Tap into the spirit of Russia’s Scarlet Sails - Reuters News Agency

Tap into the spirit of Russia’s Scarlet Sails

As St. Petersburg graduates gather to celebrate the annual event, let’s look at its history
By Sandra Sparrowhawk | Jun 18, 2019

One of Russia’s most famous annual public events, the Scarlet Sails – locally known as Alye Parusa – is held each year on the Saturday closest to the lightest white night. Typically around June 18th – 25th, the celebration marks the end of the high school year.

Festivities range from free music to laser shows, to ballet and theatrical performances on St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospekt and Palace Square. Revellers are also treated to a pirate ship battle, and boat races on the waters of the Neva River.


The tradition of Scarlet Sails began some twenty years following the end of World War II in 1945 when thousands of Leningrad schoolchildren gathered to celebrate the first Scarlet Sails on June 27th, 1968.

The spectacle, attended by around 25,000 graduates that year, featured a procession of escort vessels and fireworks, leading up to the climax of the event – the sailing of the brigantine “Leningrad” (dubbed “Secret” for the festivities).

Temporarily halted in 1979, the festival was picked up again in 2005 and has since become a staple of Russia’s yearly calendar of public events.

REUTERS/Anton Vaganov


Traditionally, the celebration kicks off at 10pm with two open-air concerts: The main concert on Palace Square in front of the State Hermitage Museum reserved for teaching staff and students, and another, public concert at Strelka, the easternmost tip of Vasilyevsky Island.

Past entertainers have included Cirque du Soleil, Mariinsky Ballet and Antonio Banderas.

The highlight of the night, however, is the spectacular entrance of the vintage ship with scarlet sails, accompanied by dazzling fireworks. The show starts at 12.40am, the darkest moment of the white night, and lasts for approximately 20 minutes.

The scarlet ship enters from behind the Peter and Paul Fortress and moves towards Vasilyevsky Island, whose tip is flanked by two red rostral columns – used as lighthouses in the 19th century. On special occasions, such as the Scarlet Sails, real torches are lit.

In 2019, the scarlet sails were featured on the Russian brig Rossija (Russia). Rossija, whose sails cover a total area of 1,000 square meters, is a modern replica of a 19th century vessel made especially for the annual occasion.

The ship replaced the Swedish brig The Kronor (Three Crowns), which was used from 2010 – 2018 as the carrier of the scarlet sails.