Russian Maslenitsa (Crepe week) celebration
From mid-February to early March a big holiday takes place in Russia accompanied by open air celebrations and tons of fun – the holiday of winter farewell – Maslenitsa (also known as Butter or Crepe week). It has been widely celebrated since the pagan times. The main idea of this holiday is that it symbolizes the end of long cold winter days and the first signs of nature’s awakening that also comprise the preparation for the next harvest. Maslenitsa has always been carried out in mischievous and funny way with street festivals, skating, and merrymaking with an eye to awake the nature and banish the evil spirits.
With the adoption of Christianity in Russia the celebration of Maslenitsa had been both included in Orthodox holidays and acquired the following additional meaning: since that period it has been associated with the time of forgiveness and reconciliation with family, as well as the preparation for the Lent. Fasting begins right after Maslenitsa and lasts for seven weeks before the Easter.
The celebration passes along for the whole week from Monday to Sunday. Every day has its own name and traditions. For example, the first day of the celebration week is called the greeting day. It is customary that people make a straw doll – Maslyanitsa on this day. The traditions also include making of ice-runs, opening of different fairs and booths in the squares. In days gone by, the jack-straw was made up by each and every one of the inhabitants of a village. Each person carried a bundle of straw with him. A doll was dressed up in a women’s clothing and the inwrought scarf was put on it. The jack-straw was participating in all amusements during the whole week, people were singing and dancing in a ring around it, different songs and ditties were dedicated to it. The jack-straw was holily burnt at a stake in the last day of the holidays as a symbol of the escaping winter.
Open air celebrations, are held all the way through the holidays as well as riding on decorated sleighs, high ice hills’ riding, and ice skating. Snow towns’ storming, snowball fighting, jumping over the fire, and different kinds of fortunetelling are as much popular. People are having fun and singing while traditional treats of Maslenitsa are offered for general public right in the streets. Crepes are the main and obligatory dish of the treats. You may also be offered to try pies, treacle cakes, salted fish, nuts, and candies which are served in abundance during the celebration. Crepes are baked in every household; people make visits to their friends having pancakes with them and they are also asked by others to drop by for trying pancakes.
Maslenitsa ends with Shrove Sunday according to Christian tradition. It is customary that people ask for everybody’s forgiveness on that day, even without feeling guilty. The phrase “God will forgive you” is supposed to be said in response. Orthodox believers begin to hold the Lent after Shrove Sunday, which is supposed to be taken with a light heart and a pure soul.
The celebrations in St. Petersburg are traditionally held at Peter-and-Paul fortress, in the Alexander Garden, Kirov Park, Tauride Garden; in Moscow Victory Park, in the Park of Babushkin as well as in Pavlovsk, Pushkin and Gatchina. The program of the celebrations is diverse. It comprises different performances, solemn cartage of Maslenitsa (Maslenitsa’s train). Furthermore, a big variety of contests, games and performances of folk art groups are included in the program. And, of course, not to forget the pancakes!
In 2016, Maslenitsa falls on the week beginning at 7 March.
Translation by Evgenya Gavrilova