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Lady Maslenitsa Dummy

Maslenitsa – Dances with Bears

Russian Mastlenitsa – what sort of festival is it, and what are its elements?

You might have seen the Maslenitsa celebrations in the movie the Barber of Siberia, for example in this bit:


As you can see the people take this festival seriously. It would be worth noting that these celebrations last for a week, starting on Monday, gathering its swing by Thursday, reaching its peak by Saturday, when everyone is partying it large, and finishing on Sunday filled with Christian humility.

Of course there is a bit of a grotesque in the movie but only to help render, via visual effects, the festive atmosphere of the celebrations. Nevertheless the complex of events surrounding Maslentitsa is celebrated up to these days from kindergartens, private households to town hall-level events.

So, what is exactly Maslenitsa? Does it have any equivalents in other countries?

Yes of course: many countries have festive seasons that bind together pagan celebrations – approaching of the spring – with Christian events – Lent coming.

Perhaps you have heard about- and maybe took part yourself in – the Dutch Carnivals in Eindhoven and Maastricht. Modern carnival outfits and funky gadgets, as well as circus elements have a long history, and this carnival is a direct relative of Russian Maslenitsa!

So what is specific about Russian Maslenitsa? Why such long celebrations?

Imagine winter….Now imagine Russian winter…

Imagine Russian winter in the Middle Ages – with no supermarkets, microwaves or TV dinners.

It has been – 30*C, (-22 F)  for a good several months in the land covered with snow. Your main ratio is what you, as a peasant, have managed to stock up during the summer time.

Gruzinsky Maslenitsa Russian celebrations painting

P. Gruzinsky – Maslenitsa

Or whatever you’ve managed to get when hunting or fishing in this charming weather 🙂

It gets dark at around 16:00. No electricity – only candles – and around 7 hungry kids to feed…

And suddenly this whole winter world is starting to come to an end. There is still a long way to the very end – to the spring that brings around dramatic change to the weather, daily routine and your diet. There is a good 1 month to get there.

But still, there is hope, there is a light flickering at the end of this tunnel – the end of this endless winter is coming.

What emotions fill you? Naturally limitless exult, excitement and happiness!

These emotions were shared by all peoples that know a thing or two about seasons, that’s why these pagan celebrations of welcoming spring are familiar to many people across the world.

The main themes of Russian Maslenitsa would be: welcoming of the spring, fertility (harvest  and childbirth), veneration of the dead, preparing for the fasting (Lent).

The elements and traditions supporting these themes were:

Lady Maslenitsa Dummy

Lady Maslenitsa Dummy (modern)

Lady Maslenitsa Dummy – a straw dummy representing fertility. This fertility concept needs to be killed and resurrected for the burst of new life. It would be burned on Saturday by the cheerful crowd and its ashes will be scattered around the fields thus blessing them for the harvests to come.

Maslenitsa is also the time when the young and unmarried people will be at the centre of events – a lot of fun activities such as sledging, playing snowballs, and bachelors being mocked up (in a friendly way). This also was to help matchmaking so after the fasting the community will see new marriages and then children.

Another central element of Maslentisa are pancakes.

These are baked and enjoyed from Monday all week long, with sweet or sour dips or stuffing. Or without stuffing too! A bit of butter spread over a piping hot pancake – and melting straight away – is a great way to go! Actually, the very name-Maslenitsa- comes from the word maslo (butter, Rus. Масло)

And what is so special about pancakes? They do remind the shape of the sun, and in the modern interpretation this similarity is empathized. (Spring-sun-fun-pancake association is quite strong).

Moreover, stuffing your belly has a meaning to it as well. In the old days Maslentsa was also coincided with approaching of New Year, and the belief was quite strong that the way you celebrate it the way this year will treat you. Nobody wanted to be hungry, but having a lot of food on the table was a dream of every Middle Ages man. Plus this is sort of eating in advance – before the fasting time and its strict diet.

Traditionally though, pancakes were the food eaten at the wake ceremonies – a way of venerating the memory of the person who has gone away. This tradition is still very strong. During Maslenitsa, within the framework of celebrations of the gone and the coming, of the death and the birth, pancakes also represent the veneration and respect to the gone generations.

Another happy and festive tradition, associated with the veneration of the dead, is fighting, or Russian boxing. This tradition has deep Slavic routes – when a person passed away a whole set of rituals and ceremonies surrounded the farewell with this person. Some of those rituals were a farewell feast and competitive fighting.

F.Sychkov skating Carnival

F.Sychkov Skating Carnival

This was huge fun for the males back in the day, and the fist fighting took form of a Stenka na Stenky – Wall on the Wall, where a street was fighting against a street, a district versus district and so on. First it was teens versus teens, then younger men and then adults. There were some rules to prevent the fight from going too violent – if the person has fallen he was not to be hit. The famous and popular in Russia proverb “Do not hit a man when he’s down” (Rus. Не бей лежачего) has roots in that sport.

Another competitive game, and this is still very popular, – is taking the snow town by assault (Ru. Взятие снежного городка). A huge wall is made of stone and frozen water, and there are two teams – the siege and the assaulting party.  The town had to be ruined, that was the point of the game, and the siege would fight up to the end throwing shovelfuls of snow onto the assault and otherwise making the breaking up of the wall more challenging.

The Church has always been trying, well not to forbid these pagan routed celebrations- for the events of such scale it would have been quite an unpopular strategy. But the Church has brought some corrections and new dimensions to these celebrations.

