Maslenitsa: Pancake week in Russian and Ukrainian tradition

This week is a Pancake week called Maslenitsa. Every year it is celebrated more and more. We like our old traditions)))

To describe this holiday I take some parts of Wikipedia article.

“Maslenitsa (Russian: Ма́сленица, Ukrainian: Масниця, also known as Butter Week, Pancake week or Cheesefare Week), is a Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian religious and folk holiday. It is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent—that is, the seventh week before Paskha (Easter). In 2012 Maslenitsa is celebrated from February 20 to February 26.

Maslenitsa has its origins in both pagan and Christian traditions. In Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa is a sun festival, celebrating the imminent end of the winter.

On the Christian side, Maslenitsa is the last week before the onset of Great Lent. During Maslenitsa week, meat is already forbidden to Orthodox Christians. It is the last week during which milk, cheese and other dairy products are permitted, leading to its other name of “Cheese-fare week” or “Pancake week”. During Lent, meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are forbidden. Furthermore, Lent also excludes parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from the spiritual life. Thus, Maslenitsa represents the last chance to partake of dairy products and those social activities that are not appropriate during the more prayerful, sober and introspective Lenten season.

The most characteristic food of Maslenitsa is bliny (pancakes), popularly taken to symbolize the sun. Round and golden, they are made from the rich foods still allowed by the Orthodox tradition: butter, eggs and milk.

Maslenitsa also includes snowball fights, sledding, riding on swings and plenty of sleigh rides. In some regions, each day of Maslenitsa had its traditional activity: one day for sleigh-riding, another for the sons-in-law to visit their parents-in-law, another day for visiting the godparents, etc. The mascot of the celebration is usually a brightly dressed straw effigy of Lady Maslenitsa, formerly known as Kostroma.

As the culmination of the celebration, on Sunday evening, Lady Maslenitsa is stripped of her finery and put to the flames of a bonfire. Any remaining blintzes are also thrown on the fire and Lady Maslenitsa’s ashes are buried in the snow (to “fertilize the crops”).

 Sunday of Forgiveness

The last day of Cheesefare Week is called “Forgiveness Sunday”, indicating the desire for God’s forgiveness that lies at the heart of Great Lent. At Vespers on Sunday evening, all the people make a poklon (prostration) before one another and ask forgiveness, and thus Great Lent begins in the spirit of reconciliation and Christian love. Another name for Forgiveness Sunday is “Cheesefare Sunday,” because for devout Orthodox Christians, it is the last day on which dairy products may be consumed until Paskha. Fish, wine and olive oil will also be forbidden on most days of Great Lent. The day following Cheesefare Sunday is called Clean Monday, because everyone has confessed their sins, asked forgiveness, and begun Great Lent with a clean slate.

 Modern Times

During Soviet times, Maslenitsa, like all the other religious holidays, was officially not celebrated. However, it was widely observed in families without its religious significance, just as an opportunity to prepare pancakes with all sorts of fillings and coverings and to eat them with friends. After Perestroika, the outdoor celebrations resumed, although they were seen by some as an artificial restoration of a dead tradition. Many Russians have returned to practising Christianity, however, so they are reviving the tradition.”

I would say that now the Ortodox tradition is not so important. As we usually don’t practice the fast, the last week before the fast doesn’t really mean anything. For many people Maslenitsa is a farewell to winter, the old good pagan tradition. It doesn’t matter that we have winter at least for one more month. But we know that the winter time passed and it’s almost spring. Hurray!

Some pics from the last year’s Maslenitsa at the Liberty square, Kharkov.

Russian sweets, bliny and drinks for Maslenitsa

preparing bliny (pancakes) on the stove

Lady Maslenitsa

another Lady Maslenitsa

the main Maslenitsa effigy that has been burned afterwards

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