Tommy Beavitt, a Scottish musician and translator, came to Yekaterinburg to perform at the concert "Burns & Vysotsky. One soul - two poets" and to try the ritual of the Epiphany.

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First the Orthodox priest has to bless the water. After that it becomes holly and people take the water home to drink. Those who have guts dip themselves three times under the water to wash away the sins of the past year and to experience the spiritual rebirth.

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 Alex Izmalkov, the author of these photos only took pictures of men but there were women and yong boys who tried it too.

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Tommy Beavitt proved to be a tough Scot

Tommy Beavitt proved to be a tough Scot

After jumping in the water everybody gathered in the local church for hot tea and for a conversation with the priest.

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Special thanks to Alex Izmalkov for the photos

23Aug/130

Yekaterinburg – 290s Jubilee

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photo from www.e1.ru

On August 17th Yekaterinburgers celebrated 290s Birthday of the city. The Jubilee attracted half a million people (one third of the city population). Probably the number of people was so big due to the weather: +30 Celcius. Occasional rains during the day were a relief for many. In my opinion, the next step for the government should be – to clean the city pond so that we could bathe right in the city center!

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The so-called City’s Day (Den Goroda) is celebrated in Yekaterinburg on the third weekend of August. Although, officially it’s November 17th. On this date in 1723 the State Iron Factory of the future Yekaterinburg was put into operation. Well, the history is the history but November here is bitterly cold so let it be August!

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If you asked the locals what they usually do on the city’s Birthday most of them would say “Oh, we go to datcha to stay away from the crowd” or something like “I never go to the city center on this day, who wants to see all those drunk slobs from Uralmash and vicinities”. So the general opinion is that the City’s Day is a chaos when Lenin Street is occupied by the chaffs from the industrial neighborhoods. Frankly speaking it used to be so even 5 years ago but things are changing. The alcohol ban in the city center helps a bit but most importantly, the people’s mentality is changing. Young people prefer dancing on the streets to drinking on the corner.

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Alyona Grigoryan, my Facebook friend posted the other day the following comment:

“This year, the City’s Day was a nice surprise. The festival itself wasn’t a surprise, it was just very good!!! I was surprised to see so many happy people who really enjoyed the holiday. The people were so beautiful, well-dressed like in a summer resort. So many people came with the families, with children and grannies. Lots of people came with little kids and babies and nobody was afraid of a crowd. There were many policemen, all dressed in white, they were friendly. May be that’s the reason why everything was quiet, nobody tried to make a row. I hardly saw any drunk people, even those with beer were stopped by the police. I saw how the policewomen came to men with beer and asked to take it away. And there were many nice intelligent faces. 6 years ago it was impossible to see. So beautiful! People were sitting on the lawns just like in Europe. They were enjoying their time and having fun. The city is really improving. I wish it were always like that!”

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Only on the City's Day you can be lying on the lawn on Lenin St. in front of the Residence of the President of Russia!

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click on gallery to see more faces of Yekaterinburg and the fireworks:

17Jun/130

Tatars and Bashkirs in the Urals

The annual Festival of Bashkir and Tatar Culture called Sabantuy was held on June 16th in the Mayakovskogo Park of Yekaterinburg.

Sabantuy is celebrated in many Russian cities. While in Moscow it’s not widely promoted as the authorities are afraid of the ethnic clashes. In Yekaterinburg the festival has been celebrated for many years with the support of the local government, however the police was everywhere in the park just in case. Fortunately, there was no work for the police during the festival. The city mayor invited everyone to join the event irrespective of nationalities and religions.

The guests could take place in traditional sport activities

Tatars and Bashkirs have been sharing the Urals with Russians for centuries. Particularly the Bashkirs who live mainly in Southern Urals. Theys speak their languages of a Turkic group and are Sunni Muslims.

Today there are about 2 millions of Bashkirs in the world. Yekaterinburg has about 2% of Bashkir population which is less than 25 000 people. The older generation of Tatars and Bashkirs would prefer if their children married people of the same folk but it’s getting more and more difficult especially in big cities.

 

Sabantuy is an opportunity for Tatars and Bashkirs to preserve their culture. Many elderly people gather in the park to meet their friends and to speak their language.

click to the gallery to see more photos from the Sabantuy Festival

9May/130

Happy Victory Day!

An annual military parade was held in Yekaterinburg today at 10 am

In Europe the war was over on May 8th. But when the end of the Second World War was announced it was midnight in Moscow and early morning of the next day in the rest of Russia. Therefore in Russia 9th of May is a public holiday and a parade day in the largest Russian cities.

This year citizens could tell a story of their relative who fought at the war and get a poster with his photo.

The Victory Day finishes with fireworks in the evening all over Russia. In Yekaterinburg the fireworks will take place at 10.30 pm (local time)

photos by Artyem Ustyuzhanin, www.e1.ru

25Mar/132

Maslenitsa in Aramashevo village

Last weekend (March 16) we gathered an international team of expats and travelers from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Russia to go to the village of Aramashevo (110 km of Yekaterinburg) to celebrate Maslenitsa (Pancake festival before the Lent)

We’d chosen the village as my colleagues (other guides in Yekaterinburg) recommended it as the best place for Maslenitsa. And even though the pancake feast is celebrated in every village and in many parks of Yekaterinburg, I’m sure we were at the right place for a true folk fest!

