Celebrating the feast of Troitsa in Moscow

If you’re in Moscow in the weeks following Easter, you may notice a lot of extra greenery in places you wouldn’t normally expect. Many local houses, flats and churches will be decorated with fresh green branches, flowers and leaves in honour of Troitsa, or the Feast of the Trinity – more commonly known as Pentecost outside of Russia.

The celebrations reach their peak on the 50th day following Easter – Pentecost Sunday, or Whitsun in the English tradition – and often take in the following Monday and Tuesday as well. If you’re staying at the Park Inn by Radisson Sheremetyevo Airport Moscow Hotel or any other Russian locations during this time, read on to learn more about this fascinating feast – then check out some of the lovely decorations during your stay.

The significance of Troitsa

In the Christian tradition, both Eastern and Western, Troitsa or Pentecost commemorates the arrival of the Holy Spirit amongst the apostles and other disciples of Jesus. As described in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit appeared among them as tongues of fire, and gave each of them the ability to speak different languages in order to spread God’s message amongst all the nations of the world.

Colorful Easter eggs

The feast day is celebrated 7 weeks (or 50 days) after Easter Sunday, and as Easter is a moveable feast day itself the precise date of Pentecost varies from year to year. It also tends to be celebrated on different days in the Eastern and Western churches, as the two traditions calculate the date of Easter differently.

Troitsa traditions

Whereas those who grew up with Western church traditions tend to associated Pentecost with the colour red and the symbol fire, in the Orthodox Church – and Russia in particular -Troitsa is a springtime festival of greenery and nature. Pentecost is often viewed as the Church’s birthday, and hence the Troitsa celebrations revolve around fresh growth and the renewal of life.

It is with this in mind that many people in Russia observe the Troitsa season by bringing fresh twigs and garlands of flowers into their homes as decorations. Branches from birch trees are among the most common adornments, as birch is traditionally seen as a symbol of fertility and fresh life in the area. In some areas branches are nailed to fences and doorposts, and even scatter grass and leaves about the floors to bring the forest indoors.

Spring flowers on a table

On Pentecost Sunday (sometimes called Green Sunday in Russia), churches are also decorated with trees and other greenery – sometimes to an impressive extent, giving the impression of a cool, leafy forest within the building.

The priests perform special daytime and evening services while attired in green vestments laced with gold, and many Russians attend as a key part of their celebrations, sometimes carrying greenery. It’s also common for families to take advantage of the weekend to head out into the countryside and celebrate by spending time in nature.

Some people think this emphasis on nature may originally stem from early ties with the ancient Jewish harvest festival, Shevuot (the Festival of Weeks), which was traditionally celebrated outdoors in nature. Pentecost was the name used by Latin and Greek speakers for this festival, which was celebrated 50 days after Passover, hence the connection. Other people think the use of greenery for Troitsa may echo earlier, pre-Christian celebrations of springtime, fertility, and fresh starts.

What is your favourite springtime holiday?