The History Behind Defender of the Fatherland Day (Men's Day) in Russia

Russians Mark Defender of The Fatherland Day

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On February 23, known as Defender of the Fatherland Day (Men's Day), Russian women (and sometimes men) celebrate the important males in their lives, fathers, brothers, teachers, and even co-workers. Although the holiday first celebrated around World War I has a military history, it has evolved to become the country's somewhat odd counterpart to Women’s Day on March 8. This holiday is also the Russian equivalent of Father’s Day in other Western countries (which has not traditionally been celebrated in Russia).

Russians Mark Defender of The Fatherland Day
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History of Defender of the Fatherland Day

Defender of the Fatherland Day is a truly Russian invention, first observed to mark the date of the creation of the Red (Soviet) Army in 1918. The holiday was originally known as Red Army Day, and then Soviet Army and Navy Day; in 2002 it was given its current name and declared a state holiday by President Putin.

Although some more feminist societies may take issue with the concept of celebrating a “Men’s Day,” in Russia it is not seen as strange or inappropriate. While Russian society can be quite (frustratingly) patriarchal, it is widely accepted by both sexes that both men and women have put a lot of work into the prosperity and success of the country. Men, in particular, helped by fighting in the wars, and their military achievements are the reason for this day.

However, even if the men in one’s life have not been involved in a war, it is still seen as polite and important to at least recognize them on February 23. In part, this is because Women’s Day is so widely celebrated, to forget to honor that day is considered quite rude in Russia, and Men’s Day is a way to recognize that both sexes are both important to one another. Men’s Day festivities are usually smaller and more perfunctory than Women’s Day ones, except the public celebrations and parades, which conversely are much bigger for Men’s Day.

Public Celebrations

Although the day has become a way to honor men as a whole, the public celebrations of February 23 remain centered around Russian soldiers and military achievements. Particularly, parades and ceremonies throughout Russia honor soldiers past and present and war veterans; military stories and films are shown on television. In this way, the holiday is similar to Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the U.S.

Dining table with Russian dishes
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Private Ceremonies

In contrast to the public (military-centric) ceremonies, private celebrations of Defender of the Fatherland Day are mostly unrelated to military achievements, unless an important man in one’s life is or has been a soldier.

On February 23, women give important men in their lives presents showing appreciation. These gifts can range from relatively small and impersonal (socks or cologne) to the expensive (watches and accessories) and highly personal things like trips and experiences. Flowers and chocolate are not usually given to anyone on this day. Often, women will cook a celebratory dinner at home. It is not common for couples to go out to celebrate this day, unlike on Women’s Day. At school, kids sometimes create cards for their male teachers and make themed arts and crafts projects to take home to their fathers and grandfathers.

Office Gatherings

Since most workplaces are closed on February 23, a public holiday, many offices have a small party the day before or after. Men usually get small gifts and everyone celebrates with a glass of champagne and sometimes a slice of cake. Typically, coworkers do not buy gifts for each other unless they are very close friends.

Important Men’s Day Phrases

Here are the Russian phrases that will help you greet an important man in your life on February 23.

  • Happy men’s day: "С Днём Мужчин! [s DNYOM muzhCHIN]"
  • Happy February 23: "C 23 (двадцать-третьим) Февраля! [s DVAdtsyat TRETyim fevraLYA]"
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