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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Holiday For Unruly Academics

Students everywhere need a patron saint -- and in 1755, Empress Elizabeth gave Russians one. She signed the decree founding Moscow Imperial University on St. Tatyana's Day, Jan. 25, consigning Russia's students to the protection of the third-century martyr.


Revolution came, Moscow Imperial became Moscow State University, or MGU, and Proletarian Students' Day relegated Tatyana to the ranks of the frowned-upon.


But students kept her flame alive with traditional Jan. 25 drinking binges, and now she is making an officially sanctioned comeback. For the second year running, MGU celebrated its birthday on Tuesday in its religious context.


The Russian Orthodox Church blessed MGU students and professors at Uspensky Cathedral in the Kremlin. And at MGU's oldest building near Manezh Square, a choir sang music by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.


Throughout the Soviet era, many students saw the holiday mainly as a time when they were traditionally immune from arrest, no matter how drunk.


"Of course that's just a joke," said Igor Tserulnikov, a press spokesman for the Moscow police. "If they are disturbing the peace, we will arrest them on Tatyana's Day, on Andrei's Day, and also on Sergei's Day or any other day."


The newspaper Moskovskaya Pravda on Tuesday quoted the early 20th-century memoirist Vladimir Gilyarovsky as he recalled poor students streaming into the "sumptuous vestibule" of the snooty Hermitage restaurant for their free Tat-yana Day meal. He noted "their boots slapping on the white stone steps, from which, as a precaution on this day, the usual soft carpets have been removed.


"The Hermitage was in the power of the students and their guests -- favorite professors, writers," Gilyarovsky said.


But the Bolsheviks, after a more permanent takeover, replaced Tatyana Day in 1923 with Proletarian Students' Day, Feb. 21, which commemorated "the first mass demonstration of bourgeois students against tsarism" in 1899.


Like many Communist holidays, it has already faded from memory, and students are turning back to Tatyana -- who was never really forgotten. "We always had parties and a good time," said Father Maxim Tazlov, 30, an Orthodox priest who studied at MGU in the early 1980s, "though it was not so explicitly linked to the day's religious meaning."