International Women's Day celebrated in Kyiv. Photo by SRAS Graduate Rebekah Welch.

Russian MiniLessons: Международный женский день – International Women’s Day

Published: June 15, 2020

The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

Международный женский день or восьмое марта is one of Russia’s official holidays, but has a Western происхождение. It was originally championed in the US and Europe by those working for women’s suffrage and socialist causes.

In August, 1910, a Международная женская конференция was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen. Inspired in part by American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed establishing an annual “International Woman’s Day.” The delegates, 100 women from 17 countries, agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote равноправие, including избирательное право for women.

It long did not have a set date across the globe, but was most often celebrated on a Sunday. In Tsarist Russia and America, for instance, it was usually held on в последнее воскресенье февраля. In 1913, Russian women отпраздновали their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February according to the Julian calendar, which used in Russia at the time.

On February 23, 1917 (March 8 according to modern calendars), women in Saint Petersburg went on strike for «Хлеба и мира!», demanding the end of World War I and the food shortages that the war had helped cause. The next day, workers from the Putilov Plant подключились к забастовке, after which стычки с полицией occurred, and finally всеобщая рабочая забастовка переросла в вооружённое восстание. Февральская революция, as it came to be known, was put down, but was seen as a precursor to the Октябрьская революция which would topple the tsarist government.

Following the October Revolution, Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Vladimir Lenin to учредить Международный женский день как официальный праздник in the Soviet Union, but it was still a рабочий день. In 1965, March 8th became a нерабочий день. In the Soviet Union, this holiday was политизированный, until eventually becoming a day for women to fight против дискриминации.

International communists worked to make the day an international holiday, but apparently found international resistance because of the day’s connection to the events that helped create the USSR. A story began to circulate, apparently originally from the French Communists, that традиция отмечать Международный женский день 8 марта began with a демонстрация held on March 8, 1857 by female workers of textile factories in New York в знак протеста против ужасных условий труда и низкой заработной платы. The women, the story goes, had to be beaten back by police.

A women’s march in St. Petersburg, March 8, 1921. The women demanded bread, demanding bread, decent working conditions and an end to the war. The Bolsheviks considered this an important step toward the later revolution that would carry them to power.

Although there were many protests in New York of the sort described in the story, such a protest did not occur on March 8, 1857. Interestingly, however, the Communist authorities in the USSR began supporting this version – tracing the original roots of the day not to St. Petersburg in 1914, but to the US in 1857 and thus the story is widely accepted the world over.

In 1975, ООН начала 8 марта проводить Международный женский день. Every year, they set a theme for the day, focusing on women’s rights and issues.

Currently, March 8 is an official holiday in many countries, including throughout most of the former USSR, China, Cuba, and some countries in Africa and Asia. In some countries, the day is not a public holiday, but is широко празднуется nonetheless.

In Russia, the political side of the holiday has been largely forgotten in favor of a romantic slant. The главный элемент of celebrating March 8 is вручение цветов женщинам and говорит им комплименты. The most popular весенние цветы to give are тюльпаны, ирисы, гиацинты, ландыши, сирень, and подснежники. In the Soviet era, мимоза were a popular flower to give. Точки по продажам цветов significantly increase in number around March 8; in some of them, мужчины сметают весь ассортимент цветов за считанные часы. Studies show that Russians spend, on average, about a half billion dollars on flowers for the holiday. Spending on this holiday accounts for between 15 to 40 percent of Russia’s two billion dollar a year flower market.

Many men не скупятся на подарки and many will идти с женщиной на ужин on that day as well. Some men will выполнять домашние обязанности as a gift as well. The most popular gifts given on this day include косметика, парфюмерия, одежда, кондитерские изделия, алкоголь, ювелирные украшения, мягкие игрушки, бытовую технику, и электронику.

Russia is also not short on holidays celebrating women. Russia also celebrates День матери, which occurs on the last Sunday of November, but on which it is only принято поздравлять только матерей и беременных женщин. День матери. was also only introduced to Russia in 1998 and is not widely celebrated there. Another recent import is День святого Валентина, when Russians дарят подарки своим партнерам. День святого Валентина is quite widely observed, however, and the Moscow metro can be seen overflowing with young men carrying flowers on this day. March 8 is different from both of these holidays because поздравляют всех женщин on Международный женский день.

About the author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life, Worldpress.org, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.

Program attended: All Programs

View all posts by: Andrei Nesterov