On the last week of February Russia will celebrate one of the oldest holidays called Maslenitsa. Its history goes back to the times of paganism in Old Rus. After the adoption of Christianity it was transformed to a religious event. As a folk holiday Maslenitsa symbolizes the end of winter and coming of spring. As a religious feast it is usually associated with Great Lent as it is celebrated a week before the fast. During this fast meat and dairy products are avoided, so Maslenitsa is the last chance to eat tasty food before Lent. This period of time is dedicated to mercy and forgiveness.
One of the main customs for this celebration is the preparation of pancakes or ”bliny” as we call them in Russian language. They can be served with jam, sour cream, caviar, or any other filling. Each day of the week has a special meaning. Monday start of Maslenitsa. Tuesday is the time to play different games and have fun. There is a belief that those who enjoy this time will be very successful the rest of the year.
In years long past it was also a day of bride viewing. It was considered to be good luck to choose your future spouse that day. In the middle of the week a mother-in-law would invite her son-in-law to taste pancakes. On Thursday people enjoy sleighing. Friday gives an opportunity for the son-in-law to establish a better relationship with his mother-in-law by according a hearty welcome. The following day the sister-in-law would organize a small party.
Saturday traditionally was the day of the final ”battle” between Winter and Spring. Near rivers and ponds a snow fortress was built. That was the Kingdom of Winter. Then villagers were divided into two teams – one that defended the fortress and the other tried to seize it. Sunday is the celebration of the victory over Winter. On this day a straw man embodying Winter is usually made. It is taken through the village to be either drowned or burnt. Sunday, or “Forgiveness Sunday” is the day when people forgive each other. Monday is called “Clean Monday” as fasting starts on this day.
Even though you might not share the religious grounds of this holiday, you would definitely be moved by its festivity. Fairs, concerts of traditional songs and dances, and cultural workshops will be organized around St. Petersburg. Elagin park and Skazok park will be the main city venues for Maslenitsa in St. Petersburg this year.