Mr Russell defended the 434,000 extravaganza against opposition claims that the celebration of Scottish identity would be an exercise in independence propaganda and was a waste of public money during the recession.
Surrounded by primary school children with St Andrew's crosses painted on their faces, Mr Russell announced details of the three-day family festival that will include a Scottish film showcase, a massed pipes and drums parade, and a firework display over Edinburgh Castle on St Andrew's Day itself, 30 November.
Other events across Scotland include a programme of traditional music in Dumfries, a Gaelic festival in Inverness, musical events in Glasgow and a Son et Lumiere in St Andrews.
Launching the event in Edinburgh's St Andrew Square, Mr Russell said it would mark the finale of the 2009 year of Homecoming and would cost exactly the same as previous celebrations of Scotland's patron saint.
He added that people should be "very relaxed" about the fact that the festival will take place as the SNP launches the legislation that the party hopes will lead to an independent Scotland.
Mr Russell said St Andrew's Day was the "natural" time for Scotland to consider its future.
"Rather than immediately assuming that there is some sinister agenda that is being run, you can see that in every other country in Europe and most countries in the world, this would be a natural time to reflect upon who we are and where we are going," Mr Russell said.
His opponents disagreed. The Labour leader, Iain Gray, described the event as "an insult to ordinary families who are worried about their jobs".
He said: "We are in a recession and the Scottish Government should be working flat-out on economic recovery, not on what is basically a party political stunt for the SNP."
Alex Johnstone, the Tory MSP for North-East Scotland, said:
"The SNP is more obsessed with its independence propaganda exercise than it is in repairing the damage Labour has done to our public finances."
Mr Russell insisted that the festival would reflect a nation that was at ease with all its traditions.