Maslenitsa: Folk Festival Greets the Spring

Novosibirsk State University has celebrated the most favorable Russian folk holiday Maslenica. It has become a tradition for our university to celebrate this holiday. Students, teachers and other comers has get an opportunity to see the people dressed into Slavic costumes, to participate in traditional for this holiday competitions and of course to eat hot and tasty Russian pancakes (“bliny”).

Maslenitsa is the Russian Spring Festival, also known as Butter Week or Crepe Week. It is an Easter Slavic religious and folk holiday celebrated in Russia, Ukraine and Belarusian. Maslenitsa is the brightest and funniest festival among Russian holidays. Its time of celebration is the 8th week before Orthodox Easter.

Origin Of Maslenitsa Spring Festival

If we turn to Slavic mythology we will learn that Maslenitsa is a date to celebrate the end of the winter and the coming of spring. This holiday lasts for a week. After the week people are forbidden to eat meat, eggs, fish and dairy products for 40 days. Thus, during the time of the Festival they have the last chance to eat and do what they want, enjoying drinking, eating, dancing, singing and of course outdoor activities.

Traditionally, the important part of the holiday was a horseback riding, when horses got the best harness. The guys who were going to get married, bought sleds especially to the riding. All young couples took part in this riding.

Along with horseback riding there were sleigh rides widespread among young people. Rural youth had its own entertainment for Maslenitsa that was jumping over the fire and capturing a snow fortress.

In the XVIII and XIX centuries the peasant carnival comedy took the central place of the Festival. The characters of the comedy were the maskers such as Maslenitsa, Voevoda and others. This comedy told a story about Maslenitsa with its abundant treats before the upcoming fasting and its goodbye and promise to come back next year. The performance often included some real local events.

For centuries Maslenitsa Festival preserved the character of the national celebrations. All the traditions of the Festival were intended to drive the winter away and wake the nature from its sleep. Maslenitsa was greeted with songs of praise on the snow hills. The symbol of the Festival was a jack straw dressed in women's clothes. People had fun with it, and in the end of the Festival this jack straw was buried or burned along with a pancake in its hand.

“Bliny” was the main treat and symbol of Maslenitsa. It was made from food butter, eggs and milk allowed by the tradition. It was like pancakes or crepes stuffed with things like smoked salmon, cheese, caviar and fruits compotes. It symbolized the sun in spring.

People baked pancakes (“bliny”) for the Festival every day starting on Monday, but especially a lot of pancakes were baked from Thursday to Sunday. The tradition of baking pancakes had existed in Russia since the times of worship to pagan gods. That was the sun god “Jarilo” which was called to drive the winter away. A round and ruddy pancake, however, was very similar to the summer sun.

How people celebrate Maslenitsa today

Today Maslenitsa continues its tradition to be a funny folk holiday. Russian people hold many celebration activities, including making and eating pancakes or crepes (“bliny”), snowball fights, sleigh rides, riding on swings, dancing and singing. Boxing and other sports activities are also indispensable. In some regions, people have different traditional activities for each day. For example, the first day for making “bliny”, the third day fo the sons-in-law to visit their parents-in-law, etc.

Sunday as the culmination of Maslenitsa and its last day is regarded as the most meaningful. It’s called “Forgiveness Sunday”. People make a bow before their friends or relatives and ask forgiveness. Moreover, it makes the end of cold winter and the coming of spring. The tradition to burn a jack straw dressed in women’s clothes has remained the most favorable and bright part of the holiday.

According to tradition, Russian people believe that if you have a happy Maslenitsa, you will be happy and lucky all the year round. It may be the reason why people continue enjoying this holiday despite its pagan origin.