As you spend February 23rd (Men's Day), so shall you spend 8th of March (Women's Day).
~HRH (and a lot of other Russian men I know.)
“You know,” she said, “That can also stand for ‘His Royal Highness’. Like Prince William.”
The moniker HRH is eminently applicable to Russian men, who are all brought up by their mothers believing that they are, indeed, royal scions and therefore above such plebian and unmanly concerns like housework. In Russia, they are still teaching Home Ec to the girls and Shop to the boys, with no reform in sight – and certainly not regarding the impending gender-specific public holidays. In place of one messy, gender-neutral love fest on February 14th, Russians are suiting up for the very separate Men’s Day (February 23rd) and its companion piece, International Women’s Day (March 8th.)
I’m a Russian historian, so I like to delve into the origin of national holidays. Men’s Day is very interesting. Its full, and characteristically overblown, name is “The Day of the Defenders of the Motherland,” and it celebrates the 1918 rout of Kaiser Wilhelm’s forces by the just-that-day-drafted Red Army. The name eventually morphed from “Red Army Day,” to “Day of the Soviet Army and Navy,” and in 1995, as part of a re-branding campaign to drop “Red” from everything, ended up as “Day of the Defenders of the Motherland.” In HRH’s family, we take the 23rd of February very seriously indeed, since we are a military family: HRH and Dedushka both served as officers in the Red Army – as did Great Uncle Boris, and several others, dating right back to that Red Letter Day in 1918. Interestingly, this list also includes several gutsy great aunts and great-great grandmothers, who served, with distinction, in the Red Army as border patrol guards, field medical officers, and behind-the-lines guerilla fighters in Occupied Ukraine. Nevertheless, February 23rd remains devoted exclusively to the men of Russia, who, ipso facto, are all obliged to defend the Motherland as part of their mandatory military service.
On its current web site, the Russian Consulate in Houston, TX offers helpful guidance on the celebration of Men’s Day: “On this day,” it says, “the entire masculine population - from boys to old men - receive special greetings and presents. Women have a wonderful opportunity to convey their warmest and kindest feelings to the loved ones and to indulge them with sings (sic) of attention and affection.”
Translation: Women: shop, cook, clean. Lather, rinse, repeat.
HRH, in mufti, is not a force to be reckoned with on the domestic front, although he does open wine bottles, which, along with driving a car, is what well-brought up Russian men consider “man’s work.” I once begged him to empty the dishwasher. He sighed deeply, went to the sink, and stood, his back to me.
“Darling,” I said quietly.
“What – “ he barked, turning around to glare at me.
“Just that, the dishwasher, you know, is the appliance on your left.”
HRH and Dedushka won’t be emptying anything except a bottle of premium whiskey this week – as we women convey our warmest and kindest feelings. I’ve bought HRH a new super sonic corkscrew, Babushka has the sweet Sovietskoye Champanskoye warming up in the vegetable steamer, and Velvet is on dishwasher duty, so we are all set to indulge our Defenders with the royal attention and affection they deserve.
But I refuse to sing.
This post is part of The Stunt.
This post first appeared as an article in Russia Beyond The Headlines on February 10, 2010.
Hey there readers!
This may well have been the post that started me down the rocky road of profprazniks. Did you have a nice men's day? I decided to put all my chips on one number and spent a large part of Tuesday night making bliniy and all kinds of good stuff. Then everyone got sick. So now the house is full of food. Any Defenders out there still looking for a good meal?