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A phenomenon of Russian dacha (datscha)

What is Russian dacha? Where does it originate from?

Russian woman picking organic carrots from her own vegetable garden

Dachniki and dacha season.

Among other words like like banya, sputnik, kalasсhnikov, perestroika that were adopted by foreign languages from Russian, here is a words or rather a phenomenon that causes most of misunderstanding. This is Russia dacha. The word is used by other languages and most commonly mean a country/outskirts house used for summer vacation. However in Russia this phenomenon goes beyond summer residence or a holiday home. It is a part of national recreation, mentality, lifestyle and tradition that has stricken deep roots during its over 3 hundred- year history.

Dacha is a component of cultural code of Russians that can be hardly explained. It is much different from Swiss chalet or French holiday home at the seaside. So what is it all about and how it developed?

In archaic Russian, the word dacha means something given. During the Age of Enlightenment, Russian aristocracy used their dachas for social and cultural gatherings, built grand houses and sculpted gardens. Later on, at the end of the 19th century, the rapidly growing urban upper and middle classes of Russian society had dachas for temporary escape the city life. A great deal of both were nationalized after the Russian revolution of 1917and used for different purposes.

Later in the Soviet Union the practice of gardeners' partnership (sadovodcheskoye tovarishchestvo) was introduced: trade unions obtained the land for the dachas and distributed it among the members of the union to let workers grow food.

Since the centrally planned Soviet agricultural program to supply enough fresh produce did not do enough, the official policy encouraged the citizens to grow a lot themselves. Technically the land was federal property leased to trade unions and could not be sold. The spots of land were allocated among the citizens and its use was restricted to farming only.

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The typical size of land given by the state to a family varied from 4 to 12 "sotok", 6 and 8 being the most common One "sotka" = 100 square meters, so typical dacha land area of 6 sotok is equal to 0.16 acres. A small house, often looking like a cabin or a shak could be built as well, usually without indoor plumbing and running water.

Russian woman gardener setting tree in spring.

It is interesting that May Day holidays remain a feature of Russian life allowing urban residents a long weekend to plant seeds and tend fruit trees as the ground defrosts from the long Russian winter.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union most dachas have been privatized and Russia is now the nation with the largest number of owners of second homes. By various statistics source 30% to 50% of Russians own a dacha and those who do not crave it. So in the country where so many people consider themselves poor and are so considered by foreigners, there are tens of millions of landowners. The market-oriented economy transformed the dacha into an asset, which generally reflects the prosperity of its owner and can be freely traded in the Russian real estate market.

Some villages have been fully transformed into dacha settlements, while some older dacha settlements often look like more permanent lodgings. Newly renovated and modernly equipped dachas serve for many as a permanent lodging.

Retired people usually move to the dacha for the entire season, and dacha season in Central Russia begins in May and lasts until October.

Dacha is a place inspiring the artists and writers. Reference to dacha life is occurant in literary works of Chekhov, Tolstoy, Mayakovski. It is interesting to read the memories of outstanding Soviet Russian scholar Dmitry Likhachov describing the regular family moves to dacha every summer. even though the life was hard in the first after-revolution years, the family kept the tradition of moving to dacha in Kuokkala, near the Finnish borer.

Russian woman picking fresh apples in garden

The longevity of this tradition explains why Russians have annual itching for the space and field work. What makes the people of various professions and social status be concerned of the problem of protecting the cucumbers from the morning dew. Why do Russians wear rubber boots to dig the soil and plant potatoes even though it is cheaper to buy it at the bazaar. What motivates Russians grow seedlings of tomatoes and other vegetables at their balconies or kitchens to be replanted into the dacha greenhouses later.

One should not try to explain the concept of dacha. For most Russians it is both an enjoyment and a slavemaster. Keeping a dacha is not that cheap, the distances to the one are usually long and many have no personal cars to get there, but still persistently fill overcrowded electric trains (elektrickha) and buses every Friday evening to get to their desirable 6 sotok. And then do digging, weeding, watering plants even though the cost of their production is much often higher than buying some at the local market. To some degree this passion is explained by not only a long-lived Russian tradition of growing one's own food supplies, but a widespread belief in the excessive use of agrochemicals in the store-bought vegetables. This is one of sound reasons though - personally grown organic food is much healthier.

A pretty young Russian girl in a cherry garden

Russians also have a picking and preserving tradition and major supplies for annual storage of fruit and veg are of course dachas. There is hardly a household in Russia that does not have jars with home-made jam or pickles they treat guests with in winter. Many Russians keep the greenhouses on their spots of land. In severe Russian weather conditions they become the only way to get the early supply of personally grown dill, parsley, tomatoes and cucumbers. Even if a person starts owning dacha with a dream to just have a lawn and a pool, he sooner or later starts growing something there. Exotic and evergreen plants and various flowers are no less popular then potatoes. More dacha owners in Russia learn to design their plots to create a cozy and beautiful space. Land design books and courses are in great abundance on the Russian market. And it is no longer a surprise to see a rockery, pavilions, pergolas or fancy flower beds on a Russia dacha.

Dacha is the best place for barbeque and samovar tea parties. Russian dacha is where children spend whole summers, swimming in the rivers or lakes, taking sun baths, biking, playing outdoor games and just hanging around. But the verge of dacha enjoyment is steaming in personally-built Russian banya. Not all have it on their land but is sure this is what everyone is dreaming of. It may not be a traditional log house with a stone stove - the options depend of the budget, and the preferences.

To sum is up, dacha goes far beyond a home-away-from-home or a hobby. It is much more than a garden plot to just toil at the weekends or prepare shashlyk with friends. Some Russians hold dachas dear, some tease at dacha owners, some do both. Dacha is a chance to free oneself and tie with bonds at the same time. It is returning to one’s roots, enjoying the informal atmosphere and being outdoors. Dacha is a means to implement own designer ideas and polish farming skills, a valuable real estate and a heavy burden. All in all dacha is an integral; part of Russian life that a strange Russian soul has a special longing for.

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