Every year on February 23, Russians celebrate the so-called Defender of the Fatherland Day. On this day all male citizens, from baby boys to old men, receive congratulations and presents and are in other ways pampered by women.
But it has not always been that way.
The official name of the holiday celebrated in Russia on February 23 is Defender of the Fatherland Day (Den' Zashchitnika Otechestva). This holiday is observed not only in Russia, but also in Belarus and Ukraine. Originally the holiday was supposed to mark the date in 1918 during the Russian Civil War commemorating the victory over German troops in Narva and Pskov. However, if you manage to find the newspapers dated February and March 1918, there will be nothing about that achievement. Neither will there be anything in 1919. It was only in 1922 that February 23 got its first, but not last official name – Red Army Day.
In 1933 the first Soviet marshal, Kliment Voroshilov, voiced his doubts about the choice of the day. “Pravda” newspaper published his article, in which he wrote that “…timing the Red Army Day to February 23 is peculiar at the very least.” And the renowned Russian writer Aleksandr Stepanov found out no battle took place on the day back in 1918! The explanation was however all too obvious – the Julian calendar that was only abandoned in 1918 was to blame.
At the time, the majority of West European countries used the Georgian calendar, and from 1911 celebrated March 8 as Women’s Revolutionary Day. Several years after the holiday became popular in Europe, Russia joined the ranks of those celebrating. But due to the slight calendar differences, Russia now celebrated Women’s Day on…February 23! Things proceeded in this manner for several years until 1918, when Russia officially switched to the new calendar. But the habit of celebrating something revolutionary on February 23 remained.
The decree of Red Army establishment was signed on January 28, 1918 and was followed almost immediately by the suggestion to celebrate Red Army Day. This was supposed to kill two birds with one stone – honor the newborn army and fill in the holiday gap that appeared due to calendar dissimilarities.
In 1949, during the Soviet era, the name of the holiday was refreshed according to the age and was re-branded as Soviet Army and Navy Day. The national holiday was now celebrated on a large scale, with concerts and parades throughout the country and marked, it seemed, the victory of Soviet troops over German forces that took place in 1918.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the holiday was given its current name – Defender of the Fatherland Day.
Today on February 23, the Russian army is honored with solemn ceremonies, boisterous marches and festive gatherings.
Officially, as the name suggests, the holiday should be celebrated by people who are or were serving the Russian Armed Forces (both men and women), but unofficially, nationally it has also more recently come to include the celebration of men as a whole. Consequently, in colloquial usage, the holiday is often referred to as Men's Day. On this male version of the International Woman’s Day that February 23 has now turned into, women are happy to have an opportunity to say the warmest and sweetest words to their loved ones and spoil them with attention, small gifts and tasty treats. And enjoy an official day-off!
Anna Yudina, RT