“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.

Åäà íà Ìàñëåíèöó
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.

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.

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.

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.

The thug life chose Sasha.

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


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.

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!


Troika Riding

Fresh fallen snow, charming horses, and sleigh bells

приветствие from the frozen tundra! Yesterday I had the most amazing chance to get out to the Russian countryside and take a sleigh ride.

We traveled northwest from Moscow for about an hour and arrived at a fairly large farm. Immediately we spotted the horses in the yard, being run by adults and children of all ages. A friendly Bernese Mountain Dog trotted over to greet us and hens clucked underfoot.

Upon arrival, we were seated on benches of packed snow which were covered in thick blankets. Beyond a rickety barrier made of branches, a horse show was put on for our entertainment. Highlights included a horse jumping through a flaming hoop and a couple “dancing” on horseback. My animal rights heartstrings tugging at me, I accepted this as a cultural opportunity and enjoyed the beauty of the animals.

Troika, a Russian style of sleigh riding, means ‘group of three’, and describes the number of horses harnessed to the sleigh

Soon after the show (which came replete with ear-piercing traditional music and an impromptu jig by a member of the audience), our sleighs arrived! The horse pictured in the middle (above) is a Clydesdale.

Over the river and through the snow we went
Our packed sleigh riding party with my friends Kyle and Sarah in the front with me
The grey day provided the ultimate epic background to bring out hints of red in the horses’ manes as they raced through the deep snow

Despite being packed into the sleigh like sardines, we were plenty chilly after our ride, so we took shelter in a tin longhouse on site. A snack was already laid out for us, warming atop the crude antique stove.

Blini! So timely as blini play a starring role in the upcoming Maslenitsa Festival which celebrates the sun’s return (blini = round like the sun). We drizzled these crepes with fresh sour cream, jam, and honey. Delish!
Who doesn’t love dress up? Well, maybe this girl. But they gave us a chance to dress in traditional Russian costume and take photos with the troika sleigh.
My friends Kyle and Shin were amicable participants and I played the willing group photographer
The farm was a working one and we toured the facilities after eating. I fed the goats my apply core and we meet a goose along the way.

All in all, the trip was yet another once-in-a-lifetime deal here in Russia. I’ve ridden snowmobiles before but nothing compares to the tug of a horse-drawn sleigh as you make tracks across an open plain. It was magical.

Stay tuned this coming week for my school’s celebration of Maslenitsa, the pagan holiday turned cultural tradition which ushers in the coming spring. Cheers to that!



Merry Christmas from Moscow

Merry Christmas from Aeroflot (and me!).

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s Orthodox Christmas here in Russia. The stores are closed, families are gathered together, and it’s -22 degrees Fahrenheit! But no need for alarm, all is well here in Moscow. I still have a job, despite the “fake” news reports of last week. To everyone who reached out, I really appreciate your concern. Teaching abroad comes with many ups and some downs and this past week certainly proved an interesting blip on the radar.


No need to dwell, I thought I would share what I’ve learned about Russian Orthodox Christmas on this day of celebration…

  1. The holiday is celebrated on January 7 (December 25 on the Julian calendar).

    The Julian calendar was created under Julius Caesar in 46 BC and is based on the solar year.
  2. The holiday marks the end of 40 days of fasting by observant Orthodox Christians (no meat, no dairy, no alcohol). This diet is known as the Nativity Fast.
  3. Since Soviet times, the holiday has split with gift giving celebrated on New Year’s Eve and the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrated beginning January 7 (the true focus of the religious aspect of the holiday).
  4. A huge 12-course meal (to honor the 12 apostles) is served after the first star appears in the night sky. Food associated with the holiday includes that which remembers the ancestors – blini (pancakes) and kutia are must-haves.

    Kutia is boiled wheat mixed with the ever-present honey, a Russian staple.
  5. Father Frost (Ded Moroz) is the Orthodox answer to Santa Claus. Unlike Santa, Father Frost delivers gifts directly to children on New Year’s Eve with the help of his granddaughter, Snegurochka (snow maiden). Though the connection to Christmas trees was lost during Soviet times, trees are once again connected with this night of gift giving.

    Ded Moroz and Snegurochka ride to deliver presents to the children of Russia on New Year’s Eve.
  6. There is a fortune-telling aspect to the holiday, with the Twelve Days of Christmas considered to be prime time for predicting the future, particularly big life events (marriages, births, etc.). The practice may use mirrors, shadows, and burning bits of thread.
  7. For Russian Orthodox Christians, Easter is actually the larger holiday to celebrate. More info to come this spring…

    Ukrainian eggs, known as pysanka, feature traditional folk designs applied using beeswax. These eggs are decorated across Europe to honor the Easter holiday.

Happy New Year to you all! May cooler heads and wisdom prevail in 2017. Wishing you health and happiness wherever this note may find you.