Russians love to celebrate International Women’s Day so if you’re on a city tour of St. Petersburg on March 8th expect to find many businesses closed as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and all of the other lucky women in the city are pampered by their loved ones. The streets may be quiet and government offices and embassies closed but restaurants are likely to be booked out by large parties of women celebrating one of their favourite holidays.
International Women’s Day is an unofficial holiday in many countries but in Russia March 8th is an official holiday. This day commemorates the actions of women in St. Petersburg who went on strike for ‘Bread and Peace’ on the last Sunday in February in 1917 (which worked out to March 8th by the Gregorian Calendar). This strike prompted the February Revolution, and the women demanded the end of World War I in order to end the desperate food shortages in Russia at the time.
Leon Trotsky wrote “we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution.” It also inaugurated a national holiday as the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai convinced Vladimir Lenin to recognise it as an official holiday in the Soviet Union, although it remained a work day up until 1965. The holiday was mostly celebrated in communist countries until fairly recently, being adopted by China in 1922 and by Spanish communistys in 1936.
Mimosas and Chocolate
Now, March 8th is arguably one of the most romantic holidays celebrated in Russia, with women traditionally receiving yellow mimosas and chocolate from their loved ones and sometimes from employers, schoolchildren giving gifts to their teachers, and people celebrating women by wearing purple ribbons. Many political and social groups host parties to raise awareness of women’s issues in Russia and around the world, while for others it is a deeply personal holiday.
Equality for Women is Progress for All
Each year the United Nations assigns a theme for International Women’s Day and that theme for 2014 is “Equality for Women is Progress for All.” In 2017 it will be the 100 year anniversary of that first ‘Bread and Peace’ strike in St. Petersburg which resulted in Tsar Nicholas II abdicating and life in Russia changing forever. Hopefully, this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8th will see any peaceful protestors treated with respect and see all women valued across the country and around the world. Just remember to get the women in your life a token of appreciation while sightseeing in St. Petersburg.