Aside from Orthodox Christmas that is buried somewhere in a 10-day long winter break, all other public holidays in Russia have soviet or post-soviet origin. February 23rd is no exception, it was declared in 1922 as a “Red army day”. In soviet times it was celebrated as “Day of soviet army and navy”. Nowadays February 23rd is officially called “Defender of the Fatherland Day”. Since all men in Russia are considered those “defenders”, this holiday is widely celebrated as “men’s day”.
February 23rd is a public, non-working holiday. February 22nd working day has to be shortened by one hour, because it precedes public holiday, this is the law.
February 23rd has no firmly established celebration traditions or rituals. Normally this holiday is observed by people in active military service or retired from military. Those serving in government security services of all kinds also consider this holiday as theirs. As usual, there will be some official events, in government organizations and agencies related to the military, holiday-related TV concerts and programs. There will be on-street events in larger cities, including Moscow: concerts and performances, exhibitions, holiday markets and so on — all military themed. There can be exhibitions of weaponry and free military-style food in some spots of larger places like Moscow.
On a private level if any family members or close friends have to do with military they might celebrate. Celebration is nothing special and happens in a typical Russian way: serving table full of food, eating, drinking, chatting.
Because February 23rd considered as “man’s day” it is quite common for women to express some congratulations to all men they happened to know. This is not like mandatory type of thing and if you forget someone, that’s no trouble. Gifts are not necessary, although some women use this as an opportunity to buy or do something for their men (close friends or relatives).
Some office-type businesses will celebrate February 23rd, normally the day before holiday. Female employees would put some money together and buy gifts for every male employee. As an option it can be some food organized to share during lunch time. Or it can be absolutely nothing, but just a verbal/email type of congratulations. Not every company would celebrate, but I would say in typical Russian companies such celebrations are common.
If you are a female expat, or member of an expat family, what you need to do for February 23rd?
If woman in your office are planning something, you wanna be a part of it in some way.
If you are in managerial position, do not forget to say few words of congratulations to all the men in your team. Does not have to be something official, any informal way would do fine.
If you know someone in your circle of friends or partners who have served in military on contract (important distinction), do not forget to express congratulations and maybe buy a gift if they are an important figure for your business or personal relationships.
Sometimes if your supplier or important customer business has predominantly male population of employees, you may consider buying gifts to key people of that business.
In general, February 23rd is less formal and celebrated more casually compared to other public holidays in Russia. I will be writing about all of them as they come, stay tuned.