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Maslenitsa: Celebrating Spring with Pancakes & Bonfires

Each spring, exactly 56 days before the celebration of the Orthodox Easer, slavic people celebrate Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa, that is also called “butter week” or “pancake week”, is one of the most beloved holidays that lasts not one, but seven days!

It’s origin goes back to the pagan times. At first, the holiday had another name, Komoyeditsa. It was the day when people worshipped bears – the sacred animal of slavs. It was believed that bears wake up from their hibernation the day after Komoyeditsa. Later on, it has also become the holiday in honour of the warmth, sun, and the end of winter. It was associated with the eternal change of seasons and the arrival of spring.

When Christianity became an official religion, this pagan holiday wasn’t approved of, just as many other ancient pagan traditions. But, in the 18th century, the church has made this particular holiday a part of their official calendar. Since then it became a very important week right before the Orthodox Great Lent, during this week of Maslenitsa people could have fun, eat and drink, and make peace with their loved ones.

Each day of the holiday people indulge in eating freshly baked blini – thin delicious pancakes. In the past, every household had their own family recipes that were handed down from one woman to another. They cooked blini with different kinds of flour, some added apples or pumpkin. Nowadays people combine their mouthwatering pancakes with everything they find fitting – red caviar, salmon, liver and mushrooms, cottage cheese, honey and so on. This dish became a symbol of the holiday and it is considered to represent the sun itself with it’s round shape, yellow colour, and warm temperature. The act of eating it was seen as the act of receiving and accepting it’s energy.

Maslenitsa goes on for exactly one week and each day has a certain meaning and activities tied to it.

On Monday people finished building snow slides, making a big doll of Lady Maslenitsa. This day was reserved for getting together. Mother-in-law and father-in-law let the wife of their son spend the day with her parents. Later in the evening they came by too and the whole family ate and discussed the upcoming days.

Tuesday was the time for having fun and playing games. This was also the day when young men and women looked for a couple. Often, the ones who succeeded to find the love of their life on this day, were soon married on the first Sunday after Easter.

Wednesday – the day for eating and drinking. Parents of the wife hosted this evening and served their sons-in-law hot pancakes.

Thursday marked the beginning of the second part of the Maslenitsa week. On this day the work was stopped and was not to be started till Monday. It is the time when the actual fun began. The traditional entertainments were sledging, burning bonfires and jumping over them, participating in or cheering during real fistfights.

Friday is, once again, a day of family visits. This time the husband of the family was supposed to invite his mother-in-law for the meal, as a way to express his gratitude for the food he ate at her house prior this week.

On Sunday young wives were the ones to host. They invited the sisters of their husbands and often even gave them little presents. The evening of the day was marked by a very special event – burning of a doll of Maslenitsa. The effigy was made from straw, clothed in traditional garments. A town’s doll was sometimes several meters high and when it burned, the fire reached the skies. The burning was a symbolical way to bid farewell to the dying winter.

Saturday, the last day of the holiday’s week, is called “the forgiven Sunday”. Everyone was supposed to ask for forgiveness from their friends and family members, so they can start the Great Lent without any hidden hurt or conflicts.

What do you think?

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