There is still no official content listing of the Maslenitsa event here in the UK (London to be specific), although the dates released for this year’s festival are 7th – 12th March. Be warned: the dates from various sites give an error margin of +/- one day either side of those days, depending upon where you look! If you’ve been visiting the blog in the previous two weeks then you’ll probably be aware that it’s all coming soon, with a programme to be released shortly.
The most complete indication of content that I’ve seen so far is on whatsfreeinlondon.co.uk where they mention: “children’s marquee…exclusive performances…Maslenitsa traditions…audience interaction…traditional songs by children’s groups…competitions, games…dance, theatre…folk, pop and jazz music”. So, it’ll be a traditional family friendly event with performances, games and music, in short.
There are Russian societies and cultural groups spread across the UK, so there’ll no doubt be some acknowledgement of this deeply held tradition, probably in the form of private, domestic occasions with friends, family and close acquaintances. But, for the general public – I’ve no idea! If you are interested and have access to a provincial Russian group then it’s worth asking if they’re doing anything this year.
From my experience of cultural events, I have to say it’s not a case of London or bust. Almost certainly, the ones held in the capital are larger and more lavish, but that doesn’t automatically translate into a better personal experience. They’re bigger, but so are the crowds, the cost (directly or indirectly) and the personal distance from the action (street-carnivals excepted). The content can be much the same, just more so. It’s something to think about.
Last time we were making a summary of the Maslenitsa-week events, now the weekend does indeed start here:
Friday is a day traditionally dedicated to mothers-in-law, with invitations prepared and sent to them by Russian sons-in-law, setting a date for a family pancake party held in the older woman’s honour. Immediately prior to party day the in-laws would send pans, butter and buckwheat, whilst on the day itself the son-in-law sent a delegation of his personal ambassadors to call for their honoured guest. The size of the entourage was an issue of prestige and flattery for the recipient and for those neighbours observing. Getting it right or wrong was decidedly a big deal within family relations.
Saturday is the day for sisters-in-law, when young brides entertained these traditionally suspicious female relatives in the hope of gaining favour. The relationship status of the main guest was a deciding factor. A single sister-in-law would find herself at a party populated with a significant number of eligible young men, but if she was married then a good turnout of her married friends was expected.
Sunday was a day for requesting and issuing forgiveness (for the living and the dead) and for young husbands and wives to hand out presents to friends, relations, godparents and well-wishers who had attended their wedding.
Additionally, Sunday saw the crucial climactic event that truly marked the end of the celebration and the end of winter: the burning of the Maslenitsa effigy fashioned at the start of the week. This was carried out on a bonfire of hay and rags and emphasised a clean break between the end of winter and the start of summer. The Maslenitsa fires literally sent winter away as they melted the snow and ice around them, revealing the new ground of summer.
Maslenitsa was also a time of personal purification or perhaps rebirth; starting anew and abandoning old grudges and unsettled thoughts. The fires also consumed remaining scraps from the week’s feasting as a harbinger of the coming Lent.
Finally, when the fires had died, ashes of Maslenitsa effigies were gathered and scattered across the fields as offerings to promote abundant crops in the late summer harvests. In one final reminder of Maslenitsa’s grim, Pagan origins, it’s worth remembering that the original scattered ashes would have been human, from a a sacrifice burnt and torn to shreds before being cast to the soil.