How Russians Celebrate Maslenitsa: Profound Guide
What is Maslenitsa?
You may call it ‘Russian Mardi Gras’ or even ‘Beltane’. And there are many other analogs: ‘Fastelovend’ in Cologne, ‘Fassenacht’ in Mainz, Carnival in Rhineland and other similar celebrations in the Czech Republic, Denmark, and England. Maslenita is a holiday that highlights the beginning of spring. According to ancient traditions, each day of Maslenitsa week has a special name and a concrete purpose. Let’s go through all of them, to better understand ancient Russian traditions.
Our ancestors were the Slavs and due to pagan rituals, it was essential to say goodbye to winter and prepare for the upcoming spring. In those days the celebration fell on the day of the Spring Equinox (March 21) but later with the adoption of Christianity it became a period of preparation for the Lent. The dates of Maslenitsa vary each year and in 2020 they are from 24 February-1 March. We’ll give you some tips on how to celebrate Maslenitsa in Russia.
Monday — Meetings
On Monday people prepare to party hard all week long: they cook blini, organize meetings with their friends and relatives. It’s also important to share the first pancake with the poor in order that they will pray for the dead. For the Early Slavs, a pancake (blin) was a sun-symbol. In pagan times people tried to cook and eat as many pancakes as they could to attract spring and to have a bountiful harvest that year. In the Orthodox Church calendar Maslenitsa is a preparation for the Lent, therefore religious people stop eating meat this week but they can eat dairy products in big amounts. The most popular fillings for pancakes are butter, condensed milk, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, caviar and various types of homemade jams. You can try all these goodies in the streets of Moscow or join us at Eat like a Russian tour where you’ll taste the most delicious caviar at a local market and not only.
Tuesday — Searching for a bride
This day is just for having fun! Forget about social nets, go outside and take part in various folk activities. While taking part in them, look around and choose the most beautiful and enthusiastic girl or the most dexterous boy. Russians usually go sledding down high hills, ride on a merry-go-round, swing, play snowballs. You won’t be bored in the main streets of Moscow, just go to Red Square, Okhotny Ryad or Tverskaya Square and you’ll find lots of shows and fairs. Remember to party hard or you’ll be sad and miserable the whole year. Believe the locals, it works! To make your stay in Moscow even more colorful and memorable these days take a walk with us through the main points of Russian carnival at Moscow Behind the Icons tour.
Wednesday — Sweet tooth
On Wednesday mothers-in-law invite their sons-in-law to try delicious homemade pancakes. If the table is full of different treats, it shows mothers’-in-law respect her daughter’s husband. Maslenitsa is a family holiday and if you want to get married soon, it’s a great chance to meet each other’s parents. Our male ancestors chose their brides during Maslenitsa week to get married soon after the Lent. Some young people even today try to stick to this old tradition.
Thursday — Break-point or Revelry
First, three days of Maslenitsa week are just preparation for real celebrations which start in the early morning and last till dawn. It’s the time of national circle dances, making fires, snow duels, choir singing, playing games, street performances. Line fights, bear and cockfighting are not in fashion nowadays and let’s be honest, it’s a good thing.
Friday — Mothers-in-law Evening
Pancakes are baked every day. There are so many recipes and ways of serving blini that it’s impossible to repeat them. On Friday it’s mothers-in-law turn to pay a visit to their sons-in-law. Of course, sons-in-law don’t cook pancakes, they will be cooked by their wives. What is essential for them is to show respect to their mothers-in-law, be affable and pleasant all the time. Mothers-in-law need to be sure that their daughters made the right choice and that everything is fine in their families.
Saturday — Sisters-in-law Gathering
In the past daughters-in-law would invite sisters-in-law to spend time together, gossip a bit, eat tasty dishes and have fun! Today Russian people normally visit their relatives and friends on this day, spend time together and give each other treats and gifts. It’s also important to pray for the dead on Saturday, go to church and visit a cemetery.
Forgiveness Sunday — Quinquagesima
The last day of the week is called so because it’s a Christian tradition to beg forgiveness from your family members, relatives, friends or colleagues. It’s a bad sign to start the Lent, if you’re at odds with someone or if you offended someone. All of the celebrations finish with the burning of a straw effigy of Maslenitsa, which symbolizes the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
Russians really like Maslenitsa as is holiday means the closeness of upcoming spring after quite long and severe winter. Don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate Maslenitsa 2020 if you are visiting Russia. We have a special Maslenitsa tour that you can join to feel the spirit of Russian winter celebrations. For more interesting facts about Russian traditions read our blog!
by Maria Daianova, local guide