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 or Men's Day—Russian women (and sometimes men) celebrate the important males in their lives, including fathers, brothers, teachers, and even co-workers. Although the holiday with origins around World War I has a military history, it has evolved to become somewhat of a counterpart to the country's International Women’s Day on March 8. This day is also the Russian equivalent of what other Western countries honor as Father’s Day, which has not traditionally been celebrated in Russia.

Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan (on May 7) also celebrate this holiday.

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, initially observed to mark the date of the creation of the Red (Soviet) Army in 1918—and first celebrated in 1919. 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 Vladimir 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 patriarchal, it is widely accepted 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 this day exists.

Even if the men in a family have not been involved in a war, it is still seen as polite and important to at least recognize them on February 23, partly because Women’s Day is so widely celebrated. Men’s Day is a way to acknowledge that both sexes are important to one another. Festivities are usually smaller and more perfunctory than those on Women’s Day—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 praise men as a whole, the public celebrations of February 23 remain centered around Russian soldiers and military achievements. In particular, parades and ceremonies throughout Russia honor soldiers past and present and war veterans; military stories and films are shown on television—similar to Canada's Remembrance Day and Veterans Day in the U.S.

Dining table with Russian dishes
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Private Ceremonies

In contrast to the military-centric public ceremonies, private celebrations of Defender of the Fatherland Day are mostly unrelated to military achievements, unless one or more of a family's important men is or has been a soldier.

On February 23, Russian women give important men in their lives presents showing appreciation. These gifts can range from relatively small and impersonal items like socks or cologne to expensive things like watches and accessories and even highly personal trips and experiences. Flowers and chocolate are not typical gifts on this day.

Unlike on Women’s Day, couples don't usually go out to celebrate this holiday, and women will often cook a festive dinner at home. 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.

Important Men’s Day Phrases

Learning a few Russian phrases 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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