Today is Tatiana Day (Татьянин день) in Russia according to the Gregorian calendar (January 12th according to the Julian calendar). It is a celebratory day for university students, especially in Moscow, for convoluted reasons. It is named after St Tatiana, a Christian martyr in 3rd-century Rome during the reign of emperor Alexander Severus.
In 1755, the Russian minister of education, Ivan Shuvalov, petitioned his mistress, the empress Elizabeth to establish a university in Moscow. She granted the petition on St Tatiana’s Day in honor of Shuvalov’s mother Tatiana Rodionovna. The church of Saint Tatiana was later built on the university grounds. A traditional service is conducted at the University’s church on 25th January, followed by speeches and the awarding of prizes.
The Russian Orthodox Church declared Saint Tatiana the patron saint of students, and Tatiana Day has come to be celebrated as Russian Students Day. The observance has a long tradition of festive activities. In 1885, Chekhov wrote, “This year everything was drunk, except the water from the Moscow river, and only because it was frozen”. Parties begin with a traditional honey-based drink, medovukha (медовуха), sometimes called mead in English. Although originating in Moscow, St. Tatiana’s Day celebrations have spread to most university towns. Coincidentally 25 January is also the end of the first term of the traditional academic year for Russian students – the end of winter exams session, followed by a two-week winter holiday.
Saint Tatiana was a deaconess of the early church. According to legend, she was the daughter of a Roman civil servant who was secretly Christian, and raised his daughter in the faith. Being Christian at the time was dangerous, and one day the jurist Ulpian captured Tatiana and attempted to force her to make a sacrifice to Apollo. She prayed, and miraculously, an earthquake destroyed the Apollo statue and part of the temple. Tatiana was then blinded, and beaten for two days, before being brought to a circus and thrown into the pit with a hungry lion. But the lion did not touch her and lay at her feet. This resulted in a death sentence being pronounced, and after being tortured, Tatiana was beheaded with a sword on January 12, in or around 225.
Medovukha has, for centuries, been a celebratory drink for Slavs and has also been associated with religious rituals. At one time it was expensive to produce because the fermentation process took years. For most of the 20th century is was hard to find, but it has come back in recent years, and can be used as the opening drink of festivals, including Tatiana Day. Be careful when buying medovukha in Russia. Check the alcohol content before buying. Vodka distilleries sell something they call medovukha, but it is actually honey-flavored vodka. Medovukha is normally around 5-8% ABV (similar to beer). You can make Medovukha yourself although it takes 2 to 3 months to mature. Raisins are now commonly used to start the fermentation, but cherries are more traditional, and yeast can be used to be sure. Flavorings, including hops, cinnamon, nutmeg, and rosemary may also be added.
1 L cold water
50 gm honey
50 gm raisins
spices of your choice
Place all the ingredients in a clean glass jar and mix them thoroughly. Cover the top of the jar with muslin, tied securely, and leave open for 48 hours. This starts the fermentation process.
After fermentation has begun, strain the liquid into a fresh jar or individual bottles, seal tightly and refrigerate for 2 to 3 months. in the fridge. The drink will be cloudy, but fizzy. You can keep it up to 6 months.