A Small Dictionary of White Nights

A Small Dictionary of White Nights
01 June 2017

Summertime in St. Petersburg wouldn’t be complete without the famous White Nights. From May to July, the Northern Capital truly becomes the city which never sleeps! Check out this small dictionary to find out more about the legendary White Nights.


1) Алые паруса (Scarlet Sails)

Алые паруса is the biggest celebration of the White Nights Festival. It marks the end of the school year and represents the freedom of the summer holidays. However, this event isn’t just for school leavers – people lining the banks of the Neva watch a huge firework display, numerous concerts, and an impressive water show which accompany the iconic ship sailing down the river. The tradition goes back a long way (just after the Second World War) and takes its name from the 1922 children’s book “Алые паруса” by Alexander Grin. Now the event has becoming the starring attraction of the White Nights.


2) Белые ночи (White Nights)

Synonymous with St. Petersburg itself, белые ночи are the few weeks when the city enjoys almost 24/7 daylight. Beginning in May and lasting until July, the Northern Capital emerges from the harsh winter into a sunny season marked by festivals, celebrations and concerts. Белые ночи are truly the best way to experience St. Petersburg, and there’s nothing quite like a stroll by the Neva in daylight at midnight!


3) Карнавалы (Carnivals)

If you like history, then the карнавалы are a must-see during the White Nights! The largest and most famous one takes place in the St. Petersburg suburb of Peterhof (Петергоф). Famed for its architectural beauty and stunning gold fountains, the original Grand Palace of Peter the Great, or “the Russian Versailles”, is the perfect backdrop for this celebration. Actors dressed in period costume re-enact historical events in this beautiful setting. The Catherine Palace, the Pavlovsk suburb, and Palace Square also play host to historically-themed карнавалы.


4) Мороженое (Ice cream)

What better way to celebrate White Nights than with a мороженое? The perfect companion to a balmy summer’s evening, stalls selling this treat line the sunny St. Petersburg streets. The Russians are pretty serious about their мороженое – the St. Petersburg Ice Cream Festival (Фестиваль мороженого) takes place annually in May in Ostrovsky Square, where visitors can feast on мороженое from all over Russia.



5) Разводка мостов (Opening of the bridges)

An iconic summertime tradition, разводка мостов is a world-famous spectacle. It is truly impressive – each night, the huge bridges that span the Neva open up to let boats and ships pass through. One of the most spectacular is Palace Bridge (Дворцовый мост), which is right next to the Hermitage, and locals and tourists alike flock to the river banks to see the massive bridge winched up. Just don’t get too distracted by the awe-inspiring sight and make sure you’re on the right side of the river, as some bridges don’t close again until 5 am!


6) Сумерки (Twilight)

Сумерки refers to the twilight hours that fill the White Nights. Unlike the towns nearer the Arctic Circle, St. Petersburg doesn’t quite get the full midnight sun, and instead, the city is bathed in сумерки. That isn’t to say it gets dark – the sky is still light, streetlamps aren’t turned on, and it seems like early evening. It feels as if the sun is about to set, although it won’t! Take a прогулка (wander) around the dusky streets of St. Petersburg and experience all that the White Nights have to offer.


7) Фестиваль “Звезды белых ночей” (The “Stars of the White Nights” Festival)

The фестиваль “Звезды белых ночей” is a series of ballet, opera, and classical concerts that officially mark the beginning of the White Nights Festival. Held annually in the famous Mariinsky Theatre (Мариинский театр), performances run throughout the day and evening, and the festival has become an integral part of the White Nights. This year, the фестиваль “Звезды белых ночей” runs from 24 May to 23 July (with 160 performances) and celebrates the 135th birthday of the great Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Hopefully this post isn’t enough to inspire you to experience the White Nights of St. Petersburg for yourself, a few lines from Pushkin’s beautiful poem ‘The Bronze Horseman’ (‘Медный всадник’) should be enough to convince you:

Пишу, читаю без лампады,                                      I read and write without a lamp, while in the nearly
И ясны спящие громады                                           Deserted streets huge buildings clearly
Пустынных улиц, и светла                                        Loom up, asleep; and solar fire
Адмиралтейская игла,                                                Plays on the Admirality spire;
И, не пуская тьму ночную                                         And Dusk directly (as if plotting
На золотые небеса,                                                      To keep the golden skies alight)
Одна заря сменить другую                                        Hands on the torch to Dawn, allotting
Спешит, дав ночи полчаса                                        A brief half-hour to cheated Night

For more information about St. Petersburg, don’t forget to take a look at the Liden & Denz blog!

This post was brought to you by Tilly Hicklin, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz, St. Petersburg. 


Posted by Tilly Hicklin

My name is Tilly, and I am an intern and Russian language student at Liden & Denz in St. Petersburg. I am on my year abroad from the University of Bristol, where I study in England. My main interests are art, literature and history and I also love to travel. I look forward to telling you all about my time in St. Petersburg!

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