Thursday, March 24, 2011


An ancient Slavic festival, Maslenitsa (Ма́сленица) is essentially a sun outing, which celebrates the imminent end of winter. While it doesn’t necessarily happen on the day of the Spring Equinox, it is a spring-welcoming Slavic mythology holiday, which also corresponds to the Western Christian Carnival. It occurs during the last week before Lent—that is, the seventh week before Paskha – Easter.

Maslenitsa originates from the word Ма́слo (butter), and is also known as Pancake Week. Maslenitsa has a dual ancestry – pagan and Christian – with their traditions tightly interwoven. For example, eating meat during Maslenitsa is not allowed by the Russian Orthodox Church, but since milk, cheese, and other dairy products are permitted, people make the traditional blinis – pancakes; their round yellow disks symbolize the sun, which is certainly a pagan observation. Historically, the holiday had its own mascot: Lady Maslenitsa (sometimes known as Kostroma), represented by a brightly dressed straw effigy. As a culmination of the week-long feast on Sunday evening, Lady Maslenitsa is given to the fire, and all the leftover blintzes are thrown into it as well – for a good reason: the ashes are buried in the snow to "fertilize the crops."

Maslenitsa is a fun holiday: people eat, drink, dance, play instruments, and engage in strength contests – all to welcome spring. Traditionally, the Russian Maslenitsa also included masquerades, snowball fights, sledding and lots of horse sleigh rides. Some regions and villages followed a certain scheduleeach day had its designated activity: one day for sleigh-riding, another for the sons-in-law to visit their parents-in-law, another day for visiting the godparents, and so on.

During the Soviet era, Maslenitsa, like many other religious holidays, was not officially celebrated; however, everyone made blinis and pancakes and shared them with families and friends. After Perestroika, the outdoor festivities resumed, even though some people considered it an artificial restoration of a dead tradition. Lady Maslenitsa seems to have made its comeback – it was simply too much fun to miss.


  1. You had me at pancakes. How can you not love a holiday that has pancakes as the main dish? The straw outfit was just icing, or in this case syrup. The only thing missing is an evil something or other who attempts to disrupt the festivities. Great stuff.

  2. I agree with Orlando. A holiday that celebrates pancakes is my kind of gig. Especially blinis, the best pancakes of all. I'm thinking of adding Maslenitsa to our Norouz festivities. :)

  3. Everything Orlando and Heidi said. My girls will be all over this. Pancakes for dinner and throw the leftovers in the fire (instead of behind Mom's back). New family holiday!

    Is it the Sunday before Lent?

  4. It does sound like fun! Pancakes and throwing snowballs? What's not to love!

  5. Orlando, you got me thinking now - maybe there used to be something evil that tried to disrupt the holiday and maybe the people fought it - there's plenty of ancient Slavic superhero stories -- maybe I should do some research next spring and dig up some interesting stuff. On a different note - blini is still one of my favorite dishes - but with sour cream instead of maple syrup.