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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Classless Society: Its a Party Day for Students

Tatyana Valetova, a second-year philology student at Moscow State University, usually spends her Mondays attending lectures, studying or chatting with friends on the telephone.


But not this Monday.


Jan. 25 is Tatyana Day, the day of the patron saint of students, and for young scholars, like Valetova that means no books and no classes -- there's going to be a party.


Students gather and celebrate the end of examinations, the beginning of a short recess, and the well-deserved bacchanalian credo this day has acquired over the centuries: V den Tatyany, vse studenty pyany -- "on Tatyana Day, all students are drunk".


As the 20th century Russian publicist (and Moscow University graduate) Vladimir Gilyarovsky once described the goings on: "We would sing, talk, shout, spill beer and vodka on the floor, all hell would break loose! We lifted professors up onto the tables".


For such a wild scene, Tatyana Day has a rather solemn origin.


Traditionally a Russian Orthodox church holiday in honor of St. Tatyana, who was martyred by pagans in the early Christian era, Tatyana Day acquired its present-day meaning for Russians when on St. Tatyana's Day in 1755, Catherine the Great signed a decree founding Moscow University (the middle word of the present-day title -- "State" -- was added later).


Partly because the mother of Count Ivan Shuvalov, the university's first curator, was also a Tatyana, and partly because students everywhere see themselves as martyrs, Russia's students claimed Tatyana as their own guardian angel.


In prerevolutionary Russia, Tatyana Day meant carousing and drinking at the Hermitage restaurant in central Moscow off Ulitsa Chekhova, which gave free food and drink to those lucky enough to be named Tatyana.


Of course, this was not only a day of happiness for young Russian intellectuals, but also a day of reckoning for students who partied their lives away.


The 19th-century Russian writer Vlas Doroshevich described how drunken students would bow to likenesses of Tatyana, who would respond haughtily, "What have you done with your talent, O student, O sly and cunning slave? "


In the Soviet era, the academic calendar was changed in such a way that Tatyana Day fell at the end of the winter examsession, so that students pondering their poor grades could ask themselves the same question.


Nowadays, the Hermitage no longer gives free meals to Tatyanas. Student's budgets, which have always been tight, in these days of near hyperinflation are stretched to the limit. Students study at hundreds of modern institutes, which lack the storied tradition of Moscow State University.


But none of this rules out an annual revival of the kind of debauchery that once marked Tatyana's day.


As the Russian revolutionary thinker Alexander Herzen said, "A student is not a student if he cannot think of a way to have a party".