Well, first things first: Happy New Year! Or, “С новым годом!”, if you prefer it in Russian. Whilst most of the West is easing itself back into work after an over-abundance of food and unwanted relatives, those in the East are still enjoying their official New Year holiday week, capped with Orthodox Christmas Day on the 7th of January.
That will be no surprise to those who are in any way “into” Russian culture, of course. You may just as well celebrate the birth of Christ then – if that is indeed what you are doing, as on the 25th December. The former date is favoured by Orthodox followers of the Julian calendar, whilst our Gregorian calendar places Christmas 13 days (count ‘em) earlier, in an attempt to “overwrite” traditional pagan solstice celebrations. Some say, conversely, that the Roman emperor Aurelian placed a pagan celebration on the 25th to counter celebrations of the growing Christian movement, but at any rate – the best scientific guess for Christ’s actual birth is somewhere between Spring and Autumn in 2-7 BC. However, I digress.
Maslenitsa is the next celebration of note, with festivities scheduled for (probably) February 20th to 26th in Russia and other Eastern Slavic countries. Alternatively, some sources would have it commence on February 28th. At the time of writing it is “to be confirmed” – a status that reoccurs annually until much closer to the event, oddly.
Again it has Pagan origins (let’s face it; they do have all the best parties) and is effectively: pancake week, with trimmings. Also known as – Cheesefare, Butter, and Crepe Week – it celebrates the end of winter with a big party before the start of Lent. It’s the last chance then, for frivolous (or serious) indulgence before a period of spiritual contemplation (and the traditionally forbidden consumption of dairy products) descends. Well that’s the theory. Whilst we are undoubtedly thankful for winter’s annual demise; in ancient Slavic cultures the end of winter marked off, with no small relief, another brush with their most cruel and lethal season. Surely a reason to celebrate.
Each day of the week holds its own significance, with the Sunday seeing the joyous burning of the traditional Maslenitsa straw doll. Modern celebrations include music, food, dancing, parades, the works, and best of all – it’s a tradition that Slavic ex-pats have brought with them; to a street near you! Hurrah!
The Golden Mask Festival is a much more sombre, suit and tie affair. Staged in Moscow, It’s a highly prestigious showcase that features the best work in the fields of opera, drama, ballet, art, modern dance and other theatrical genres. And puppet theatre. The latter, of course, having a greater significance than perhaps we ascribe to it, here in the West. Similar perhaps to the Venetians and their masks -whilst we just slip them on at Halloween, for a bit of a laugh.
Events are currently scheduled to run from February 15th to March 7th and, although staged in various venues across the capital, it draws companies and artists from the whole of Russia and also acknowledges Russian-based productions that have been ambassador events in the greater world at large. The scale of the event is illustrated by the New York Times commentary on 2015’s festival:-
“In effect, it is a showcase of work over a two-week period. This year’s festival, which ended last month, involved 42 productions from 12 cities, including 15 from Moscow and 11 from St. Petersburg”. Surely; something for everyone?
These artistes and their featured endeavours are deemed to have excelled in their respective arts during the previous season and as such have been nominated for Golden Mask awards, due to be presented to winners at a dedicated ceremony on April 19th.
More ideas for your calendar next time.