In Russia, November 7th is a date with an interesting story behind it. From 1917, it marked the Great October Socialist Revolution, though in post-Soviet times, it was renamed The Day of Accord and Conciliation by Boris Yeltsin’s government. Though the commemoration takes place on November 7th, you can be forgiven if you might have thought it was November 4th instead; the two holidays fall close together and their stories intertwine.
In actual fact, November 4th became a holiday in 1613, when Tsar Mikhail Romanov established a day named the Day of Liberation from Polish Invaders. Prior to 1613, Russia had been in turmoil and there was much fighting over the right to claim the Russian throne. The Polish occupied Moscow and Muscovites, whether nobles or commoners, were called upon to defend their city and expel the invaders. This was achieved in 1612, and November 4th was then commemorated in honour of those who made it happen.
That holiday was celebrated until 1917, when it was replaced by the Bolsheviks with a commemoration of the events of the Revolution, held on November 7th. The October Revolution was the name given to the events that took place as the Bolsheviks captured the Winter Palace to overthrow the provisional government. This paved the way for the creation of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the world’s first self-styled socialist state.
Throughout the Soviet period, this day was one of the most important days in the calendar, a time for military parades and fireworks extravaganzas. In 1941, on the 36th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, an impressive parade was staged, with around 28,500 soldiers marching from Red Square to the World War Two frontline. It was a show of defiance to the advancing Nazis, and an important morale booster.
In 2005, Unity Day, as it became known, was reinstated by President Putin, focusing on the events of 1612 rather than those of 1917. Some in Russia, especially members of the Communist Party, weren’t happy with this decision and continued with their Great October Socialist Revolution celebrations on November 7th.
By now, you may have been wondering why, if the commemorations take place in November, the event being marked is the October Uprising. That’s a good question, of course, but one that has a simple answer. Events took place in St Petersburg on October 25th 1917 according to the Julian calendar, but this wasn’t replaced by the Gregorian calendar in Russia until 1918, at which point the corresponding date was agreed as November 7th. Remember that little nugget: it might come in handy in a future quiz night.