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The Fun-Filled Festival of Sabantuy

The festival of Sabantuy is celebrated in many villages and towns across Russia, but most people travel to Kazan for the annual Kazan Sabantuy. Sabantuy is an ancient and traditional festival that was once restricted to the farmers. Today it is a national holiday and has even been nominated by Moscow to be inducted on the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity list. But when the origins of the festival are looked at, one notices a deeper cultural meaning to the festivities.

Farmers used to celebrate the festival of Sabantuy at the start of the sowing season and it is a tradition that has survived from pre-Islamic times. Therefore, many customs and songs that have passed down through the generations accompany the festival. The festival became synonymous with Kazan in the early twentieth century, when it became known as the festival of the Tartars. It is deeply rooted in the heritage of Russia, and was therefore approved by the Soviet government as a holiday. The only part of the Sabantuy festival that has changed, is that it is now celebrated after the original sowing season.

Together with the music and dancing that brings life to the festival; it is the traditional games that most people look forward to. Competitions such as the race-in–sack, pot crashing, finding the coin, horse racing and pillar climbing are popular events. The most anticipated game is Tatar wrestling. These matches are discussed for months after the festival, and the ultimate winner doesn’t just walk away with a sheep or a car as prize, but the pride of being the hero of Sabantuy. The light-hearted festivities could not even keep Boris Yeltsin away in the past, as he participated the in pot-crashing event. Seeing Yeltsin trying to crash a clay pot while blindfolded brought laughter and excitement to all the spectators. Even the current Russian President, Vladimir Putin, tried his hand at finding a coin in a bowl of sour milk, with his hands tied behind his back. The Tatars definitely saw the humor in this, and have a standing joke that if the President can find a coin with his mouth, there is no way anyone can hide money from him.

Even though the festival has grown into a large gathering of entertainment, it has still held onto its ancient traditions. The games are played in good faith, and winning is not everything to those in attendance. Sabantuy gives families and friends the opportunity to relax, to be entertained and to join in a day of fun and laughter.


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