While Mardi Gras, Carnival and Pancake Day are well known ways to celebrate Shrove Tuesday, eastern Europeans have a holiday that puts them to shame. Instead of one day of gluttonous eating before lent, Maslenitsa is a week-long celebration filled with rich food and some interesting customs. Here’s a quick rundown of the festivities.
Monday (Greet Maslenitsa): The first day of Maslenitsa is relatively tame. Snow slides and swings are set up for kids who also take time to build Maslenitsa scarecrows.
Tuesday (Merriment): The day starts with sledding and is filled with pancakes known as blini. Unlike western pancakes, they are often made with buckwheat flour. Blini are often folded into triangles with fillings both sweet and savory including honey, fish, sour cream or caviar. If you’re interested in making some at home, give these a try. Men also take the day to look out for future brides.
Wednesday (Day of sweets): Here is where the feast begins. Sons-in-law typically visit their mothers-in-law for a feast and of course, more pancakes!
Thursday (Outdoor festivities): Here is where the party begins. Traditionally, participants ride horses clockwise around villages to symbolize the sun driving winter away. Celebrators then build large ice forts (some as big as eight feet) which they either attempt to defend or attack in one day-long snowball fight.
Though this video wasn’t taken during Maslenitsa, it might be an indication that this activity isn’t for the weak at heart. Also, there are often 40 foot wooden poles which men try to climb in just their underwear.
While I would prefer a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate when it’s below freezing, I imagine this is quite the sight. Maybe one of the most interesting games is one where a person wears a hat and swings a boot on a rope in circles. Other people try to grab the hat from the person before they get hit by the rope. If they manage to do so, they get to swing the boot around and clobber people.
Friday and Saturday (Family time): These days are filled with visits from family and even more blini.
Sunday (Day of Forgiveness): To see of the end of winter and all sins of the previous year, the Maslenitsa scarecrows are burned. Participants sing songs while the fire is going, and couples often jump over the fire for fun.
While Maslenitsa may not seem as crazy as Mardi Gras, its a holiday filled with buttery blini, time with family and on the surface, what seem like childhood games taken to the next level. So if a single day of Mardi Gras or Carnival are not enough for you, head over to Russia for a week of festivities. For more information on Maslenitsa, check out this article.