By Leila Ataeva; Skokie, Illinois
Maslenitsa Do you like pancakes like Russian folk do? Then you, my international friend, probably heard about Maslenitsa. If not – it’s a good way to know about your Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian friends’ festival. For those students who are far from home, I will try to convey the mood and spirit of this joyful festival – Maslenitsa.

Let me start with a little introduction about this “Pancake Week” to prepare your imagination. Maslenitsa originally marked the end of winter and advent of spring and widely celebrated 8 weeks before Easter in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (though most Russians from all over the world do celebrate this festival). Why pancakes, you ask me? Because Russian folk believe that hot, round and golden pancakes remind us of the sun and help to warm up the frozen earth (most people believe that Russian winter is full of snow and it is so cold that people do not go outside during this season). From the religious side, a pancake’s circle shape has been considered sacred in Russia, which protects people from evil. That’s why pancakes are king on Maslenitsa (there are lots of recipes how to cook them, but let me put it on a plate and present you with full of jam, butter, caviar in the end of this blog).

Once you have some idea about what Maslenitsa is about, you are ready for the most important part of celebrating this festival. Maslenitsa runs 7 days. Each day has its own meaning. By following these steps you will understand why Russian folk have so much fun during this festival and hate for it to end.

Day 1. Welcome Maslenitsa

By this day the building of ice-hills and balagans are complete. Children and their parents assemble a Maslenitsa doll out of old woman’s clothes. They place it on a pole, go dancing and sledding down from the top of a snow hill (where they actually put the doll). People usually eat their first (of many) blini or Russian pancakes at 5pm on Monday with festivities continuing late into the evening. (Yes, you have to wait until 5 pm to really enjoy the first food of a day).

Day 2. Be young and play again

This day promises to be the day you’ll never forget. Be ready for snowball fights, sledding, unusual performances and Petrushka’s show (one the main characters of the festival). If you are a man and you were dreaming about woman and wanted to kiss her – this day is definitely yours, because men can kiss any passing woman on the streets during this day! More over single guys use sleigh rides to look out for young beautiful girls. The whole purpose of these games and activities was to make the matchmaking process easier and match couples who would get married on Krasnaya Gorka (Red Hill Holiday – the Sunday after Easter, traditionally a time for couples to get married). So, if you are single, love Russian girls and pancakes – you are welcome to Maslenitsa!

Day 3. The Sweet Tooth day

During the festival most restaurants make a special menu where they include pancakes with different sweet fillings. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of trying what at first sight might appear strange. Also, this day is the day sons-in-law go “to enjoy their mother-in-law’s pancakes”. Pancakes, of course, would be the center of attention.. On this day the general belief is that at Maslenitsa one has to eat as much as one’s stomach would fit – “Have as many servings as many times as a dog would wag its tail”.

At the end of the day people sing hailing songs to praise the hospitable mother-in-law and her abundant home.

Day 4. Revelry

People typically don’t work on this day, and all the fun reaches its boiling point. On this day fist fights traditionally take place. Be prepared so you aren’t defeated by Russian Men. This type of event shows Russian military history, when soldiers supposedly fought each other in hand-to-hand combat (and of course, everyone heard about “Russki Bogatyr’ which means Russian hero).

Day 5. Mother-in-law’s day

Families often stroll in parks across Russia to spend time together.

Day 6. One Last Winter Sleigh Ride

The festival is about to end, so why don’t you use the opportunity for a Russian sleigh ride? There are lots of parks where you can join other people and have fun. The parks traditionally put on a lot of attractions for children, which makes it a real treat for a family day out in the winter. Don’t forget your mittens!

Day 7. Forgiveness Day

It’s time to ask for forgiveness. Usually, young married couples visit their relatives, present gifts to their parents and friends who cheered them at the wedding. They would also pay visits to their godparents to give presents to them as well.

The interesting thing about this day, that the most honorary gift for a man is a towel. For a woman it is a piece of soap. I still don’t know why but people who follow traditions they always bring towels and soap.

When asking for forgiveness they hear the reply, “God will forgive you.”

7 days of happiness behind, and ahead is Lent. But before you start Lent, where you are not allowed to eat animal-derived foods, as well as alcohol, use bad language and have bad thoughts in general, I would like to share with you my favorite “Blinis recipe”:

Russian pancake blini with raspberry jam, honey, fresh cream and red caviar
Russian pancake blini with raspberry jam, honey, fresh cream and red caviar
2 cups kefir
2 cups flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons oil
Sugar and salt to taste, enough water to make a thin batter.

How to make it:
1. Mix kefir, flour, eggs, sugar and salt in a deep bowl.
2. Add soda into a cup of boiling water, mix well.
3. Pour the water with soda slowly into the batter. Mix until the batter is smooth.
4. Let the batter sit 5 minutes. Add oil.
5. Fry pancakes
6. Eat and don’t share with anyone 🙂

P.S. If you search on Google you may find some interesting traditions like organizing fistfights and dancing bears. Yep, bears. Bears are considered by many Americans as a symbol of Russia. In some regions bears appear for fun and food. Why not? Perfect company to meet Maslenitsa.