All About Defender’s Day and How to Celebrate

We’ve all probably heard of International Women’s Day; Every year on March 8th, the global community gathers together to celebrate the many achievements of women across the world in all spheres of life and culture. It is a day of inclusivity, full of appreciation and gratitude for all the women in your life and all that they sacrifice. Women’s Day is meant to spread a message of equality. ‘So then what about the men; where’s their day?’ some may ask. Well, Russia has your answer.

February 23rd is a national holiday in the Russian Federation. It is known informally as Мужской День (Men’s Day). Perhaps, our feminist readership might turn up their nose at a national day glorifying the achievements of men, but this day has incredibly important history attached to it. Read on to find out about how this day hasn’t always been for just your average guy (not that you don’t deserve a day of appreciation, Average Guy!).

Officially, Men’s Day is titled Defenders of the Fatherland Day (In Russian: День Защитника Отчества), born during the fledgling years of the Soviet Union. It was first celebrated in 1919 to honor the recent establishment of Lenin’s Red Army, and the consequent defeat of the Provisional Government and their White Army. It was originally named Red Army Day, but was changed to Soviet Army and Navy Day post WWII. Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, the day remains christened (officially) as Defenders of the Fatherland Day.

Ask any Russian under 60 though, and they will tell you that the meaning of the day has definitely changed. Since the post war era, the day has slowly shifted to include all men, not just service members, in the celebrations.  But here’s the rub – Defenders of the Fatherland Day officially applies to both servicemen and servicewomen. It honors, for example, the Ночные Ведьмы (Night Witches – a heroic, all-female Soviet bombing squad active during WWII). Now, depending on the age of whom you ask, the day celebrates any and all dudes in your life. In 2018, female service members are more likely to be honored on International Women’s Day then they are on Defenders of the Fatherland Day.

Defenders of the Fatherland Day probably became gendered for two reasons: One, the overwhelming majority of soldiers who have served in the Soviet and Russian militaries have been men due to mandatory conscription (according to a 2002 census, women made up only 10% of the Russian Armed Forces). And two, women already have an established day that’s recognized internationally, on March 8th. After all, if the gals get their own day, why can’t the guys join in on the fun?

So, how do Russians celebrate? There’s much pomp and circumstance that goes on around major Russian cities, with military parades and demonstrations. At the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin holds a somber ceremony and lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some military bases even participate in ‘strength competitions’ to showcase the brawn and bravery of their boys. In the civilian world, women usually give the men in their lives small, manly presents – like socks, tools, and shaving gel – and congratulate them on being awesome.