Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maslenitsa: Blinis and a Bit of Culture

Maslenitsa (Ма́сленица), loosely translated as Butter Week, is a popular religious and folk holiday, celebrated in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It's the last week when you can eat butter, milk and eggs before the beginning of Lent.

The holiday has very ancient roots. It's believed to go back all the way to the pagan times when it coincided with the Spring equinox and was a celebration of renewal, life and fertility. One of the central elements of the celebration is blinis - thin pancakes that actually look more like the French crêpes than the traditional American pancakes.

Maslenitsa with an Ural Tray by Tatiana Tarasova
Blinis can be eaten with everything and anything, sweet or savory and are one of the most popular Maslenitsa dishes, but all fatty and buttery food is encouraged. Some believe that blinis symbolize the Sun god, sometimes known as Jarilo, but others are certain that it's associated with the cult of the dead. The later explanation seems plausible - even today people eat blinis at traditional wakes.

Storm of Snow Fortress by Vasily Surikov
The other part of the holiday is the general merriment. This is when the young and the old take part in snowball fights, sledding, singing, dancing,  riding on swings, sleigh rides, mock battles and building of snow forts.

Maslenitsa by Boris Kustodiev 
At the end of the week, on Sunday, the people burn Maslenitsa effigy made of straw and old rags and then bury the ashes to insure a good harvest. It's meant to symbolize the death of Winter and the coming of Spring.

This is my modest attempt at celebrating this wonderful holiday of Spring and new life. But I don't think I'll be burning any effigies.

Happy Maslenitsa, everyone!  

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