Dacha culture in Russia is close to a religion for most Russians. All Russians aspire to own a dacha and spend their summers (and sometimes winters) there relaxing. Most Russian families have a dacha regardless of status. For many years land was cheap or even free. During the Soviet times, the government gave land to citizens so that they might be able to grow their food and provide for themselves.
It’s fair to say that you have never experienced dacha culture in Russia if you haven’t fully experienced Russian culture. Let’s look at why Russians are so passionate about their dachas.
What is a dacha?
A dacha is a country house, typically outside the city, where Russians spend their free time in the summer.
The word dacha comes from the verb to give in Russian – давать (davat’). They can be anything from a rustic cabin with almost no infrastructure to massive mansions. Of course, most Russians fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
In my experience, a typical dacha in Russia is a small cabin on a large plot of land with a sizable garden for growing fruits and vegetables. Potatoes are a staple in every dacha garden!
Most dachas have electricity, but not all of them have running water, sewer, and gas. The internet is also uncommon for most dachas in Russia, but mobile internet is everywhere. So you’ll still have a connection to the internet. Most Russians treasure their time at the dacha, and many consider disconnecting from the internet an essential aspect of dacha life.
If you ask Russians about Russian culture, the chances are high that they will mention dachas somehow in their description. Russian culture can be hard to understand for many foreigners, and it is one of the unique appeals of spending time in Russia. Spending a long weekend (or more) at the dacha in the village will give you fantastic insight into Russian culture.
Why are dachas in Russia so popular?
It is pretty easy to understand why dachas are so popular in Russia. Most Russians live cooped up in small apartments in large cities, and dachas provide an escape. At the center of dacha culture in Russia is relaxation and spending time with friends and family.
Relaxing and enjoying life with family and friends are essential aspects of Russian life, which is one way that Russians differ from Americans or other Western cultures. No matter how wealthy a Russian becomes, they always aspire to enjoy life since Russians work to live rather than live to work.
What makes dacha culture in Russia special?
Dacha culture is special to most Russians because it is the only escape from ordinary life. You can go to the dacha and get away from the big city, work, societal pressures, and live quietly. Many Russians’ lives are still challenging, and going to the dacha is an escape.
Imagine that you arrive at the dacha on a Friday after work, start heating the banya (sauna), spend an hour relaxing, have a few beers, and head to bed. The next day you wake up refreshed and spend the day tending to the garden and relaxing. That is the typical dacha experience.
One interesting observation as an American – Russians LOVE to work while at the dacha. Tidying up the dacha and garden are the national pastimes of the older generation. Many younger Russians enjoy relaxing, but their parents enjoy working around the dacha. It is as if the older Russians need a reason to head to the banya and have a few drinks before bed. You have to work to earn the privilege!
Things you can find at every dacha
There are a few things that you can find at just about every dacha in Russia, regardless of size. The most rustic dacha and largest mega dacha will all have these things.
If you ask an average Russian about their dacha, 100% will mention their garden. Every Russian is proud of their dacha’s garden, and Russians like to grow their vegetables and fruit to eat them year-round. For example, every Russian will grow potatoes and eat them during the winter, and Russians will make jam out of fruit and berries. Pickling is also common at the dacha to preserve vegetables for the entire year.
The Russian banya is just as much of a religion as the dacha. Any Russian with the means will have their banya built near their dacha. A banya is the Russian version of the sauna with a bit of a twist. Instead of being dry heat, the banya is usually quite humid, and the tradition is to hit yourself with tree branches to stimulate blood flow. The temperature in the banya is usually around 80° C or 180° F.
Not many people know this, but barbequed meat is ubiquitous in Russia. It is called shashlik, and every dacha has a barbecue area where they will grill meat. There are so many traditions around shashlik, and everyone has their recipe. If you are at the dacha, you must enjoy shashlik.
When you plan your next trip to Russia, make sure that you have the chance to visit a Russian dacha. You will have a fantastic time getting to know Russian culture! For more information about living in Russia, check out Living in Russia: 17 Things to Know Before Moving.