Defender of the Fatherland Day

Defender of the Fatherland Day is a holiday observed in Russia

10th anniversary of the Red Army and Navy of the USSR. Postage stamps of the USSR issued in February 1928
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It is celebrated on 23 February.

History

First celebrated in 1919 the holiday marks the date in 1918 during the Russian Civil War when the first mass draft into the Red Army occurred in Petrograd and Moscow (on 17 February).

Vladimir Lenin in Moscow Kremlin spring of 1918
pinterest button Vladimir Lenin in Moscow Kremlin spring of 1918 unknown, Public Domain

In January 1919 it was decided to combine the celebration that day with the anniversary of the publication of the decree on the establishment of the Red Army (of 18 February 1918).

General Eygorn in occupied Minsk, February 1918
pinterest button General Herman von Eichhorn in occupied Minsk, February 1918 unknown, Public Domain

In 1919 17 February fell on a Monday, so it was decided to move the holiday to the nearest Sunday – 23 February.

Consequences of Brest Peace: German troops under the command of General von Eichhorn occupied Kiev. March 1918
pinterest button Consequences of Brest Peace: German troops under the command of General von Eichhorn occupied Kiev. March 1918 unknown, Public Domain

Since then it stayed that day. It was originally known as «Red Army Day» (Russian: День Красной Армии). In 1923 it was officially named the Day of the Red Army and the Navy.

Decree on the establishment of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, as amended by Lenin
pinterest button Decree on the establishment of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, as amended by Lenin Lenin, Public Domain

In 1949, it was renamed «Soviet Army and Navy Day» (Russian: День Советской Армии и Военно-Морского флота (Dyen' Sovyetskoy Armii i Voyenno-Morskogo flota)).

Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the holiday was given its current name in 2002 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who decreed it a state holiday (in Russia).

USSR Military Oath, 1939 pattern. Primer signed by J. Stalin
pinterest button USSR Military Oath, 1939. Primer signed by J. Stalin USSR Government, Public Domain

Celebrations in Russia 

Officially, as the name suggests, the holiday celebrates people who are serving or were serving the Russian Armed Forces (both men and women, both military and civilian personnel), but unofficially, nationally it has also more recently come to include the celebration of men as a whole, and to act as a counterpart of International Women's Day on March 8.

Pskov. Monument in honor of the first battles of the Red Army in Kresty
pinterest button Pskov. Monument in honor of the first battles of the Red Army in Kresty Остроголовый, GNU 1.2

The holiday is celebrated with parades and processions in honor of veterans, and women also give small gifts to men in their lives, especially husbands (or boyfriends, fiances), fathers, sons and brothers.

As a part of the workplace culture, women often give small gifts to their male co-workers. Consequently, in colloquial usage, the holiday is often referred to as «Men's Day» (Russian: День Мужчин (Den' Muzhchin)).

Detail of high relief
pinterest button Detail of high relief Остроголовый, GNU 1.2

One of the holiday traditions in Moscow is a ceremony near the Kremlin, the laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The 2008 holiday, with ceremonies being performed by President Putin.
pinterest button The 2008 holiday, with ceremonies being performed by President Putin. Presidential Press and Information Office, CC BY 3.0

The Russian President, the heads of both chambers of parliament, military leaders, representatives of other branches of government, heads of political parties as well as Russian Orthodox Church officials arrive at the Alexander Garden which is located near the Moscow Kremlin walls.

After a moment of silence, national anthem is played and solemn march of an honor guard unit passes.

In the evening, the country's leadership is present at a concert dedicated to the holiday on the State Kremlin Palace. Also in the evening in Moscow and in many other cities of Russia fireworks are displayed.

Useful Information

Defender of the Fatherland Day
Russian: День защитника Отечества
Den' zashchitnika Otechestva

In other countries

In Kazakhstan

In Kazakhstan Defender of the Fatherland Day is celebrated on 7 May.

In Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, the holiday is known as "Tajik National Army Day" (Tajik: Рӯзи Артиши Миллӣ Тоҷик), celebrating the Tajik National Army.