New Year's Day. January 1 is the first day of the Gregorian calendar, which is used by most countries in Eastern Europe. This day is both a secular and a religious holiday commemorating the circumcision of Christ. In countries where Eastern Orthodoxy is the predominant religion, many celebrate January 1 as a civic holiday and January 14 as a religious holiday. The Eastern Church in Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland has adopted a modified Julian calendar, which incorporates both religious and civic holidays on January 1. In Russia, January 1 is a civil holiday and the biggest of the year, a holdover from the atheist Soviet government, which banned religious celebrations.
Feast of St. Blaise. The patron saint of Dubrovnik (Croatia) is honored each February 3 by Catholics worldwide as a healer of throat ailments. But in Dubrovnik, the saint is revered as the city's savior, a man who thwarted an attack of invading Turks. He is feted with parades, food, wine, and a workers' day off.
Carnival. This pre-Lenten celebration begins in mid-February and ends at midnight on Shrove Tuesday in cities and villages all over the globe. It is celebrated to various degrees throughout Eastern Europe, but lavishly so in Rijeka, Croatia.
National Days. March is a good month for national days in Eastern Europe. Bulgaria National Day is March 3 while Hungary's is March 15. Bulgaria also hosts March Music Days, a festival of classical music and composers, in March.
Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. These movable feasts can fall in March or April, but they are both religious and civic holidays for Catholics and Eastern Rite Christians throughout Eastern Europe whenever they occur. Eastern Rite Easter is usually 1 or 2 weeks after Catholic/Protestant Easter. The day has taken on greater significance in Russia since the collapse of Soviet atheism. The International Festival of Ghosts and Phantoms materializes in Bojnice, Slovakia, at the end of April. On National Resistance Day Slovenia stops to remember the movement that stood up to occupying forces during World War II.
Labor Day. May 1 is a workers' holiday throughout Eastern Europe.
National Days. Poland's Constitution Day is May 3; Bulgaria has Bulgarian Army Day on May 6; the Czech Republic and Slovakia celebrate Liberation Day on May 8; Hungary commemorates Emancipation Day on May 24; and Croatia celebrates Statehood Day on May 30.
Pentecost Sunday. Another movable church feast, Pentecost is celebrated 40 days after Easter throughout Eastern Europe. Pentecost, aka Whit Monday, is also a civic holiday.
Corpus Christi Day. This Catholic holy day also merits some civic closures in Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. It usually falls in June but can be in late May when Easter falls early in the season.
Summer Festivals. June is the traditional start of the summer festival season in Eastern Europe, which kicks off with dance festivals in Zagreb, Croatia (June 1), and Prague, Czech Republic (June 2).
National Days. Croatia stops everything for Antifascist Struggle Day on June 22, and closes down again 3 days later on June 25 for Statehood Day, a date it shares with Slovenia's National Day holiday. In late June or early July St. Petersburg hosts White Nights, a series of concerts, film festivals, all-night boat tours, and other events.
July & August
These 2 months equate with Eastern Europe's high tourism season and the summer festival season all over the region. Choose from Dubrovnik's Summer Festival in Croatia, a more-than-50-year-old theater and music marathon that goes from the second week of July through the third week of August, to Formula I racing in Budapest (Hungary) at the beginning of August. The Maiden Festival in Romania is a vestige of Targu de Fete, a day when guys picked out their brides. Today it is more of a folk festival. Look for single-day or weekend celebrations in specific towns in every country and you can eat, drink, sing, and dance your way across Eastern Europe for 2 months. Split's Summer Festival showcases open-air opera, theater, and dance performances and Porec is the venue for a series of jazz concerts. August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption, which is a holy day for the world's Catholics, including Eastern Europe's Catholic countries (Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia).
The festival season winds down and kids in Eastern Europe go back to school in September. You still can take in a concert or two at the Prague Autumn Music Festival from mid-September to October or watch a Marco Polo naval battle reenactment off Korcula (Croatia) in early September. The Apollonia Festival of the Arts takes place in Bulgaria in September and it is followed by the Golden Rose International Film Festival at the end of the month.
Lots of civic commemorations across Eastern Europe mean plenty of days off work and store closures in October. Croatia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia each close down for a day (Oct 8, 23, 28, and 31, respectively) to celebrate political milestones. The harvest season goes into full swing, too, with village celebrations in progress across the region. Warsaw hosts a Jazz Jamboree this month. It is purported to be the oldest jazz festival in Europe.
All Saints' Day (Nov 1) is another holy day for Catholics and a day to close up shop in Eastern Europe's Catholic countries (Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia). Polish people place lighted candles on the graves of the dear departed on this day. November 11 is St. Martin's Day and the first day of the wine season in grape-growing regions (Croatia, Slovenia) and a day to eat, drink, and be merry.
Christmas fairs abound in the Czech Republic in the days leading up to that holiday. Polish children delight on St. Nicholas Day (Dec 6) because they receive gifts. Except for Russia, Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day (Dec 25-26) are celebrated throughout Eastern Europe as both religious and civic holidays, as is New Year's Eve, aka St. Sylvester's Day, on December 31.
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