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Shrovetide or Maslenitsa or the pancake’s week in Russia is an old traditional festival. The old word for Maslenitsa,‘Myasopust’ means “empty of meat;” the OrthodoxChurch, however, which dislikes people enjoying themselves too much, calls it ‘Cheese Week,’ because the meatless diet still allows cheese, butter and cream, which are also then forbidden during the seven weeks of Lent.
The history of the holiday The tradition of Maslenitsa dates back to pagan times, when Russian folk would say farewell to winter and welcome spring. The religious Maslenitsa celebration activities consist of 3 weeks starting with omnivorous week, with no limitations in the diet, followed by “ryabaya”, freckled week with ferial and fast days and culminates with what we know as Maslenitsa week or Cheese week. The church has long been trying to eradicate the pagan side of the holiday, but only managed to reduce the Maslenitsa week from 14 to 7 days in the XVII century.
Tuesday – Games Most of the amusement activities began on this day. Groups of friends drove around in sledges. Petrushka -the clown was making people laugh in the wooden entertainment pavilions (balagan). Mummers visited homes in groups and surprised everybody with spontaneous concerts. Men were allowed to kiss any passing woman on the streets during this day.
Wednesday – Feasting This day opened the feast in all homes, when pancakes and other delicacies were prepared in quantities. Each housewife had her own pancake recipe and kept it in a secret. Pancakes were made in a great variety. This day sons-in-law went to their mothers-in-laws’ to eat pancakes.
Saturday – Sister-in-law’s Gathering Sisters-in-law and other relatives were invited for dinner by a young wife, where she was supposed to distribute gifts. After strolls and round dances, when darkness arrived Maslenitsa dolls were burnt in ritual fires, with cries and laughter. Pancakes were thrown into the fire with the words: “Burn, pancake, burn, Maslenitsa!”
Sunday – Forgiveness Day People went to cemeteries and left pancakes on the graves of their ancestors. Everybody asked one another for forgiveness and bowed with the words, “God will forgive you.” Relatives gave each other presents. The most honorary gift was a towel for a man, for a woman it was a piece of soap. In the evening a doll of Maslenitsa was burnt, so that spring will come faster.
Today not all of the traditions are followed by most people during the Maslenitsa week as we call it, but what is for sure – we are looking forward to this event every year, we bake pancakes, visit relatives and friends, go to watch different folk dances and the burning of the Maslenitsa doll.
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