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The festive time is widely known for its pancakes, songs, carnivals and the burning of scarecrows.
From March 11-17 people cook and eat pancakes (pagan symbols of the sun), and get together to meet the spring.
The festivities have been incorporated into the Orthodox calendar, although they have deep pagan roots.
Maslenitsa has survived the advent of Christianity and the Communist era of religious ban, preserving its traditional outlook for over a thousand years.
“Prior to the adoption of Christianity, Maslenitsa had a different name – Komoyeditsa, a two-week celebration of spring, the start of a new agricultural season. After Christianity was adopted, we got more sensible holidays” says Daniil Fedyakov, deacon of Moscow diocese.
“Maslenitsa is a week of preparation to the Great Lent, the time when the Orthodox should purify their souls and bodies, preparing for the restrictions of the Lent” added Fedyakov.
Maslenitsa could be translated in English as “Butter Week,” “Cheese Week,” or “Pancake Week.”
Pancake festivities precede the Great Lent – the strictest fasting season in the Orthodox calendar.
So, before the start of Lent, people have a chance to eat plenty as they won’t eat dairy or meat containing food for the next seven weeks.
“That’s the last chance to eat something decent before the Lent,” says Olga, who observes Lent every year.
Each day of the pancake week is devoted to specific celebrations starting with “Meeting Maslenitsa” on Monday and ending with the farewell on Sunday.
People celebrate Maslenitsa in different ways – helping and feeding the poor, getting together with their families, enjoying winter activities, burning scarecrows and in true pagan heritage also look for a ‘life-companion’.
The last day of Maslenitsa crowns the whole week of festivities.
Large-scale celebrations are in full-swing and people ask forgiveness from each other for all grievances and troubles, with the common response being “The merciful God will forgive.”
Today they will say goodbye to Maslenitsa and burn the stuffed figure of winter.
Maslenitsa also fills an important cultural role in modern Russia as local authorities arrange numerous events to celebrate during the week.
In Moscow, for example, pancake festivities have been seen all around the city.
Over 400 celebratory activities were planned in Moscow for Shirokaya Maslenitsa throughout the week.The BRICS Post attends one of the venues in central Moscow to ask people what Maslenitsa means for them:
“That’s an original Russian holiday, it’s finally coming back. Festivities associate with spring, but it is also the last week before the Lent,” says Ludmila, 69, who is going to observe some of the Lent rules.
“History proves itself – Maslenitsa was, is, and will be important to the Russian people. It’s our legacy,” believes Alexey, a 40 year old schoolteacher.
“Masletitsa means the arrival of spring. So we are here to have some pancakes, to show scarecrows to my daughter,” Natalia said.
“That’s a big holiday. Holiday of spring that means we will see the sun soon, the frost will go, snow will melt,” says Ivan.
Maslenitsa is also a good time to get foreigners acquainted with Russian traditions.
Maslenitsa is now a regular traditional event in London, where people gather in Trafalgar square to eat pancakes and meet Russian artists performing Russian folk art.