Monday, February 27, 2006
Maslenitsa Has Come!
Mardi Gras, Carnival, Carnaval, Carnivale, Shrovetide, and in Russian it is ... Maslenitsa. Part-pagan and also part-Christian (of the pre-Lent variety) Maslenitsa is celebrated in Russia this week. As it turns out, you can celebrate some pancakes or blini here in the US also - IHOP (International House of Pancakes) restaurants are doing a *FREE* pancake promotion on Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, or заигрыш - zaigrysh in Russian).
Maslenitsa week began as a pagan ritual and has since been absorbed into the Eastern Orthodox religion. Therefore, Maslenitsa serves dual purposes. Per its pagan heritage, Maslenitsa signals the exit of winter and heralds the coming of spring. In fact, for centuries it was the start of the new year. As a part of pre-Lent celebrations, it is also a pre-emptive strike against the upcoming fast. Because meat and dairy are traditionally forbidden during Lent, Maslenitsa is the time for feasting (especially on blini). The name of the festival has its roots in the Russian word for butter, “maslo.”
Each day of the week has its own significance:
Monday “встреча” - Meeting day, it is a day for preparing icy slides and sledding.
Tuesday “заигрыш” - The games and blini begin.
Wednesday “лакомка” - Tasty. Everything is done from the ovens, put on the table your swords.
Thursday “разгуляй” - To help the sun banish winter, horse-drawn sleighs parade around the town in clockwise fashion, in the direction of the sun. Men also have snowball fights in protection of their snow fortresses.
Friday “тещины вечера” - This is the day for the son-in-law to visit his mother-in-law. Hmmm, I better remember this one.
Saturday “золовкины посиделки” - Go to visit your relatives and eat more endless blini. Are you full yet? No? Good, have some more!
Blini are essential to the celebration of Maslenitsa. Said to symbolize the sun — being warm, round, and golden — they are an appropriate warning to the lingering cold weather. Blini are given to friends and family all through the week and are topped with caviar, mushrooms, jam, sour cream, and of course, lots of butter.
Bonfires will be lit and a straw personification of Maslenitsa may be burned during the festivities in order to say farewell to winter. Sometimes a woman from the community will be chosen to dress as Maslenitsa. Tradition says that this woman should be cheerfully thrown in a snowbank in order to complete the welcome of spring.
Other traditions including an icy pole-climbing contest (hoping Katja will obtain pictures of pole-climbing in Rostov Veliky), singing chastushkas (more on that later this week), fist fights (no, really), troika rides, sledding, theater, balagans (Punch and Judy-style puppets shows), singing, and fireworks - all are part of the Maslenitsa celebrations. That all these traditions live is a testament to Russians' long memory and preservation of their heritage.
Maslenitsa is a good excuse to go out and have a good time, eat until you burst, and do something you wouldn't do any other time of the year.
Moscow Tourist Information
+7 (8) 495 232 5657
The Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg also has a playbill in honor of Maslenitsa:
Tel. +7 812 326 4141 Email: email@example.com
If you want to see Maslenitsa as it was during the beginning of the century, be sure to watch the movie "The Barber of Siberia," (Sibirskiy Tsirlyunik). The movie is set during a raucous Maslenitsa celebration in Moscow.
http://www.maslenitsa.ru/ (excellent page with long historical information, in Russian)
Updated: Great Maslenitsa Photos here Including a huge snowball fight.