May 01, 2008

Independence Day

June 12 

there is a particular mistake that seems to come up year in and year out in the school where I work. Somebody schedules an exam on June 12th, or one of the teachers sets up parent meetings on that day. At the last minute it hits them: “Wait a minute! June 12th is a national holiday! It is Russia Day… Russian Independence Day! We have the day off!” The forgetful teacher smiles in embarrassment and shakes his or her head in wonder. “How could I forget such a thing? Next year I’ll be sure to remember.” But next year comes and the exact same scenario plays out.

It’s an odd situation. June 12 was proclaimed a national holiday in 1994. Fourteen years have passed and somehow the idea still has not sunk in. You would think it’s the perfect time for a holiday: the beginning of summer, long hours of daylight, nice weather. And indeed, by the evening of the 11th, an endless caravan of cars is heading out of town, since holidays are almost always timed to form a long уик-энд (“weekend”). An intricate formula has been devised to make this possible. If the 12th is a Friday or Monday, then the three-day weekend happens automatically. If the holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then, in keeping with an exceptionally humane rule that was adopted several years ago, Russians are “compensated” for the lost holiday and the weekend is lengthened anyway. If the holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, then Saturday or Sunday is made into a workday and either Friday or Monday turns into a day off. As a result, in almost every case, national holidays give Russians a three-day weekend and the opportunity to go to the dacha, where you can grill shashlyk over an open fire, relax, and enjoy the kind of sleep you only get after a day of fresh air. Or, for those who stay in the city, there are public festivities that include streets decked out in flags and holiday concerts on television and in public spaces. Cities are transformed, with stages quickly erected on streets and in city squares, performers entertaining passersby, and loudspeakers blaring upbeat music. How could we forget such a holiday? Why does it refuse to stick in our memories?

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