Tuesday, March 1, 2011


   Perhaps the most cheerful holiday in Russia is Maslenitsa (Shrovetide).  This holiday is considered to come from pre-Christian times, when the Slavs were still pagans.
   In the old days, Maslenitsa was for remembrance of the dead.  So the burning of the figure of Maslenitsa means her funeral, and blini (pancakes)-coliphia.  But with time, the Russians longing for fun and entertainment turned the sad holiday into jolly.   Maslenitsa with blini-rounds, yellow and hot as the sun, sledding and horse sleigh's, fistfights and visiting with your mother-in-law .  The rituals of Maslenitsa are very unusual and interesting because they combine the end of the winter holiday rituals and the opening of new spring festivals and ceremonies, which were used to promote a rich harvest.

   Maslenitsa is celebrated during the week preceding  Lent.  Every day of Maslenitsa was devoted to special rituals.


   On Monday, Maslenitsa was welcomed.  On this day people made the straw stuffed figure of Winter, dressed it in old women's clothing and sang songs, while carrying it on a sleigh around the village.  Then the figure was put out onto a snow covered slope that people used for tobogganing, which was considered not just fun, but an ancient rite, because it was thought that the one who came down the hill more than once was likely to have tall flax (good crops of wheat)  in the summer.


   Tuesday was called "zaigrysh" (game Day).  From that day on, the whole village started all sorts of activities: sleigh rides, folk festivals, skomorokh (traveling actors) and puppet shows.  The streets are full of people in carnival costumes and masks, many of them  visited the homes of their neighbors and organized impromptu concerts.  Large companies rode troikas and simple sleighs.
   Pancake Week in 18th  century Moscow,  was hard to imagine without bear shows.  Bear fun was very popular among all the classes of the people,  in the towns, cities and villages.  Trained bears amused the audience, imitating girls putting on  makeup in front of the mirror or women baking pancakes.


   Wednesday-gourmand-opened feasts in houses with blini and other dishes.  Each household has tables with delicious foods, baked pancakes, and brewed beer.  Tents selling all kinds of food appear everywhere.  They sold hot sbiten (drinks from water, honey and spices), nuts, honey gingerbread's and poured tea from boiling samovars.


   On Thursday-revelry-became the outcome from all of the fun and games that happened during the day.  It was then, that  fistfights took place (usually from drinking too much alcohol).


   If, by Wednesday the  son-in-laws were treated with pancakes in there mother-in-laws house, on Friday it would be their turn to arrange the evenings meal with blini.  On the day before,  mother-in-law's  would send to the son-in-law's house, everything necessary for the making of blini: pans, ladles, ingredients, etc. and the father-in-law's sent a bag of buckwheat and some butter.  The disrespect of the tradition from the part of a son-in-law was considered a dishonor and an insult; it was a reasoning that they would be on the scorned by their in-law's.
   Special attention during Maslenitsa was paid to conjugal relations: couples, married the previous year were honored and celebrated.   The newlyweds were put in  the spotlight in their villages, they were forced to kiss each other in public, shoes and straw were sometimes thrown at them.  Sometimes people could come to the home of the newlyweds and kiss the young wife.  Tradition required that they dress semi-formal and go out to public meeting  places in a painted sleigh, pay a call to all who had visited their wedding, and go down the icy slope under the accompaniment of a folk song.  Maslenitsa was the time for  mutual visits of families, which recently became related.


   Saturday was devoted to relatives paying a visit to the young couples homes.


   Sunday was named "forgiveness" day.  On that day people asked each other for forgiveness for all grievances and troubles from the previous year.  In the evening, people went to cemeteries and "bid farewell" to the dead.  On the last day of Maslenitsa,  comes the most interesting event-saying goodbye to Maslenitsa-a solemn burning of the stuffed figure of winter.  People throw the remnants of pancakes and food into the huge bonfire , telling their children that all the nourishing food disappeared into the fire and to prepare for Lent.

The end of Maslenitsa

   Maslenitsa ends with the first day of Lent-making a clean Monday, which was considered the day of purification from sin and fasting from forbidden foods.  On Clean Monday, people usually took baths or showers; women wash dishes, cleaning the grease and the remains of the forbidden food.