Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tales From the Fatherland

Magnet # 176: The Church of the Savior on Blood, Saint Petersburg

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Today in Russia, they're observing Defender of the Fatherland Day. This dates back to February 23 in 1918, when, during the Russian Civil War, the Red Army held its first mass civil draft in Moscow and Petrograd. Back then, it was known as Red Army Day, but it later changed to Soviet Army and Navy Day in 1949. It wasn't until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the holiday was given its current name. I doubt there are many other national holidays that can claim that many name changes in that short an amount of time!

Originally, this day was intended to celebrate those serving the the Russian armed forces - both men and women, as the name implies. And parades are still held annually to honor those who serve in the military. But over time, it's evolved into a day to celebrate Russian men, and women give small gifts to their husbands, fathers, and sons. In fact, many Russians now call this "Men's Day." But don't get upset, ladies - on March 8, the Russian women are honored on International Women's Day. Today also has a special meaning for other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. Belarus and Ukraine both celebrate Defender of the Fatherland Day, and in Tajikistan, it's known as Tajik National Army Day, in a holiday that mirrors that of Russia's. But in Chechnya and Ingushetia, February 23 is the dubious anniversary of the day in 1944 when the Soviets forced them out of their homes and into Central Asia. Many of them died as a result, and it's a sober reminder that not everyone is grateful for the Red Army, and hopefully the anniversary of that day will serve to challenge Russia's current military to do much better than its predecessor.

The image on this magnet is of the Church of the Savior on Blood, one of Russia's most popular tourist destinations.  It might not tie in with Defender of the Fatherland Day directly, but it was created as a memorial from a son to his fallen father.  It was built on the very place where Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated in 1881, almost exactly a century before the day that created this Defender of the Fatherland Day occurred.  Although he had freed the serfs and was planning to have an elected parliament, revolutionaries hated him and made several attempts on his life.  A group of them finally succeeded by exploding a bomb under Alexander II's carriage.  When he emerged, unharmed, another assassin threw a bomb at his feet.  A third had a bomb that he never needed to use.  Horribly wounded, Alexander II soon died of his injuries.  His son Alexander III and his son Nicholas II, watched as he died.  After Alexander III ascended to the throne, he was determined to honor his father's memory on the very spot where he was attacked, and within two years, construction on the church had begun.  Using funds from the Imperial family and a great number of private donors, Alexander II had one of the most impressive structures in the entire country built.  It features more mosaics than nearly any other church, and many of Russia's premiere artists contributed to its design.  The precise spot where Alexander II died is marked by an altar covered with semi-precious stones.  But the cobblestone where he fell is still on display to the visitors.  Alexander III truly helped the memory of his father live on in this incredible structure, which is an enduring symbol of Russia and draws in droves of tourists.  And I think, that on this occasion of Defender of the Fatherland Day, it's nice to remember how one of the sons of Russia celebrated his father, a man who was known as czar liberator for the efforts he took to make life better for the people of his country.

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