Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!

Photo of spring in Russia
Spring in Russia

Butter Week, Crepe Week, Cheesefare Week … however you want to translate ‘Maslenitsa’, it’s an important date in the Russian calendar, and a great opportunity to join in the celebrations, Russian-style.

This Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, ie the eighth week before Eastern Orthodox Pascha (or Easter). Maslenitsa may be the oldest surviving Slavic holiday and has its origins in pagan tradition. In Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa is a sun festival, personified by the ancient god Volos, and a celebration of the imminent end of winter. In the Christian tradition, Maslenitsa is the last week before the onset of Great Lent, and the last opportunity to eat your fill before the period of fasting and abstinence that leads up to Easter.

Photo of pancakes
Traditional Russian pancakes

During the week of Maslenitsa, meat is forbidden to Orthodox Christians, and is the last opportunity to eat eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products, leading to its name of ‘Cheesefare Week’ or ‘Crepe Week’. The traditional food of Maslenitsa is bliny – thin pancakes or crepes made from the rich foods still allowed by Orthodox tradition that week: butter, eggs, and milk.

During the coming Lent, parties, secular music, dancing, and other distractions from spiritual life are forbidden, so Maslenitsa is the last chance to take part in such activities.

In some regions, each day of Maslenitsa had its traditional activity.

Photo of straw in Maslenitsa
Straw in Maslenitsa
  • Monday sees the welcoming of ‘Lady Maslenitsa’. The community builds a Maslenitsa effigy out of straw, decorated with rags and fixed to a pole that is paraded around. The first pancakes are made and offered to the poor.
  • On Tuesday, young men search for a fiancée to marry after Lent.
  • On Wednesday, sons-in-law visit their mothers-in-law, who prepare pancakes and invite other guests for a party.
  • Thursday is usually devoted to outdoor activities. People take time off work and spend the day sledding, ice skating, having snowball fights, and sleigh rides.
  • On Friday, sons-in-law invite their mothers-in-law for dinner.
  • Saturday is an opportunity for young wives to get to know their sisters-in-law better.
  • The last day of Maslenitsa is called ‘Forgiveness Sunday’. Relatives and friends ask each other for forgiveness and may offer small presents. As the celebrations come to an end, people gather to ‘strip Lady Maslenitsa of her finery’ and burn her on a bonfire. Left-over pancakes are thrown into the fire, and Lady Maslenitsa’s ashes are buried in the snow to fertilize the crops.

For devout Orthodox Christians, this is the last day on which dairy products may be consumed until Easter. Fish, wine, and olive oil will also be forbidden on most days of Great Lent. The day following Forgiveness Sunday is called Clean Monday because people have confessed their sins, asked forgiveness, and begin Great Lent with a clean slate.

The next best thing to celebrate Maslenitsa in Russia is to come to London. The city’s Maslenitsa Festival (20-26 February) has become the most prominent example of Russian culture outside Russia and is one of the most exciting dates in London’s events diary. Every festival is attended by over 100 000 visitors, exemplifying the best of contemporary Russia – vibrant and positive, with cultural attractions to delight people of all tastes and ages.

And while you’re there, why not drop into our offices and book your 2018 Maslenitsa celebrations in Russia itself?