Saint Petersburg 'Scarlet Sails' Festival Dazzles with Light and Sound

Russia is a country with traditions that may be strange, awkward, proud, curious, and beautiful. Now meet a beautiful one, based on a romantic novel, celebrating the last day of school

Sat, Jul 2, 2016
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The end of school is a very special event in one’s life — it places one at the doorstep of adulthood. Your life lies ahead of you, and it is very important to say your goodbyes to childhood with utmost respect, and to make it something worth remembering.

Russia is a country aware of its traditions, and people usually have a whole lot to remember to tell their own kids. And there are several traditions tied to school, especially to its first and last days.

The first day of school is called “first bell day” and takes place on the 1st of September, also referred to as “knowledge day”. The last day of school is called “last bell day” and takes place on the 25th of May. On both days pupils are dressed in a brown and white uniform of soviet type and girls wear large white ribbons in their hair. An important part of the celebration is a graduate carrying the youngest first-grader on their shoulders while the latter rings a bell. The bell symbolizes the start of the lesson on the first day or the end of the lesson on the last day of school.

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In Saint Petersburg — "Palmyra of the North", "Northern Venice", "the cultural capital or Russia" — there is another wonderful tradition for graduates. It is held around the second week in June during the White Nights festival and is poetically dubbed “scarlet sails”. The name “scarlet sails” refers to a fantasy novel of Alexander Grin, which is a story about love, hope, faith and goodness in people overcoming all the things that are evil. A young girl named Assol, that is being mocked by everyone, waits all her life for her prince charming to arrive on a white ship with scarlet sails. Then he comes, and everybody’s full of joy. Thus the term “scarlet sails” represents youthful hopes and their realization.

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The large-scale “scarlet sails” festivities were established in 1968 in Saint Petersburg and have been celebrated as official state festivities for graduates since 1979. The tradition re-emerged in 2005. Just as it was during the Soviet era, now it is one of the largest and most famous public events not only in Saint Petersburg, but in the whole of Russia.

During the celebrations, a lot goes on — concerts, performances, laser shows and many other entertaining things happen throughout the day on multiple stages simultaneously, with even motorboat and rowing races taking place on the water. There is joy and happiness in the air and if you’re lucky and the weather hasn’t been too hot, there will be the scent of lilacs in bloom. It is an honour for artists, celebrities and the graduates to participate in the show. The whole massive celebration is then finished off with a triumph and cheering as a majestic ship with huge scarlet sails crosses the Neva river accompanied by fireworks and the breathtaking beauty of White Nights.

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This is one of the most notable and beautiful festivities in the city, and I highly recommend that one at least catches a glimpse of the wonders going on in Saint Petersburg during this time, though all hotels are usually booked up weeks before the White Nights and the city is very, very crowded. But if you can make it, you won’t regret it.

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