Russia’s Maslenitsa festival rings in the passing of winter with traditions, dancing and pancakes.
At the end of February, Maslenitsa festivities take place all across Russia. Also known as ‘pancake week’, the traditional Russian festivity is famous for its blini (pancakes) with many fillings and toppings, from sour cream to caviar, to salmon and all things sweet!
It is thought that the name Maslenitsa (variously translated as “Butter Week,” “Cheese Week,” or “Pancake Week” in English) comes from the fact that, according to Russian Orthodox tradition, meat is already off-limits by Shrovetide week, but dairy is not.
Maslenitsa is well-known for its seven days of festivities and final dose of gluttony, as it’s the last week that Orthodox Russians can eat dairy before Lent. Naturally, each day of the festival involves pancakes, butter and many indulgent toppings, as Russians celebrate the arrival of Spring with an abundance of food, drinks, sledding and snowball fights.
Maslenitsa contains both pagan and Christian traditions and is celebrated in the last week before Great Lent, or the seventh week before Eastern Orthodox Easter. The most characteristic part of the festival is the pancakes – Russians feast on ‘blini,’ which are round and golden pancakes made up of rich foods still allowed by the Orthodox tradition, mainly butter, eggs and milk.
Food is a hugely important part of Maslenitsa. In folk tales, it’s been said that you must eat throughout the day as many times as a dog wags its tail, a fair challenge if you consider that the main food groups during this time are the stomach-filling, rich and often buttery blini. The blini, made every day of the week, symbolise the sun and its warmth and Russians are known to eat as many of them as possible during Maslenitsa since the seven days of festivities are followed by seven somber weeks of the Great Lent.
Another essential part of the festivities is horseback riding — with horses, of course, donned their finest festive trimmings to welcome Spring.
In Moscow alone, more than 500 events are planned every year to celebrate the Slavic folk holiday. The main events are set in the city’s parks, museum clusters and estates, as well as along pedestrian streets in Russian cities.
Sunday is the final day, day of forgiving – when people forgive the wrongs done against them and burn the Maslenitsa mascot, a straw doll dressed in a female costume with a pancake in her hand. This practice has become an almost iconic symbol of the festival, and the imminent end of winter.
Below is the typical Maslenitsa “schedule”:
The first day – Russians usually eat their first (of many) blinis at 5 pm on Monday with festivities continuing late into the evening.
The second day is for young people. Russians traditionally take part in snow sledding or go for winter walks.
On the fourth-day ice skating, cross-country skiing and feasting are common, as the Great Lent fast approaches. Gorky Park skating rink, in particular, comes alive with Russians celebrating Maslenitsa.
Traditionally, a day for mothers and especially mothers-in-law. Families often stroll through parks across Russia to spend time together.
When the weekend comes, the celebrations are even grander. As it’s nearly the end of winter, day 6 is a good time to make the most of Russia’s winter sports activities.
The climax — as it is essentially a series of festivities to mark the passing of winter — is “Wide Maslenitsa,” when the effigy of Maslenitsa (a large figure made of straw) is burned.
Often called ‘Shrove Sunday,’ on day 7 people ask for the forgiveness of others creating a sense of unity and joy among the crowds.
If photos are not enough to convince you how fun Maslenitsa Festival is, here’s a short video taken during the 7-day festival:
Every year in February we run the Maslenitsa Festival Tour in Moscow and St.Petersburg. This tour includes most iconic tourists attractions of two Russian capitals as well as endless festivities, pancakes and fun!
For more information about Maslenitsa Tour, contact us at [email protected] or call us +61 2 9388 9816
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