Understanding local customs and holidays: how to give a gift in Russia

With different calendars, cultural values, religious beliefs and complicated histories, each country has its own particular customs when it comes to giving gifts. From finding the appropriate number of flowers to send, to working out the correct day to celebrate Christmas, understanding local traditions is essential for businesses wanting to be successful abroad. So what does the Russian events calendar look like?

Defender of the Fatherland Day, February 23rd

Formally known as ‘Red Army Day’, Defender of the Fatherland Day has become heavily recognized and commercialized and is now an official public holiday. It ostensibly aims to celebrate all those who have served the Russian Armed Forces, although it is now common for all males to be celebrated as defenders of the Fatherland. Women give their husbands, boyfriends, fathers and sons cards and small gifts, usually unconnected with the military, and the day is known colloquially as Men’s Day. The most common gifts are colognes and socks and because of this, some Russian men have given the day the unofficial name of “The All-Russian Day of Shaving Cream.” In recent years, some men have made efforts to stock up on shaving cream, cologne and aftershave just before the holiday as a protest, in order to force their female family members to get more creative with gifts.

International Women’s Day, March 8th

Although the day is recognized internationally by the UN, in Russia International Women’s Day is thought of as a day of “warm feelings and excitement” rather than a political landmark. Women of all ages receive cards, gifts and flowers, both at home and in the workplace. March 8th is considered by some to be the most important day of the year for Russian gift- and flower-giving, and flowers are the most popular gift to give. However, flower-giving etiquette is strict: flowers should be given in odd numbers only, since even numbers of flowers are reserved for cemeteries and funerals only. Similarly, yellow flowers are to be avoided since they signify the end of a relationship.

New Year or Christmas?

New Year’s Eve is a much bigger and more lavish event on the Russian calendar than Christmas, and it is on New Year’s Day that friends and family exchange presents. In Russian culture, a Santa Claus figure called Ded Moroz and his granddaughter Senqurochka,or Snow Maiden, are said to deliver presents to children at New Year’s Eve parties, or sometimes leave them under a New Year Tree – the equivalent of the Western Christmas Tree. Christmas meanwhile is celebrated on the 7th of January, according to the Julian calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church, and is a more subdued affair. Although celebrated since 1992, it has not been made a public holiday in Russia.

Getting local holidays and gift-giving customs right allows businesses to gain insight into the buying habits and cultural values of their market audience. By understanding the importance that Russians attach to international events and the patriotism rooted in their own, businesses stand to make more of the sales opportunities that arise at peak times of the year.