Snow town siege Russian Maslenitsa

Snow town siege (modern)

Firstly, Maslenitsa is correlated with the Church calendar – Maslenitsa is the last week before the Great Lent fasting.

In Christianity there are many fasting periods which have spiritual meaning and cleansing via asceticism. The Great Lent is the longest fasting time (it lasts for about 40 days), and in Orthodox Christianity, the most strict and abstemious. During Lent, meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are forbidden. Furthermore, Lent also excludes parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from the spiritual life.

During the week of Maslenitsa, meat is already forbidden to Orthodox Christians, and it is the last week during which milk, cheese and other dairy products are permitted. Thus, Maslenitsa represents the last chance to partake of dairy products and those social activities that are not appropriate during the more prayerful, sober and introspective Lenten season.

Eat up and enjoy the delicacies: the Lent is coming; dance and have fun till dawn: in a week you will turn to prayers and modest lifestyle – is a dimension that Maslenitsa has up to modern days.

Natually the Church recommended to be more moderate in gluttony and festivity – it is not worthy of a devout Christian to gorge and know no measure to partying. But can you handle this childlike excitement and fun?

But the most beautiful and touching moment is the ending of Maslenitsa. No, Maslenitsa doesn’t end with the Maslenitsa Dummy getting burnt at the jeers of the lively crowd and dances with bears.

Dazzling Maslenitsa week ends with a quiet and modest Sunday of Forgiveness. This day everybody make a bow before one another and says “Forgive me”. And everybody grants forgiveness, remembering that the main forgiveness of sins will be at God’s disposal.

And from this day filled with the spirit of brotherly Christian love, the new focus arises – the focus on a spiritual way of Great Lent towards Easter.

Russian edible mushroom

Picking Mushrooms

Whenever I spoke about mushroom picking with Europeans – the British, the Dutch – folks looked at me aghast, saying something between the lines like “No, thanks, I don’t want to die.”

At the same time, the Russians seem to totally neglect the risk of picking up an inedible shroom. As soon as the season starts at the end of August for some mushrooms and September-October for others, they get ready for what is called in Russian “quiet hunting” (тихая охота).

Why do they do that? For finding food as in the ancient era of gathering?

Totally wrong. Picking up mushrooms is a kind of sport, leisure time and the feeling of merging with nature. Many people see it as a form of escapism, when you are free of any frames, and cherish tranquility, enjoy the smell of forest and the chirruping of birds. Some people do not even eat mushrooms they find, and go quiet-hunting just for the fun of it.

Nevertheless, with mushrooms, you can make a hella tasty meal: soups, garnishes, pickles, sautéed starters. We will share some recipes later.

Of course, artificially grown mushrooms are not on par with those found in the wild: they lack the characteristic aroma and distinct flavor!

As for the danger, Russians are taught from early childhood by their parents and great-parents how to tell an edible mushroom from an inedible.

Encyclopedias on this subject are also widely available. The rule of thumbs goes like this: “If you have the slightest doubt about the shroom, leave it alone.”



Citrusy zucchini and orange jam

Zucchini and orange jam

This delicious treat is full of citrusy taste and of amber color. The unusual ingredient, zucchini, will not be recognized in the jam as it changes the texture and absorbs the flavor of orange. This jam will be a perfect company for a cuppa tea.

To make zucchini and orange jam you will need only a couple of ingredients which are easy to get from a grocery store. It is made in several quick and straightforward steps, but with longer waiting times: you can make these steps before and after work. Your close ones will love it, guaranteed!

Let’s get started.

kholodets Russian aspic

Kholodets aspic

Kholodets is a traditional Russian meat aspic. It is characterized by a rich meaty flavour and jellied texture. It is usually served with mustard or horseradish sauce.

Nowadays, ready kholodets is sold in stores in Russia. Belorussian brands are especially good. However, many housewives still make kholodets at home.

Although it is time-consuming, mostly it is lazy time. The result is well worth the efforts!

• 2 pig legs
• 1¹⁄₂ kg of bone-in beef
• 1 onion;
• 1 carrot;
• 3 bay leaves;
• salt and pepper — to taste;
• 3 garlic cloves.


1. Wash the meat under the cold water, cleanse the legs. Cut the onion and the carrot into large chucks.

2. Put the meat and the other ingredients into the slow cooker, add salt and pepper and pour water almost to the edges. Switch the mode “Stewing” and set the timer for 6 hours. When the broth is almost boiling, open the lid and skim off the foam and fat. After boiling, boil the broth for about 5-7 minutes with the lid open, continuing to skim the foam. When foam stops forming, close the lid.

3. When the slow cooker makes the signal cooking is ready, take the meat out from the broth. Separate the meat from the bones, disassemble the meat into fibers and put into molds (i.e. lunch boxes).

4. Filter the broth through a cheesecloth, strain over the meat.

5. Wait until it cools down and put the mold in the refrigerator until it solidifies completely. Serve with horseradish and mustard.

Tip. Add a little bit more salt than usual, when the aspic solidifies, the taste will even out.

Ivano-frankovsky salad

IMG_2231Ivano-frankovskiy Russain salad is somewhat similar to Oliver salad but uses slightly different ingredients.

Ivano-Frankivskiy salad is rich in vitamins and minerals such as: vitamin A – 59.5%, beta-carotene – 55.9%, vitamin E – 15.7%, vitamin PP – 11.7%, calcium – 18%, phosphorus – 27.5%, cobalt – 15.9






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