March the 8th
March 8th, the Soviet version of Mother’s day, honoured all women irrespective of age and social status, with flowers, candy and other gifts, and is religiously observed by most of Russians.
Not too many know that it has a fascinating history.
March 8th, year 1857. New York. Women working at shoemaker and clothing factories protesting in the streets, demanding a 10 hour workday, a pay rise and other benefits that would make them socially equal to men.
Year 1910. Copenhagen. Socialist Women’s international conference. German socialist Clara Zetkin puts forward the proposition of making March 8th International Women’s Day. The first response came from the women of Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, who celebrated it on March 19th, 1911. Like the NY women, they did this in the form of a protest against social injustice, this time, not only in regards to the rights of women, but violence, starvation and oppression all over the world.
In Russia, International Women’s Day was first celebrated in St. Petersburg in 1913. The city Governor received a petition asking for permission to organize a “scientific morning gathering on the matters of women.” The gathering took place March 2nd, drawing 1500 participants. The agenda included voting rights for women, the State provision for mothers, the costliness of life.
In 1914, Women’s international day was marked by war protest marches in many European countries.
In 1917 the Russian women protested in the streets, carrying “Bread and peace” signs, only four days before Tzar Nicholas II renounced the throne.
In the USSR, Women’s International Day become a public holiday from the start, becoming a day off in 1965. On that day, the government prepared a detailed report of the work having been done by the State on behalf of women.
However, gradually the holiday lost its political meaning, becoming what it’s known to be today.
And what is it known to be today?
To present an unbiased opinion, I asked a few different Russians to share about what this day means to them.
Veronica Perezhigina, designer, 33: “I personally don’t celebrate, but the memory I have from my childhood of this holiday, are the cards we made at school to give to our Moms… it’s a family reunion holiday, almost like New Year’s day…”
Eleonora Pozdnyakova, piercing artist, 19: “My Mom’s always been indifferent to this holiday, too busy, you know. I don’t really mind it, but by some reason this day always makes me feel like going on a picnic, so it would make sense to have it later in spring, when the snow has melted…”
Tatyana Dobrina, shop assistant, 24: “The holiday that ends winter and brings spring!”
Natalia Egorova, translator, 28: “The day when women are really celebrated, regardless of life circumstances. My parents had lots of arguments throughout the year, but March 8 this was given a full stop, and it was like magic. Dad would bring Mom beautiful flowers and she would really glow with happiness…”
Dmitry Danilin, manager, 20: “My Mom doesn’t think much of this holiday, but I’ll be definitely getting her flowers, this never fails”.
Really, this never fails. So go ahead and make this holiday part of your Moscow experience this year, if you’re willing.
Growing up in Russia since early childhood we get to learn that there is Men’s Day in February and Women’s Day in March. Children are encouraged to make handmade presents, such as drawings or post-cards for their parents. Both holidays are very popular in Russia. Men storm the flowers shops and gift-stores looking for presents for wives and girlfriends; the prices for flowers goes up astronomically before and on March the 8th. You see tons of men and women with flowers that day on public transport and in the streets. Unfortunately it is also common to see a lot of drunken people everywhere as well; most likely they are real fans of celebrating this holiday.
I personally find it a really weird holiday. As naïve as it may sound but I don’t think men should wait for a specific date for a reason to give flowers or other presents to women. I don’t think it is a good idea to use this holiday to go on a drinking spree which most men do. I don’t find it particularly appealing when I see sprigs of mimosa bushes on sale when this plant is protected by the Red Data Book. For me this holiday has very strong associations with the Russian former communist regime since it was actually the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai who persuaded Lenin to make it an official holiday in the Soviet Union. I am glad that this holiday is a day off so I just use it as an additional time to relax and do something that I enjoy, however, I don’t really perceive it as a “holiday.”
If somehow you happen to spend your childhood somewhere in Eastern Europe, say in Bulgaria, then March 8th will be one of those dates, which will shine the brightest in your calendar. This will be the day when you will try the hardest to express your unconditional adoration of the one, whose loving hands daily make sure your little universe is in order, the one who is proud of your every achievement, no matter how trifling, and who kisses away your every pain, no matter how small, in other words—the person you call mom. And much to your frustration there will never be enough tulips and hyacinths, enough hand-made greeting cards, enough poems to recite and songs to sing in order to express the magnitude of your love for her.
If on the other hand you happen to have spent your youth and the prime of your life there, then March 8th will always loom like a Judgement Day in the dawn of spring. This will be the day when men are expected to deliver the most zealous pleas for love. It is the day when they will whisper words of whimsy or speak out loud their devotion and appreciation for the woman they love. Gigantic bouquets of red roses, tiny boxes nestling precious jewels, bitter-sweet perfumes and chocolates, or should her fancy be—indispensable kitchen ware—the list of those undeniable proofs of passion is literally inexhaustible and is carefully handed down from father to son.
Last but not least—if you are still no one’s mommy or sweetheart, then you should nevertheless not despair on that day. Your colleagues, neighbours, brothers and cousins are certainly not off the hook. Being a female you are fully entitled to expect various signs of attention. Words of congratulations, flowers, small gifts and sweet little nothings should be well on their way to you.
A wise man once said that we all live on three things: love, appreciation and hope. Women in their wisdom have booked at least this one day in the year, March 8th, to get all 3 in 1. So to paraphrase Marx and Clara Zetkin—Dear ladies of the world, unite and rejoice!