The SPECIAL Day, the 8th of March

John Harrison, with thanks to Helen Borodina

Here we are, the 8th of March again. For all men this is a time to forget about ourselves (difficult I know) and honour our female loved ones. Immediately there’s a voice that says – what about the other 364 days in the year, don’t we honour them then? Yes we do, but today we make a special special effort to do that. Here are a few notes on how this day came about, and a few tips.


It is March 8th, 1857 in New York. Women shoemakers toiling away at clothes factories protested at Victorian work conditions, specifically they demanded a 10 hour day, a pay rise and other benefits that would make them socially equal to men.

Fast forward to Copenhagen in 1910. German socialist Clara Zetkin puts forward the idea of making March 8th International Women’s Day. The first responses came from the women of Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, who celebrated this new cause on March 19th, 1911. Like the NY women, they did this in the form of a protest against social injustice, this time, not only in regards to the rights of women, but against violence, starvation and oppression all over the world.

In Russia, International Women’s Day was first celebrated in St. Petersburg in 1913. The city governor received a petition asking for permission to organise a ‘scientific morning gathering on the matters of women.’ The gathering took place March 2nd, drawing 1,500 participants. The agenda included voting rights for women, the State provision for mothers, acknowledging how much it costs to feed and clothe a family.

In March 1917, Russian revolutionary feminists participated in an International Women’s Day that was marked by a strike ‘for bread and peace’ in St. Petersburg. Later Kollontai, a minister in the first Soviet government, persuaded Lenin to make March 8th an official communist holiday, however the festival was soon dropped from the official calendar. It was revived during the women’s movement in the 1960s, but without its socialist associations. In 1975, the U.N. began sponsoring International Women’s Day. After most communist ideas have been cast aside, the ‘holiday of liberated women’ is still an event and a state holiday in Russia, in some ex-Soviet republics, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Mongolia and Vietnam (although that wasn’t a republic).




What is it today?

Since 1965, March the 8th has been an official day off in Russia and is looked upon as a day to celebrate unconditional love, sacrifice, patience, wisdom, and beauty. Every woman in Russia expects to receive flowers and gifts. But it is only once a year. Discrimination against women undoubtedly continues in Russia today, however those of us who have lived here since the fall of the Soviet Union have to say things have changed, actually more than a bit. The infrastructure which allows women to be paid less is still there (where isn’t it?), so is the way that women are idolised and objectified, but in my experience, young Russians don’t follow that mind set as much as their parents still do; despite the rantings and ravings of traditional orthodox Russian society which harks for a return for the re-establishment of principles which make it the norm for women to prepare the very food that we men eat to celebrate Women’s Day. There is also the inherited cultural experience of previous generations. One has to remember that most Russian adults still remember something of their Soviet past, even if the memories are clouded now.

Without romanticising the Soviet past, the holiday, then, was looked upon as a chance to celebrate unconditional love, sacrifice, patience, wisdom and beauty, although not everyone agreed. Be that as it may, just over a couple of decades ago, early March was marked with a burst of creativity in any kindergarten across the vast territory of the former Soviet Union: under the supervision of tutors, millions of diligent boys and girls produced hand-made festival greeting cards for their mums. The composition was usually clear and simple: a branch of mimosa made of yellow coloured cotton combined with palm leaves cut out of green paper. All this was glued to a white card and with March 8th written on it. Some family archives still contain these modest gifts of the past.

Mimosa was selected as the symbol of this holiday for one reason only: the choice of early spring flowers was rather limited in the Soviet Union. Tulips, roses and other flower arrangements were too expensive. Planes from Georgia and other Black Sea regions filled with mimosa were flown to all major cities of the USSR. The Russian flower flourishes in early March when prices doubled.

True, there are very few Russian women politicians these days but such sexual prudishness is not the case when you look at the structure of the middle classes where female managers and professionals of all kinds abound. Soviet universal education made it possible for women to gain entry into professions like medicine and law but only recently have their salaries and status been rising to at least partly match those of their male peers. In other words, things are getting better, but in a uniquely Russian way, because basically everyone wants to have a good time on this day, despite the politics.

I think that Russian women like the attention which men (and some women) give them, and why not? Don’t we all like to respected, and anyway, the 8th of March happens only two weeks after ‘Men’s Day’, not that this is a justification of course. If you are male and new to this culture, make sure that you congratulate any Russian women you know, otherwise leave, as Brookes School headmaster Charley Brookes said in a recent radio interview.

Make her a meal!

I know that this might sound very unorthodox, but here is a suggestion how you (I am addressing male readers now) can bowl over your lady/ies and make a delicious dish for today’s celebration. No excuses such as you can’t buy things like gelatin and phyllo in Russia, those days have long gone.

A Very Special 8th of March Recipe

Lemon and Nougat Tart with Berries and Phyllo Pastry!

For the Tart –
For the base just buy a simple biscuit at a bakery or shop or make a regular sponge cake When cool, cut out with a ring or a cup and cut it straight so you are able to top it with Nougat Praline Cream

Praline Cream.

Praline Paste 20g, Gelatin 2 leaves (soaked in cold water till soft)
Whipping cream 200g (whipped stiff), Milk 100g, Eggs 3, Sugar 40g
Mix milk, eggs and sugar together in a pan over the stove making the mixture soft and when it is hot add the softened gelatin and place away from the heat. When the mixture is cool add the whipping cream, and praline paste to taste. If you want to add more sugar, add icing sugar (confectionary sugar).
Place the cream on the biscuit and refrigerate until the cream sets.
For the Sauce –
Juice from 2 Lemons, 2 eggs, 50g sugar, 20g butter Mix together in a pan on the stove in a double boiler and whip with a whisk until thickened.

Decoration (Phyllo Pastry)

Simply buy some Phylo (strudel pastry) in a shop and defrost.
Place the Phylo in a baking tray and brush with some melted butter with a brush, squeezing a bit of lemon on it and some honey.
Bake in a preheated oven for 2-3 min at 180 degrees C.
Once it is cold it will be crisp and you can break it into desired forms and stick it into the lemon tart as the photo shows.
Decorate the plate with some fresh berries.
You also may use Raspberry sauce on the plate for more color.

Raspberry Sauce

Fresh Raspberries 1 Cup, Sugar 50g, Water 1/2 Cup
Mix all together in a pan, bring to a boil, cool and blend in a mixer and strain through a sieve to remove the raspberry seeds. 

Have a Great Day!