Kunstkammer Fireworks
The fireworks light up the Kunstkammer

Scarlet Sails/ Алые паруса
Palace Embankment/ Дворцовая набережная
The main festivities lasted from 22.00- 2.30 

In the United States, while students gleefully anticipate the end of the school year, they tend to celebrate it in a low-key manner (i.e. small graduation parties, sleeping in and watching TV all day, etc.). St. Petersburg, on the other hand, has added more flair to the milestone through an event known as the Scarlet Sails (Алые паруса).

The celebration traces its origins to Scarlet (Crimson) Sails, a 1922 children’s book written by Russian and Soviet author Alexander Grin.  The story details how a poor young girl meets a wizard, who claims that she will one day fall in love with a prince. He adds that the two of them will venture off on a ship with scarlet sails. She waits years for this prediction to come true; finally, a wealthy captain arrives, falls in love with the girl, and they sail off, living happily ever after.

Concert

The televised concert for the Scarlet Sails

In 1968, the Zhdanov Palace of Culture, inspired by this tale, designed a massive celebration to honor the 1968 high school graduates. It featured fireworks, a parade of vessels, and the “grand finale” of the titular ship floating by; of course, the pre- and post-party celebrations were quite wild as well. The tradition continued for ten years before being disbanded in 1979, due to excessive rowdiness. However, the event was revived in 2005, and has established itself as incredibly popular coming-of-age ceremony.

As my roommates and I discovered the rich history behind the Scarlet Sails, we jumped at the opportunity to celebrate the 2013 festivity. Though the fireworks were not scheduled until 1:30 a.m., we headed to the Palace Embankment at 11:00 p.m. to claim a spot, as people of all ages were rapidly accumulating on both sides of the Neva. While we were waiting, we watched a giant televised concert of the celebration.

Kunstkammer Fireworks

The fireworks light up the Kunstkammer

It honored the recipients of a nationwide scholarship competition, sponsored by the Bank of Russia (the company’s logo, Россия-страна возможностей, or “Russia, the country of possibility” was heavily displayed throughout the program), and also showcased popular musicians performing in both English and Russian. In the meantime, the White Nights finally gave way to darkness around midnight, marking the first time we ever truly saw St. Petersburg at night. The glowing buildings on the horizon, complemented by the “super moon” phenomenon that evening, created a truly magical scene. Finally, after chatting and walking around to pass the time, the clock struck 1:30- time for the fireworks! Sure enough, the sky was soon set ablaze in a dazzling variety of shimmering colors. We stood too far away to get a good glimpse of the Scarlet Sails, but nonetheless were able to make out the eponymous ship off in the distance. The fireworks ended after 2 a.m., and we headed back to the dorms for our 9:00 classes the next day. Though we felt tired, we were absolutely ecstatic to have partaken in such a wonderful tradition. I know that the Scarlet Sails 2013 will forever remain one of most treasured memories of my St. Petersburg trip!

This video captures the Scarlet Sails 2013. It’s a bit long, but breathtaking:

Sources Consulted

“The Scarlet Sails 2013.” Travelallrussia.com. Travel All Russia, n.d. Web.

Scarlet Sails (tradition).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2013. Web. 27 June 2013.

Marin Ekstrom

Marin Ekstrom

Marin Ekstrom is an undergraduate studying Global, Cultural, and Language Studies and Russian Studies at the College of St. Scholastica (Duluth, Minnesota). She is studying in St. Petersburg over Summer, 2013 with the Russian as a Second Language program. It will be her first time outside of North America, and she is excited to sharpen her language skills while experiencing cultural immersion. Ideally, in her future she would like to pursue graduate studies in either International Relations or Russian Area Studies.

Marin attended Russian as a Second Language
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