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Defender of the Fatherland Day – February 23, 2023

Defender of the Fatherland Day is a Russian holiday observed on February 23 as Men’s Day due to the compulsory military service for most Russian men. Gifts and postcards are frequently given by women to male relatives, even though they’ve never served in the armed forces. On the day before or after the holiday, many women congratulate their male coworkers and boys may receive small gifts from their female classmates. On this day, local authorities in Russia may organize parades to honor the military and veterans. Women serving in the military are increasingly being honored on this day, which calls into question the holiday’s traditionally masculine significance.

History of Defender of the Fatherland Day

The Defender of the Fatherland Day was first commemorated in 1919. On February 17, 1918, during the Russian Civil War, the first mass draft into the Red Army occurred in Petrograd and Moscow. It was decided in January 1919 to combine the commemoration of that day with the commemoration of the publication of the decree establishing the Red Army. Because February 17 fell on a Monday in 1919, the holiday was moved to the following Sunday, February 23.

That day has remained unchanged ever since. It was originally called Red Army Day. In 1923, it was renamed Day of the Red Army and Navy, and it was also renamed Soviet Army and Navy Day in 1949. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the holiday its current name in 2002, declaring it a state holiday in Russia.

Officially, as the name implies, the holiday honors those who serve or have served in the Russian Armed Forces (both men and women, military and civilian personnel). Still, unofficially, nationally, it has come to represent the celebration of men in general and to serve as a counterpart to International Women’s Day.

One of Moscow’s holiday traditions is laying wreaths at the tomb of the “Unknown Soldier” near the Kremlin. The Russian President, the heads of both chambers of parliament, military commanders, congressmen from other branches of government, political party leaders, and officials from the Russian Orthodox Church arrived at the Alexander Garden, located close to the Moscow Kremlin walls.

Following a minute of silence, the national anthem is played, followed by a solemn march by an honor guard unit. In the evening, the country’s leadership attends a holiday concert at the State Kremlin Palace. In Moscow and many other Russian cities, fireworks are also displayed in the middle of the night. On February 23, Omsk’s Cathedral Square will host a military parade.

Defender of the Fatherland Day timeline

1918
The Red Army Draft

The Red Army’s mass draft begins.

1919
The Red Army is Established

The Red Army is formed in January.

1919
The First Anniversary

The inaugural celebration of Red Army Day is observed.

2002
The Last Renaming

The day is renamed Defender of the Fatherland Day.

Defender of the Fatherland Day FAQs

What is the distinction between motherland and fatherland?

Fatherland was described as “the native land of one’s fathers or ancestors,” while motherland was defined as “the land of one’s mother or parents.”

Who were the Red Army troops?

The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, also known simply as the Red Army, was the armed force and air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Why is Russia known as the Red Country?

The color red is a communist symbol. The Bolsheviks appropriated the color red to represent workers’ blood, and the Soviet Union’s red flag, with its gold-colored hammer and sickle, is still recognized today.

How to Observe Defender of the Fatherland Day

  1. Congratulate your male colleagues

    You can send gifts and postcards to your male relatives and friends, even if they have never served in the military. Congratulate your male colleagues at work.

  2. Study the Russian Revolution

    The Russian Revolution marked a watershed moment in modern history. Spend the day researching it.

  3. Say "hello"

    You might know one or two of Russia's estimated five million living veterans. Even if you don't, take advantage of the opportunity to thank a veteran for their service.

5 Interesting Facts About Russia

  1. The first to enter space

    Russian Yuri Gagarin was the first person to enter space.

  2. The Red Army had strict discipline

    The Red Army's discipline was unwavering and subservience to political leadership was deeply ingrained.

  3. Many tongues

    Russia has over 30 formally approved languages.

  4. Oil and gas reserves are plentiful

    Oil and gas account for 59% of the country's exports.

  5. The world's largest country

    The country is 6,601,665 square miles in size

Why Defender of the Fatherland Day is Important

  1. It's a significant historical date

    Defender of the Fatherland Day is significant in Russian history. We believe that everyone should be aware of their country’s history.

  2. It encapsulates the people's aspirations

    Historically, the Russian people yearned to be liberated from the injustices perpetrated by the aristocracy. Defender of the Fatherland Day allows them to celebrate that goal.

  3. Learning more about Russia

    The holiday shines a light on Russia and its people. It’s an opportunity to get to know them, their history, and their traditions even better.

Defender of the Fatherland Day dates

YearDateDay
2023February 23Thursday
2024February 23Friday
2025February 23Sunday
2026February 23Monday
2027February 23Tuesday

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