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Is Maslenitsa a Russian Mardi Gras?

a table topped with a sandwich and a cup of coffee

Soon all over the world there will be the smell of delicious pancakes in the air, because the Maslenitsa holiday is just around the corner.  But what is Maslenitsa? For someone, it is associated with fun and mass celebrations, someone sees in it one of the stages of preparation for the Great Lent.  All the given answers will be correct, because it is a many-sided holiday and contains a huge number of meanings and symbols.

a large cake

What is Maslenitsa in Russia? 

Maslenitsa is one of the most fun and long-awaited holidays of the year, the celebration of which lasts seven days. At this time, people have fun, visit their friends and relatives and eat pancakes. This year be ready to cook pancakes on 24th of February, as it’s time when the celebration starts, and be strong enough to eat them till the 1st of March.
Pancake week is a national celebration of eastern orthodox church dedicated to the meeting of spring. Before entering Lent, people want to say goodbye to winter, enjoy the warm spring days, and, of course, bake delicious pancakes. In Russian culture, during this week, people should come closer to the forgiveness day to forgive all insults, repentance, reconciliation with others. The widest and great celebrations are held in Moscow and the towns of Golden Ring.

a group of people wearing costumes

What is the history of Maslenitsa?

In fact, Maslenitsa is a pagan holiday from the 17th century. In pre-Christian Russia, the celebration was called “Farewell to winter”. After the adoption of Christianity, Russian Orthodox Church consecrated this pagan holiday and filled it with new ideas.  Our ancestors worshipped the sun as a God. And with the onset of the first spring days, they were happy that the sun was starting to warm the earth. That’s why, there was a tradition to bake round cakes that resemble the sun in shape. People believed that eating such a dish, a person will get a piece of sunlight and heat. Subsequently, the cakes were replaced with blini pancakes.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd

What are the traditions of Maslenitsa celebration?

In the first three days of the holiday there was an active preparation for the celebration:

  • bringing wood for the fire;
  • decorating the house;
  • cooking together with the whole family.

The main celebration took place on the city main square from Thursday to Sunday. People were coming into the houses just to eat pancakes with sour cream and drink hot tea.
In some villages, young people were visiting neighbors with tambourines, horns, balalaika, singing carols. City residents often took part in festivities:

  • they were dressed in the best clothes;
  • went to theatrical performances;
  • visited booths to see the buffoons and fun with the bear.

a group of people standing in front of a building

What is the ritual of burning scarecrows?

Many years ago, even today, the culmination of Maslenitsa is the burning of a scarecrow.  This action symbolizes the onset of spring and the end of winter. 
People made a scarecrow which was sacrificed with rags and straw. A large funny and, at the same time, a scary doll, representing Maslyana, was dressed in women’s clothing and left on the main street of the village for the duration of celebration week.  On Sunday, on final day people carried it outside the village. There the scarecrow was burned, melted, or torn into pieces, and the straw left over was scattered across the field.
 The ritual of burning of the scarecrow had a profound meaning: to bid farewell to winter to resurrect its power in the spring.

a fire pit with smoke coming out of it

How this East Slavic holiday is celebrated in English-speaking countries?


Shrove tuesday in England

One of the most favorite holidays in England is “Pancake Day” or “Fat Tuesday”, which lasts only one day.  But during this day there are many interesting events, one of which is “pancake race”. Each of the participants must run along a given route, while holding a frying pan with pancakes, tossing it on the run and trying not to drop it. 

a cup of coffee on a table

Uniting Care Pancake Day in Australia

The Australians have an interesting tradition on a “Pancake Day”  – they distribute cooked pancakes to other people. Some churches, business and charitable organizations hold events in honor of a “Pancake Day”, sell pancakes they baked for charity purposes.  For this reason, this day besides a “Pancake Day” is also called Uniting Care Pancake Day, when everyone gathers for a good cause. 

American carnival or Mardi Gras

In the United States, Maslenitsa is known as Mardi Gras.  This holiday with its exotic parades and carnivals was originated in the 18th century in France-controlled territory of the current state of Louisiana. The peak of the festival falls on New Orleans – from here starts the history of this day.  The main action “Mardi Gras” takes place in the French Quarter (Vieux Carre) on Bourbon Street.
The festival is held as a carnival. On this day, Americans eat a large amount of sweet and high-calorie food, but the “king cake” or “cake of three magi” is considered the most important dessert.  Inside the cake they hide a small figure of Jesus, and those who get it will be lucky for the whole year.

a large crowd of people

Maslenitsa has common features with similar celebrations in other countries, but it is original and unique. Celebrate Maslenitsa brightly, cheerfully, on a grand scale with ExploRussia! Join Russian Festival Maslenitsa Tour. And let this year bring only prosperity, harvest to our lands and warmth in every home!