Scarlet Sails Festival in St. Petersburg | Russia Travel Guide

Scarlet Sails Festival in St. Petersburg

Scarlet Sails in St. Petersburg

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Every year St. Petersburg turns into a sleepless city during the legendary White Nights. Inspired by a romantic story by Alexander Grin - a legendary show of spectacular fireworks, music, and water performances attract many travelers each year.

The upcoming date of The Scarlet Sails

Update from Nov 10, 2020: The official date of the Scarlet Sails festival is announced. The awaited festival will take place at night from June 26th to June 27th in 2021.

Here's the video from the latest celebration that took place in Saint Petersburg, on the 27th of June in 2020:

If you are planning to attend the show in Saint Petersburg, we advise getting into the spirit early by reading the fairytale beforehand. You can purchase it here

The origins of the festival

When the Revolution came to Petrograd in 1917, Alexander Grin was a writer with a strong Socialist background and a politically unfortunate penchant for writing romantic short stories. After a brief stint in the Red Army he returned to the city, where he met a young woman named Nina. Alexander was so infatuated by her that he wrote perhaps his best-known work with a young woman like Nina as the main character, calling it “Alye Parusa,” or “The Scarlet Sails".

Painting of Scarlet Sails

This beautiful fairy tale, published in 1923, took place in a fictional land where a sailor named Longren was forced to retire after the premature death of his wife. He made toys as he cared for their young daughter, Assol, in a quiet port city. One day the girl chased a toy boat she was supposed to sell down a stream deep into a forest, and ran into an old man named Aigle, who claimed to be a great wizard. He predicted that a prince would someday come for her on a ship with scarlet sails and take her away to a faraway land to live with him in. She believed the old man, despite being teased incessantly afterward for doing so. When a wealthy ship captain (with the English name of Arthur Grey) much later came along and fell in love with her, and learned of the prediction, he decked his ship with scarlet sails and swept her off her feet, taking the young dreamer away to a “happily ever after.”

The first Scarlet Sails show

Fast-forward to 45 years later... Somewhere between the 1967 “Summer of Love” and the 1969 Woodstock Festival in the United States, the Zhdanov Palace of Culture in the Soviet city of Leningrad (Saint Petersburg today) put together a huge celebration for the graduating class of 1968 of all the metropolis's high schools. To the strains of “Anthem of the Great City,” the first Scarlet Sails show featured a parade of escort vessels and fireworks, leading up to the highlight of the performance, the sailing of the ship “Secret” (actually the schooner “Leningrad”), bedecked with the eponymous scarlet sails and carrying characters from the fairy tale. With the music of Isaak Dunayevsky and Dmitri Shostakovich in the background, the students were told of the power of their dreams and hard work as the boats floated past the Winter Palace, after which the guests of honor partied until dawn.

Scarlet Sails in Saint Petersburg

The celebration became official for about ten years. Then in 1979, the head of the Leningrad Party Committee, fearing the rowdiness of so large a gathering of young people, discontinued it. For a quarter of a century, the celebration became something part of the distant happy memories of the city’s Communist past. Then in 2005, the city restored the festival, using the replica of Peter the Great’s personal ship “Shtandart” as the dream ship “Secret” in a parade held in honor of the city’s graduating classes of that year.

Scarlet Sails nowadays

The modern festival comes fairly close to replicating the original festival. After an “invitation only” concert and theatrical performance (in 2010, featuring both Canadian artists Cirque de Soleil and Spanish stage performer and singer Antonio Banderas) held in Palace Square and on Vassiliyevsky Island, the boats parade along the Neva River waterfront takes place in front of the Winter Palace while fireworks go off to classical music by famous Russian composers. Over the past few years, the Swedish brig “Tre Krunur” has served as the dream ship “Secret” for the parade, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Scarlet Sails and Fireworks

In 2011, it was estimated that about 3.5 million people watched the Scarlet Sails parade and fireworks show in person, which was recorded by Petersburg - Channel 5 for broadcast to an even larger audience around the world. The stated theme of the show remains much the same as the original: Russia – the Land of Opportunity.