Maslenitsa

“The effigy will meet her fiery doom at 3:20pm.” Can’t say I’ve ever gotten an email like that from a principal – this one was definitely a first! What Noah was referring to was the Russian celebration of Maslenitsa, also known as Blini or Pancake Week. My school embraced the tradition and burned an effigy of our own last Friday, on the final day before February break.

Celebrating the end of winter (and the week prior to Lent), Maslenitsa is a 2,000 year old tradition which dates back to pagan times. Since the 2nd century AD, pagans have celebrated this sun festival on the day of the vernal equinox. When Christianity took hold in the Slavic territories, the holiday was initially forbidden by the Church, along with other pagan traditions. However, as people continued to celebrate Maslenitsa, the Church only succeeded in reducing the number of celebration days from 14 to 7 during the 17th Century. The tradition was woven into the celebration of Lent and represented the last chance for people to enjoy foods such as meat, eggs, and fish.

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oTypical Maslenitsa fare – blini, jam, sour cream, and caviar. Blinis represent the sun, a throwback to the festival’s pagan origin.

Today, Maslenitsa has been accepted and incorporated into Christian traditions here in Russia. Other European countries, such as Romania, Poland, and Greece host similar celebrations. Around the world, people hold celebrations prior to the beginning of the season of Lent, such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Shrove Tuesday (or “Pancake Day”) in the UK and Ireland.

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The PTO volunteers kicked off Maslenitsa with blinis for everyone.

Each day has a special meaning, and it is not just about blinis 🙂 A great deal of outdoor activities accompany the festival prompting our school’s annual “Roll in the Snow” Field Day during Maslenitsa Week.

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No one can help but smile on a sunny Russian winter day!

Each day of the 7 days of Maslenitsa corresponds to a different activity. Here’s a break down of the traditional celebration:

Days of Maslenitsa

Monday “Greeting of Maslenitsa Week.” Everyone gathers together. The fire is made and pancake songs are sung around the fire. Oh yes, there are pancake songs!

Tuesday is for popular games. Masked people are walking around singing funny songs and greeting Lady Maslenitsa (a big scarecrow dressed like a woman). Lots of games and competitions mark this day. Men can kiss any passing woman on the streets during this day!!

Wednesday is Sweet Tooth Day or Mother-in-Law Day  On this day sons-in-law would pay a visit “to enjoy their mothers-in-law’s pancakes”. Everyone eats lots and lots of pancakes on this day!

Thursday is the “Lavish Day.” The revival of sunny days is celebrated. The Lady Maslenitsa scarecrow is left on the hill and everyone adds more straw to it. Team-against-team or one-on-one competitions begin. Riding horse sleigh and sliding down the hills.

Friday is the “Good Mother’s Evening.” Just married couples treat their parents with pancakes. It was believed that good marital relations speeded the awakening of the land after the winter’s sleep, as well as benefiting the good harvest, thus the wedding and family theme was an important part of this festival.

Saturday is for “Good Daughters’ Parties.” Young daughters-in-laws welcome all the husband’s relatives.

Sunday is “Forgiveness Sunday.” Everyone begs pardon to each other for any hurt feelings. The burning of Lady Maslenitsa is the ending of the celebration.

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Dancing in the courtyard.

So back to the burning effigy… In preparation for the event, my students wrote down their wishes for the year on slips of paper which were then stuffed in the Lady Maslenitsa scarecrow. They also strung together sushka, which you may remember from the opening celebration for new teachers back in August. They munched on these necklaces during the effigy burning.

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The thug life chose Sasha.

At 3:20pm the Lady Maslenitsa was set alight and everyone’s wishes for the new year sent skyward.

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Although Maslenitsa celebrates the onset of spring, it clearly seems a long way away from all the snow still on the ground! Luckily the temperatures appear to be climbing bit by bit each day.

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Three of my Grade 6 Advisory students.

Today I’m just back from spring break in Thailand, having soaked up some Vitamin D and spent time with some great old friends. Look for an island-hopping blog post soon and Happy Spring, everyone!

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3 thoughts on “Maslenitsa

      1. We would love that.
        I find Russia and culture extremely interesting and now you have broaden my understanding even more!

        Like

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