First and foremost, Happy Maslenitsa! Hopefully those of you who know of this Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian tradition are enjoying the annual end-of-winter celebration in style and with due culinary indulgence! That’s one of the great things about the global spread of home-grown communities; they carry their celebrations and festivities with them across the world. Better still, they invite their new local neighbours to join in. If only all issues of international relations were so overwhelmingly positive; how enriched our lives would be. I digress.
We already have some communality with the Maslenitsa tradition, in one essential aspect, whether we realise it or not: Pancakes. Sputnik News points out:-
“Pancake flipping and eating is also celebrated by Brits and is part of the Pancake Day festivities that fall on Shrove Tuesday, observed by many Christians in the UK.”
Yes; there’s also that whole religious thing too!
If you have friends or contacts in your local Russian community, then events should fall into place fairly easily. You’ll either stumble across Maslenitsa, -or be introduced/invited to participate sooner or later. Contrary to the belief of many who have only glanced at Russian society; the depth of hospitality is remarkable, -even overwhelming at times. That’s once you’ve been invited into the pleasant space behind the psychological “outsider” wall of course. For everyone else; there are officially organised public events, open to all. Somewhat impersonal by their broad nature, but welcome nonetheless.
The London Maslenitsa Festival is celebrating its 10th year in 2018 a fact that is both welcome and somewhat surprising. Firstly, it’s great to see such an initiative go from strength to strength, but at the same time it’s notable that ten years is still so, frankly, young. Maslenitsa has surely been celebrated, or at least recognised, by members of our burgeoning Russian community in their homes for decades, but it is an event based around the joint participation of a community at its fullest. Anything else is selling it a little short.
Outside of the “blini” (those pancakes), Maslenitsa gets into full swing with snow-fortress building, snowball fights and ice-slides, extended family visits, reconciliation and forgiveness. Each day of the festival has its own name and purpose from Monday to Sunday, respectively: welcoming, playing, regaling (or Sweet-Tooth day), Revelry, mother-in-law’s eve, sister-in-laws Gathering and Forgiveness Day.
On that final Sunday, the effigy of Lady Maslenitsa is burnt, with the ashes traditionally scattered across fields to magically fertilise the forthcoming crops, or simply buried in the snow (the “lite” version). Reducing all of the above to ‘pancakes on the breakfast bar’ seems a little underwhelming.
As with other long-held traditions (hello Christmas and Easter) they were ingrained into the national psyche long before Christianity arrived and weren’t likely to disappear anytime soon after, or ever, for that matter. The solution for the new faith was a combination of symbolic window-dressing and ‘official’ permission to continue (as if official rejection would have changed anything!) but with caveats and the curbing of Pagan extremes.
Yes, such measures saw the introduction of the Lady Maslenitsa “doll”; a merciful replacement for the human being who was traditionally immolated, dismembered and dispersed as body-parts. Proof that a divine ideal placed into the hands of fumbling mortals; doesn’t always work out for the worst.