My return to Tula coincided with the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day. Commemorating the women’s struggle for emancipation this holiday was predictably very popular in the Soviet Union. It became a non-working holiday in 1966. In my childhood, in the 80s, the International Women’s Day was still associated with its history but right now in Russia this holiday lost any previous political coloring completely.
Today the 8th of March in Russia centers on expressing your love and gratitude to women. It’s like a mixture of Valentine’s Day (becoming very popular on its own) and Mother’s Day. But you don’t have to be a mother to be congratulated. You just have to be a female – precisely the reason that some people consider this holiday sexist.
The tradition to congratulate women starts at school, when all girls receive small gifts from their classmates and teachers get numerous bouquets of flowers. It continues throughout the country’s offices and other workplaces. The festive fervor increases dramatically on the 7th of March. The holiday’s all-encompassing nature (unlike, say, Mother’s Day, which is usually limited to your mother and your mother-in-law) requires not only men but women as well to congratulate all the women they know, including your dentist, if she happens to be a woman, your child’s teachers, your hairdresser, the concierge at your building and any other woman, in addition to those from your family, that you feel you have to wish a “Happy 8th of March.”
No wonder that this festive yet hectic atmosphere of everybody running around with bouquets of flowers and boxes of candy can be frustrating. Walking to get some flowers in the morning of the 7th I saw three car accidents in the span of one hour in addition to many men looking really concerned. And this is before the 8th itself, when one of the tradition for men is to do all household chores!
Men buying tons of sweets.
The 8th of March is the first spring holiday so it is all about flowers. Bouquets of any type – including plush toy ones – are available 24/7 at this flower market.
I hear that the street near this very popular flower market is usually crowded with cars in the dawn hours of the 8th.
A boutique selling soft toys bouquets.
But just a couple days before the holiday smaller improvised flower stands appear throughout the city. In contrast to fancy arrangements they offer mostly simple bouquets of tulips and whole branches of mimosas sold out of carton boxes.
Despite the ugliness of some of these stands many people prefer to buy their flowers there. Not necessarily because they are cheaper than roses found in stores but because these stands remind them of the past.
This year the 8th of March happened to be unusually warm and sunny. I remember previous International Women’s Days in Russia and people walking in the snow with bouquets of tulips wrapped in old newspapers. But this year the streets were dry and clean and it was a pleasure to see women, smiling or not, carrying flowers in their hands, in their bags and, hopefully, in their hearts.