On Thursday, March 8, Kazakhstan celebrated one of the more popular holidays left over from the Soviet Union – Women’s Day.I first heard of the holiday while I was living in Russia and I was surprised to discover how popular it was, considering the fact that it is relatively unheard of in the UK.
In fact, having read up about it, I discovered that apart from the various “Stans” and ex-Soviet countries, it is an official holiday in such diverse places as Madagascar, Uganda and Vietnam. There were even events in the UK celebrating it.
Apparently, the day has been celebrated for nearly a hundred years. In Russia it has been celebrated since the time of Lenin and has been an official holiday for over 50 years. The Soviets celebrated it more as a celebration of the female workers in their country. It seemed odd to me, though, that such a large Soviet holiday would still be so popular in a country which is striving to break away from its past and develop its own identity.
However, the day is very much like Mother’s Day when children give presents to their mothers and grandmothers. The street signs and decorations started going up the weekend before. Flags were erected on the river and all the shops filled with presents for women and special offers – beauty salons were the places to be with up to 60% off their procedures. The nice thing about such holidays here is that whenever you go out on such days, you will be congratulated by everyone.
A few weeks ago was (the not so popular) Men’s Day (otherwise known as Defender’s Day). As I walked through the school, and then went on to the gym afterwards, I heard men congratulating each other. The gym even held a special ‘strong man’ contest in honour of it. However, for what seems like a slightly sexist reason, it is no longer celebrated in quite the same way as the one for the opposite sex.
Women’s Day, as my female gym friend told me, is one of the most popular and enjoyable of Soviet holidays and everyone likes celebrating it! This appears not only because all women get flowers and are congratulated by friends, family and strangers alike but also because it is a public holiday!
I overheard a rather interesting exchange at work which showed how important it is to many people here. Our boss had decided that we would work the Thursday and have the Friday off – although we would have a party for the “ladies” after work on the 8th! One of my female Kazakh colleagues informed our boss that he obviously wasn’t aware of the importance of the day, that it was practically a spiritual day for women and that we shouldn’t be working. The official holiday was Thursday, with Friday and Saturday as the weekend. He was very understanding but stated we would be staying with the original plan. In fact, most of the local staff found it very strange that they had to work!
I first started being wished a ‘Happy Women’s Day’, or ‘Поздравляю с наступающим праздником’ (Best wishes for the holiday) on the Wednesday at the local orphanage we had gone to visit with the school. Travelling back from there, seeing numerous women carrying bunches of flowers, it was evident that they had already been congratulated on this holiday as they would not be going to work in the morning.
Resting by the water cooler at the gym, after a particularly enthusiastic workout, which had left me looking like I had been in a sauna for half an hour, I was greeted in the same way! ‘Happy Women’s Day’ the young Kazakh guy said to me. ‘Thank you’ was my rather weak reply! I didn’t feel like the beautiful, gorgeous, happy, successful, healthy (Russian congratulations are accompanied by a long list of everything else that you are wished) person I was meant to be.
When I had informed Kazakh people that I would be working on the 8th, they nearly passed out! However, it didn’t turn out to be so bad. There was a real party atmosphere in work that day. All the women received cards and flowers and being teachers we were lucky to receive some rather nice presents from students – no apples here.