EX­PE­RI­ENCE MA S L ENITSA F EST I VAL

Fe­bru­ary 12–18, 2018

Asian Geographic - - Central Asia -

The Maslenitsa Fes­ti­val is cel­e­brated in the eighth week be­fore Easter, also known as the Ortho­dox Pascha, held dur­ing the last week be­fore the be­gin­ning of Lent. This Eastern Slavic reli­gious cel­e­bra­tion is thought to be the old­est of its kind still go­ing to­day, with his­to­ri­ans trac­ing the tra­di­tion back to the 2nd cen­tury BCE. It has its ori­gins in the pa­gan wor­ship of Vo­los, the god of the earth, wa­ters, forests and the un­der­world. Be­liev­ers held this an­cient sun fes­ti­val to usher in the spring. One of the main events of the fes­ti­val still in­volves the pa­gan rit­ual of burn­ing a straw ef­figy – the “Lady Maslenitsa” – rep­re­sent­ing win­ter, in the hope of bring­ing a good har­vest.

In keep­ing with Chris­tian prac­tice dur­ing Lent, in­dul­gence is for­bid­den, so Maslenitsa is the last week eggs and dairy prod­ucts are per­mit­ted, which has earned the fes­ti­val its other names: But­ter Week, Crepe Week, or Cheese­fare Week. The iconic food of the fes­ti­val is the blini, a lo­cal pan­cake, com­bin­ing all the rich foods that be­liev­ers will be de­nied in the en­su­ing weeks. They are drenched in top­pings that in­clude cream, caviar, and jam – and lots of of but­ter! Even the not-so­hum­ble blini is an­other nod to pa­gan tra­di­tion: They’re round and warm – sym­bolic of the sun. It’s tra­di­tion for the first pan­cakes to be given to the less for­tu­nate.

It’s also the time of fun and games and par­ties, with much dancing and mu­sic ahead of the more sober weeks when such fri­vol­i­ties are de­nied. Sko­morokhi (clowns) take to the streets with their gusli (harps) and petrushka (tra­di­tional pup­pets), the streets teem with folk­lore en­act­ments and ven­dors selling sou­venirs.

While ev­ery­one looks for­ward to the on­set of spring, it’s also a chance to in­dulge in the last of the win­ter fun with sleigh rides and snow­ball fights and gen­eral mer­ri­ment. Some of the tra­di­tions are bit more on the wild side: Or­gan­ised fist­fights and dancing bears have been re­ported as part of some fes­ti­val pro­grammes. The in­dul­gent party comes to a head on the Sun­day, when it’s time for the re­pen­tance of sin ahead of the long fast.

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