On January 12, 1755, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna signed a decree placed before her by her favorite, Count Shuvalov, ordering the founding of Moscow University. The Count had chosen this day for the signing because it was his mother’s saint’s day.
St. Tatyana’s Day is an odd mixture of the official and the unofficial. At first, the founding of the university was not celebrated at all. Then the establishment of the university began to be celebrated on April 26, the date when it had first opened its doors and also the anniversary of Elizabeth’s coronation. After about a hundred years of this practice, Nicholas I ordered that the founding should be celebrated on the anniversary of the signing of the original decree, and not the beginning of classes.
One might think that the lack of logic behind this change and the fact that it had come “from above” would have doomed Tatyana’s Day, but this was not the case. By the end of the 19th century, a few years after the royal decree, Tatyana’s Day had become one of Moscow’s most popular holidays. Back then, being a professor, graduate, or student of Moscow University meant a great deal, more than it does now. A significant portion of Moscow’s intelligentsia had ties to the university and revered Tatyana’s Day.
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