Unlike many other countries, Belarus has more holidays designated towards commemorations and historical/national events than religious holidays.
New Year’s Day. January 1. For a long time, different parts of Belarus celebrated the new year at different times, especially during the Middle Ages. In many areas, caroling has been a tradition that goes back centuries. Families will set out to make 12-course meals, including kutia (a grain pudding). In fact, people refer to the entire meal as kutia, as in they hope the meals for the rest of the year are as extravagant as the holiday meals. There are a lot of rituals involved in the New Year, like spreading different kinds of grains on the floor in hopes for good luck and prosperity. One popular story is that Grandfather Frost makes his appearance to the local villages and bring biting frosts, but the people will offer him kutia to try to appease him.
Orthodox Christmas. January 7. During this time, families and friends feast on special foods that are normally eaten around this time. Many people attend special church services during this time that are, for the most part, longer than normal. In Orthodox Christianity, there are fewer adherences to the gift-giving and commercial aspect of Christmas. Some families use a white tablecloth to symbolize the purity of the baby Jesus, and some also place straw on the table as well to symbolize the straw in the stable where Jesus was born.
Defender of the Fatherland and Armed Forces Day. February 23. This marks the day in 1918 when people signed up to join the Russian Red Army. It was later renamed to the current name with the break-up of Russia. The President will always perform two traditional ceremonies on this day: to lay a wreath at Victory Square, and to present general’s shoulder boards to certain members of various ministries.
Constitution Day. March 15. This day marks the day when the Constitution was established in 1994. However, President Lukashenko immediately started making huge changes the minute he got into power, as in filling positions with people he appointed, getting rid of free-enterprise, and limiting free speech – things that the people feel are trashing democracy as we know it. For a lot of Belarusians, Constitution Day is a farce.
Catholic Easter and Orthodox Easter. Varies. These two days usually are on different days. Many people will start their Easter day off with church services in the morning. People will generally spend the rest of the day with family and friends. For those who celebrate Orthodox Easter, many will visit the graves of loved ones and lay fresh flowers on them. Decorating Easter eggs is a really popular thing to do, and some are really elaborate.
Unity of Peoples from Russia and Belarus Day. April 2. Since there is a special tie to Russia, it’s no wonder there’s a holiday for this. Russian and Belarusian actors and musicians will usually make public appearances for special events.
Chernobyl Tragedy Commemoration Day. April 26. On this day in 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was the site of one (of two) of the largest nuclear accidents in history. The power plant is actually in Ukraine, on the border with Ukraine and Belarus, but its effects can be felt all across Eastern Europe.
International Labor Day. May 1. This is a day aimed at supporting labor organizations and labor movements. People usually spend the day with family and friends. There are parades, picnics, concerts, and many politicians will usually give speeches as well.
State Flag and State Emblem Day. 2nd Sunday in May. The current flag was adopted in 1995. The flag is made up of a larger red stripe that covers the top 2/3 of the flag, and a green stripe on the bottom 1/3 of it. To the left side (the flagpole side) is a red and white national pattern. The national emblem is a green outline of the country with sunrays behind it and a red star above it. On either side is a splay of clover flowers and one of flax with shafts of wheat. Below is the words “Republic of Belarus” in red and green ribbons.
Victory Day. May 9. This is as a day that celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany during WWII. One-quarter of Belarusians died during WWII, and there is a huge parade that is held in Victory Square in Minsk.
Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Great Patriotic War. June 22. Another name for WWII, it’s to remember the thousands and thousands of victims of the war that started on this day in 1941. People will light candles in honor of those who fell.
Independence Day. July 3. A huge military parade tops this day in celebration of the liberation of its capital city Minsk from the Nazis in 1944.
Kupalle. July 6-7. Kupalle is a mid-summer festival that incorporates a lot of folk arts and folklore. It’s a way of preserving ancient traditions that date back to the pagan days. One tradition is to search for the blooming fern, which legend says that it only blooms once a year, and whoever finds it is ensured prosperity and luck.
Dziady. November 2. It’s actually an ancient Slavic festival that commemorates the dead. In Belarus, it’s also come to be a day in honor of the victims of Soviet political repression.
October Revolution Day. November 7. This is a day that commemorates the beginning of what has been known as Red October, the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Bolshevik Red Guard forced their way to take over government buildings.
Catholic Christmas. December 25. Christmas somewhat takes a back seat to New Year, the bigger of the two holidays, even though it’s really celebrated twice in this country. They do a lot of the traditions that are also found in other countries, such as caroling and decorating trees. They also have a lot of special treats to eat around this time of year and the giving of gifts, and the most important one: spending time with family and friends.
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