PARADES, FIREWORKS AND remembering history mark Russia’s Victory Day every May.
Every 9th May since 1945, Russia (then Soviet Union) celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany and the end of World War II. Russians have traditionally called the Soviet Union’s war with Germany, from 1941-1945, the Second Great Patriotic War, the first being Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1812 (The Moscow Times, May 6, 2005). It is a time the nation remembers the dead soldiers who fought for freedom and celebrates the war veterans and survivors.
For non-Russians, me in particular, it only means one thing – a public holiday. And for three Victory Days in Moscow, we celebrated the day in our own way.
We arrived in Moscow in 2005, the year the nation celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the end of WWII. Moscow’s Victory Day was celebrated on an especially grand scale. There were a series of official events for three days that weekend that were attended by more than 50 world leaders. The highlights were a military parade in Red Square on Monday 9th May, followed by a reception in the Kremlin. During that period of 8th – 9th May (Sunday and Monday), the entire city centre was practically closed to all except a select number of VIPs, veterans and officials.
While official VD celebrations are off-limits to the public, there were other forms of entertainment – concerts and fireworks display – in parks away from the city centre. As there were heightened security checks (police stopping people to check their documents) and traffic delays (due to road closures), the police had advised people to stay home during the long weekend to avoid all the hassle.
And we did just that. Well, we remained within our backyard and had a BBQ picnic at the park with our new neighbours-colleagues. It was a chilly day but the BBQ pit kept us warm. After that, the whole group adjourned to our barely furnished home (we had just arrived a month before and our container of personal belongings hadn’t even arrived) for a karaoke session (the set belonged to Pak Hamid) while finishing up the abundant leftover food from the afternoon BBQ. Together we witnessed a spectacular show of fireworks from 33 spots (details below) around Moscow city, clearly visible from the windows of our apartment.
The following year, 9th May 2006 fell on a Tuesday. Once again, we stayed home, other than taking M down to the park to roller-blade in the afternoon, and watched the fireworks display again at night.
Our third Victory Day was spent with friends again. That Wednesday, we offered our place again to those who want to view the 15-minute fireworks display which again did not fail to impress. A few turned up, and even stayed till midnight while enjoying coffee and curry puffs which R made.
Here are some interesting facts about fireworks in Russia, according to an article in the May 2005 issue of Where Moscow magazine…
“Fireworks in Russia were first mentioned at the end of 14th century. Under the ruler Muscovy Dmitry Donskoy, they were staged occasionally, and gunpowder was imported mostly from Germany. (In the same article, it was noted that black powder – one of the greatest inventions of the Chinese – was initially meant to fight off spirits.) During the reign of Peter the Great, he turned what was called “fun lights” into an indispensible feature of all festivities, including celebrations for New Year, Pancake Week, military victories and the birth of a new child in the royal family… In 1699, he decreed that on the first day of January, people must make merry and wish health to each other, fireworks would be let off on Red Square, and all must have fun…
Arranging festive fireworks is one of the few traditions that survive up until this day. On Victory Day in 1945, Moscow witnessed the mightiest festive salvo in Russia’s entire history – 30 shots from 1,000 artillery guns…
Moscow’s 33 sites for firework mortars were chosen by special groups of firemen, military and city authorities so that the display could be watched from practically any spot in the city. Trucks are fixed with firework mortars, each mortar consists of several ordinary round metal pipes sitting on one platform. One truck may carry up to 25 units.
On the evening of the celebration day, the trucks move to the sites. Sparrow Hills is the centre stage of all fireworks. The commander of the antiaircraft defense of the Moscow Military District arrives at the control point located opposite Moscow State University, towering into the sky, and calls every firework installation one after another. With all the sites checked, at 10pm sharp, the commander orders “Fire!” All at once comes the cracking sound of a salvo, and the Moscow sky lights up with gigantic fiery flowers. Salvos keep coming every twenty seconds. And the lights of fireworks break through the darkness of the night…”