Maslenitsa Merriment

March 1, 2012

From the 21st to the 26th of February, Yaroslavl enjoyed a myriad of Mасленица[1] celebrations with all sorts of festivities! Blini and Maslenitsa dolls were everywhere, and Galya’s demmands of “Кушай! Кушай, дорогая!”[2] redoubled their efforts.

So what is Maslenitsa? The first time I described this holiday to someone, I told them, “Well, think Mardi Gras—only without the nudity, and lasting about a week!” In a way, Maslenitsa is the Orthodox Mardi Gras. It comes right before Lent on the Orthodox calendar and is a state- and church-approved right to binge. At the same time, Maslenitsa is originally derived from a pagan holiday that was meant to welcome the spring.

A Peek into Maslenitsa Festivities

One of the main traditions that I took part in daily was the eating of блины[3]. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that blini are a bit like French crêpes. One of the main differences, however, is the toppings. One day, Galya had left some blini batter for me to do as I would. I whipped up what I thought was perfect—very thin blini with butter and sugar on top. When Galya came back, she went, “Good! You had some blini! What did you eat them with?” “Butter and sugar!” I responded proudly (there was no lemon for a good beurre, sucre et citron). She gave me a dismayed look. “But what about the mushrooms?” Apparently grilled mushrooms, sour cream, sour cream and sugar, onions and meat, home-made jams and творог[4] account for Galya’s favorite toppings! I tried each of those after my francophile fail, and loved them all. Galya even caught me with a spoon in the meat and onions pan later when she left the kitchen to grab something. It just smelled so good!

Blini with sour cream

Aside from gorging on blini, another of my favorite parts of this holiday was definitely the beautiful Maslenitsa dolls. Traditionally, the Maslenitsa dolls are made of cloth and decorated in beautifully colorful clothing to look like women. So far, so good, right? Well, on Sunday, the dolls are carried around on sticks and then burned. I’ve heard mixed stories as to why this happens, ranging from, “Well, the pagans used real people but we use dolls,” to “It wards of winter,” “It brings in the spring,” “It welcomes Lent,” “It’s about purification,” and “It wards of bad feelings.” If you’re familiar with this Russian celebration, please feel free to help clarify this for me in the comments! For now, I’m just going to assume it’s all of the above.

All week, Maslenitsa celebrations carried on in missionaries, on main squares, and in homes. Organized games were held and families toured the Maslenitsa doll displays, small children in hand. The list of songs the Russians have for this holiday must go a few kilometers long. I feel so lucky to have been able to take part in Yaroslavl’s Maslenitsa. This is definitely a tradition I’m taking home with me!

Reporting from the Golden Circle,

[1] Maslenitsa

[2] “Eat! Eat, dear!”

[3] Blini

[4] Tvorog is sort of a cross between cheese and yogurt. It’s very sweet, and may have raisons or other personal touches added.


One Response to “Maslenitsa Merriment”

  1. Debbie said

    Is there a recipe for the blini batter? I would love to see this holiday, but probably would not want to burn the dolls!

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