*--I know its past Mardi Gras, but this was very interesting!--*
Maslenitsa, the Holiday of Spring and Sun
The tradition of Maslenitsa takes its roots in pagan times, when the
Russian folks would bid farewell to stark winter and welcome
long-awaited spring with mouth-watering pancakes, as round, yellow and
hot, as the Sun itself, as well as with games, songs, dances and burning
down the Winter effigy. The rites of this holiday are in this or that
way associated with the send-off of winter and welcoming of spring.
Maslenitsa is celebrated during the last week before the Lent, that is
seven weeks prior to the Easter.
Until christening of Russia, Maslenitsa was celebrated on the vernal
equinox day. The Orthodox Church, however, timed this holiday to the
Lent, in order not to oppose the traditions of the Russian people (in a
similar way, Christmas was timed to the winter equinox day).
Maslenitsa is amusing and mischievous welcoming of spring, which brings
about enlivening of nature and bounty of sunny warmth. From times
immemorial people took spring for the beginning of new life and
venerated the Sun as giving life and energy to the whole creation. It
was in honour of the Sun that they baked flat cakes, and after leavened
dough came into use, they started baking pancakes.
Our ancestors believed that when eating the round and hot pancakes
reminding of the Sun they took in a bit of the warmth and might of the
star of day.
The name of the holiday, Maslenitsa (derived from maslo, which means
butter or oil in Russian) obviously owes its existence to the tradition
of baking pancakes. With the help of pancakes people tried to evoke the
grace of the Sun and induce it to better warming of the frozen earth.
Thus, they baked those encouraging little suns of pancakes.
Besides, it was a custom in Russian villages to do various actions
associated with a circle, such as, for example, going on horseback
around the settlement several times, decorating a cart wheel and
carrying it on a pole along the streets, and dancing the round dance
(khorovod). Such ceremonies were believed to butter the Sun, cajole it
and make it kinder. Hence is the name Maslenitsa.
Every day of Maslenitsa (Pancake Week) has its own name and needs
Monday is welcoming. By this day they finished building ice-hills,
seesaws and show booths. The rich already started baking pancakes. The
first pancake was traditionally given to a beggar in remembrance of the
Tuesday is playing. From the very morning the young were invited to
chute ice-hills and eat pancakes. People would invite the kinsfolk and
friends with the words: “We’ve got the ice-hills ready and pancakes
baked – please, come and try”.
Wednesday is regaling. On this day the son-in-law would pay a visit “to
the mother-in-law’s pancakes”. Besides her daughter’s husband the
mother-in-law would invite other guests as well.
Thursday is merry-making. From this day on Maslenitsa unfolded to its
full extent. The folks indulged in all kinds of entertainments, such as
ice-hills, shows, seesaws, horse-riding, carnivals, fist fights and
carousals, for sure.
Friday is mother-in-law’s party. Now it was the turn of the sons-in-law
to invite their mothers-in-law and treat them with pancakes.
Saturday is sister-in-law’s party. Young wives would invite their
sisters-in-law for a feast. The newlywed was supposed to give presents
to her husband’s sisters.
The last day of Maslenitsa is Forgiveness Sunday, when everyone asks
each other’s forgiveness to be freed from sins before the Lent. In
response they hear the traditional “God will forgive”.
On the last day of Maslenitsa they burn down a straw effigy symbolizing
winter. Thus they are sending-off winter till the next year.
The rite of burning the effigy is related to the ancient, both pagan and
Christian, idea of revival through sacrifice and death; it stands for
the revival of fruit-bearing powers of nature, the renewal of its life
power. It appears that this pristine holiday harbours profound meaning:
the birth of life through struggle, death and revival. The Christian
Church, however, tried to uproot this holiday as being pagan, yet it
only contrived to shift its dates and shorten the festivity span from
fourteen to seven days.
So bake the sunny pancakes and let the winter burn away!
Maslenitsa (Pancake week) is the only purely Russian Holiday that dates
back to the pagan times. For seven days Moscow jingles with bells, sings
with garmoshkas and glares with gaily-painted dresses. The people are
letting the long-annoying winter out and the long-awaited spring in.
The counters in the Maslenitsa town are groaning with various dainties.
There are the paunchy samovars with mellow tea, bunches of sweet-scented
barankas, nuts and honey pies with different signs: "Whom I love - to
those I give", "A present of the sweet-hart is the dearest". Salted
foods, various fish, caviar - choose and eat anything however much you like!
But the essential elements, of course, are pancakes (blini). Pankacke is
a symbol of sun. It is as round, gold and warm as the sun. Pancakes are
served hot with either butter, or sour cream, or caviar, or mushrooms,
or sturgeon - to any exquisite taste.
Where else can you take a horse-drawn sledge ride that will take your
breath away? Or take a jaunty slip down an enormous ice slope? Or go
round on a giant carousel? The Great Maslenitsa will reel you round in a
dancing fairy-circle and your feet won't be able to keep still to the
sprightly chastooshkas (gaily songs) and byword. Clowns and skomorokhs
(histrions) will make you laugh to tears. The show goes on and on in the
balagans (Punch-and-Judy shows) and theatres. And those who will not
want to be simply a spectator can take part in the masquerade: to dress
up beyond recognition or to muffle in a long fur coat and to drink a
glass of vodka with a bear.
On the last day of the Great Maslenitsa the feasting and drinking ends
up by burning down the scarecrow symbolizing winter thus saying goodbye
to winter till the next year.
For the Russians Maslenitsa is like a carnival for the Italians,
especially because the initial sense of festivals is the same: the
Italian word "carnival" (carne-vale) means "farewell the beef!", and
Maslenitsa that precedes the Great Lent, in old time was called
"Myasopust" because it was forbidden to eat meat during this week.
The last day of Maslenitsa is called the Forgiveness Day. Everybody ask
one another for forgiveness in order to redeem themselves from their
sins before the Great Lent. They bow to one another and say, "God will
forgive you". Maslenitsa is over and so is the winter giving way to the
Everybody knows what the Russian Soul is! This is prowess, dare-devilry,
and, of course, the famous Russian hospitality. Everybody is welcome to
Moscow to see the Russian winter off!