Aramashevo was founded in 16th century by the Cossacks. The village is located on top of the cliff on the bank of the Rezh River. It’s worth coming here in summer to enjoy a wonderful view from the cliff. The river is also god for rafting. The Museum of the History of Rural Life in the Urals will be an interesting visit any time of the year.

The best thing of the museum is that you can touch everything, put on the clothes of the farmers or play the music instruments. For the guys from New Zealand and Australia it was a true fun to play a babushka and dedushka:

Meanwhile the Russians rally enjoyed the Soviet room of the museum:

We also had a workshop and made vesnyanochka – a doll, the symbol of the coming spring

After the excursion we went outside and joined the villagers in different types of competitions.

After energetic dances we got to the main part of the festival – burning down Maslenitsa which symbolizes farewell to winter.

The weirdest thing about the Maslenitsa in Aramashevo was that there were no pancakes! We expected lots of pancakes but instead got pirogi (pies) and shashlik (BBQ). The local sbiten – a honey alcoholic drink was nothing but herbal tea with vodka in it. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun and did the main thing – said good bye to the winter. As we returned back to Yekaterinburg in the evening, it was + 10!

23Jan/133

10 Must-dos in Yekaterinburg in winter

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Karim Farah, an exchange student from Egypt arrived in Yekaterinburg in December for a few weeks. And of course, it sounded as a crazy plan in the first place, considering that last December was the coldest month in the Urals with temperatures around -25. For someone from the countries like Egypt it must be a one month long nightmare, you would think. However, Karim asked me to share his photos because he would be happy ‘to advertise the wonderful city of Yekat!'

So here’s the advertisement: Don’t be afraid to come to Russia in winter. There’s much more to do in Yekaterinburg in winter than going on conventional excursions in summer months.

Be different and try out a Russian style winter holiday in the Ural capital!

10 Must-dos in Yekaterinburg in winter:

1 Go to the Europe-Asian border and roll in the snow in the nearby forest

2 Visit the Monastery Ganina Yama, which looks like a fairytale in winter

3 Go to a Russian banya (steam bath) and jump in snow this time absolutely naked!

4 Drink Russian vodka, that always keeps you warm, with Russian friends or without

5 Get cultured and watch ‘Swan Lake’ at the Opera and Ballet Theatre

6 Try Wikitravel’s must-dos in Yekaterinburg: English club at the Keeer restaurant on Wednesday night to meet new people. And the Limpopo Aquapark to feel like on a tropical island when it’s still – 25 outside.

7 Learn skating with your new friends from the English club

8 Make a snowman. Ask local kids to help you – they’ve been practicing since they were born

9 Do the city tour: dig out the QWERTY monument and walk on the surface of the city pond – something you can only do in winter!

10 At night take photos of the amazing ‘ice town’ in the Square on 1905

photos by Karim Farah

5Jan/130

Ice town 2013 in Yekaterinburg

In the winter I’m getting even more proud of living in Yekaterinburg because now I can show tourists Ledovyj Gorodok (the ice town) in the Square of 1905. Unfortunately, there are very few foreign tourists in winter – people are afraid of the cold weather… It’s only -15 today and the ice town is packed, so make sure to come next year! Meanwhile, I can share these amazing photos with you.

The theme of the ice town is ‘Global Mind’ this year. The slogan is taken from the bid of Yekaterinburg Expo 2020.

The Eifel Tower is here to remind us that Expo 1900 was held in Paris. That year Yekaterinburg’s Kasli iron cast Pavilion won Grand Prix. The elaborate pavilion is now exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts and the ice version of it was made in the square.

Eifel Tower in front of the Shopping Center 'Europa'

the pride of Yekaterinburgers: Kasli Pavilion made of ice

inside the pavilion

Click to the gallery to see the ice scuptures made by the international team of scuptors:

 

8Jul/120

New monument of family, love and faith in Yekaterinburg

8th of July is a new celebration in Russia –St. Peter and Fevronya’s Day, the day of family, love and faith. A brand new monument to patron saints of marriage and family was opened in Yekaterinburg near the Church on the Blood and it immediately became a popular spot for newly-weds.

Originally, it was a Russian Orthodox celebrated only in the town of Murom as Peter was the Prince of Murom. The day of love and family was proposed by Russian Orthodox Church as opposed to St Valentine’s. The church doesn’t like that young people in Russia celebrate a Catholic Day. In 2008 the Russian Government accepted the proposal of a new celebration and it was actively promoted by Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of the former president D. Medvedev.

Interesting facts: In spite of the fact that Peter and Fevronya symbolize traditional Orthodox values, Peter, the Prince of Murom didn’t want to marry Fevronya. She was a commoner who cured him of leprosy. In return, Fevronya asked Peter to marry her but he refused. However, he later suffered a relapse and came to Fevronya again. After that he had to marry Fevronya. The couple was childless which isn’t a good example of a good Orthodox family either. At the end of their lives they both joined the clergy. He became a monk and she was a nun and both prayed to die on the same date which they did on July, 8th 1228.

When speaking about love and faith, it’s worth mentioning some statistics here. According to Demoscope Weekly, every second marriage ends in divorce in Yekaterinburg. The average age of newly-weds in Russia is 26-27 for men and 24-25 for women. Only 30% of Russian women and 56% of men marry for the second time after a divorce. As for faith, 90% of men and 85% of women in Russia think that adultery is a good reason to get a divorce.

There are no special traditions yet about buying chocolate or flowers on this date. But considering the statistics, it’s probably a good thing that we have a day in summer when people can think about the family values.