The Russian calendar bursts with holidays. And the celebration of Maslenitsa is not an exception. What is known as a Pancake Day in the UK lasts for a whole week in Russia. So what does Maslenitsa mean for Russian?
Not many people know, but Maslenitsa maybe the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. Quite unique in itself, the festival combines pagan and Orthodox traditions. Before Christianisation, Maslenitsa was known as a sun-festival, where people spend the week saying goodbye to the winter and welcoming the spring. Meanwhile, in Christianity Maslenitsa is the last opportunity to enjoy parties, music, and dancing as it is not appropriate during the Great Lent, which commences the week after. Pancake, the symbol of the holiday, is the representation of both– the sun in the pagan tradition, and the last opportunity to enjoy butter, milk, and eggs before the Lent, as meat is already forbidden by the beginning of Maslenitsa. What makes Maslenitsa even more fun is that every day of the Maslenitsa week has a special meaning:
Monday - Welcoming
The first day of the celebration one the most creative one as well! People assemble Lady Maslenitsa doll made of straw and dressed in colourful rags. The doll symbolises winter and burnt down at the end of the week. But for now, she becomes the centre of the celebration and people sing and go dancing in khorovods around their creation.
Tuesday – Playing
Time to have fun, play folk games and eat as many pancakes as you can! Back in time, this day was the matchmaking day and single guys had a chance to give a kiss to any single girl they liked! The purpose was to form new couples to get married on the Krasnaya Gorka (a Sunday after Easter), according to an old tradition – the best time to get married
Wednesday - Regaling, the Sweet Tooth Day
Time for sons-in-law to visit their mothers-in-law and treat themselves to as many pancakes as they please: “Have as many servings as many times as a dog would wag its tail”!
Thursday - Revelry
The culmination of the festival and …. traditional time for fist fights! More of a reason to fuel yourself with pancakes. In the old days, fights could be pretty violent. Henceforth, the saying was born: “Never hit a man when he is down”
Friday - Mother-in-law’s eye
The day for sons-in-law to treat their mothers-in-law. Back in the day, it was the time when the former made every possible effort to please the letter and win their favour. In the evening sons-in-law would send invitations to their mothers-in-law and in the morning they would send delegations to her house. The more people the better!
Saturday - Sister-in-law’s Gathering
Time for newly married wives to get to know their sisters-in-laws better. In old Russia, also known as Rus, the relationships between the two were supposed to be pretty tense, which is still reflected in Russian language: sister-in-law is called zolovka in Russian which stems from ‘zlo’ (‘evil’) while their brothers’ wives are called nevestka, meaning “outsider”.
Sunday – Forgiveness day
Arguably the most sentimental day of the celebration – the forgiveness day. According to the tradition, this is the day to convince sins, say sorry, forgive and start anew. The day to leave the pride and be kind to each other. Another old tradition mostly forgotten today is to give towels to men and soap to women as a present symbolising purity.
And the most fun and anticipated part – the burning of Lady Maslenitsa!
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