Wiki says about it:
Officially, as the name suggests, the holiday celebrates people who are serving or were serving the Russian Armed Forces (both men and women), but unofficially, nationally it has also more recently come to include the celebration of men as a whole, and to act as a counterpart of International Women’s Day on March 8.
The holiday is celebrated with parades and processions in honor of veterans, and women also give small gifts to the Russian men in their lives, especially husbands (or boyfriends), fathers and sons. As a part of the workplace culture, women often give gifts to their male co-workers. Consequently, in colloquial usage, the holiday is often referred to as Men’s Day (День Мужчин, Den’ Muzhchin).
Because it has changed at various times in both name and nature and has only really taken on the idea of Day of Men lately, it is not burned into the Russian soul to quite the same extent as Vosmoi Marta [Day of Women]. I’d say, form observing in Russia, that Novi God [New Year] is the really big one but Vosmoi Marta is the N2 holiday in Russia and other countries of this sphere.
Unfortunately, Day of Men does not get the kudos that it deserves and the men themselves don’t seem overly peeved by that. If their women treat them to a dinner or whatever, the women feel it’s no more nor less than what they do for their men every day of the year.
I asked my groups of girls two years ago what they had planned for the day. Would they do anything for their boys and the smiles that that received could have been taken two ways – that 1. they had something quite personal and intimate in mind and 2. that they hadn’t really thought about it.
I asked how many hadn’t really thought about it and it was a large percentage. Those who had thought about it said they’d “do something later’ for their grandfathers, fathers and brothers.
I thought that was not a very good attitude and said that it was very simple with me – those who remembered me on this day [also my birthday celebration] or on Valentine’s Day – I’d remember them on Vosmoi Marta.
They thought this an appalling attitude on my part. One girl said that Vosmoi Marta was an IMPORTANT holiday [meaning that this one was not]. Another girl said that it was a day for Soviet defenders of the Fatherland, a point I readily accepted. It was very much that for a long time.
[I was smiling the whole time, by the way – there was no anger in it from either side.]
The point I’d been trying to make was not that I personally wanted anything from anyone and seriously, I don’t but that the one-way attitude was wrong – that women can’t expect everything on Vosmoi Marta and there’d be hell to pay if a man forgot it [not that he could – it’s advertised right across the nation on billboards and in the media] but that it was quite OK not to care about the men on their day.
To her credit – one girl actually considered that point for five minutes but not the others – they seriously didn’t seem to care.
On the way out the door later, a girl from a different group came up and pressed a little gift into my hand, so it’s clearly not a day which has a set manner of celebration and it also showed I might have been a bit harsh in my observations. One girl came up to me and said that she celebrated it with her family in the evening and that most did but that they didn’t want to say that. I stopped thinking about it after that.
And strictly speaking, I was a defender of the enemies of the Defenders of the Fatherland for some time in the west., during my military years. I still think it’s a good idea though to broaden it to a general Men’s Day, which presumably would include boys.
As for the birthday, that turned out very nicely indeed.