Russian Orthodox Easter preparations

This past Wednesday Max and Alex came over for practice their English.  After our time together, Max stated that he was going to his parent’s house for a Russian celebration called “Maslenitsa.”  I had never heard of this celebration so I found some information on the internet.

Here’s what I found:

Maslenitsa is a purely Russian holiday, which dates back to the pagan times. Originally, it was a time for Russian peasants to say good bye to winter and to perform certain rituals that they believed will help them to grow more crops in the upcoming year. One of those rituals was to burn the Scarecrow that symbolized winter. Men and women used to take one sheaf of straw from their yards, piled up these sheaves in a one big pile whereof they made a big Scarecrow. They dressed her like a woman – in bright skirts, blouses and scarves, carried her in sledges around the town and sang songs about her. On Sunday they burned the Scarecrow, thus letting the winter out.

When Christianity was accepted, Russian Orthodox Church prohibited all pagan rituals. However, the holiday of Maslenitsa was loved by people so much that they continued to celebrate it, but gave it a religious meaning. It became not only celebration, but also part of the preparation for the Lent, or the Great Fast. The Lent started right after Maslenitsa week and lasted for 7 weeks, until Easter. During the Lent religious people do not eat meat, dairy products, fish and eggs. It is not that easy, so people start to prepare for the Lent three weeks in advance. Maslenitsa is the last one of these three weeks of preparations. It was prohibited to eat meat during this week, but dairy products were allowed. The word “Maslenitsa” is derived from the Russian word “maslo” meaning “butter”. So it was called “butter week”, and sometimes “cheese week”, meaning that many dairy products such as butter and cheese were eaten during this week. Taking this into consideration, Maslenitsa for Russians is like a carnival for the Italians, especially because the initial sense of festivals is the same: the Italian word “carnival” (carne-vale) means “farewell the beef!”. Traditional Russian food for Maslenitsa week is pancakes. People served them with caviar, honey, fresh cream and butter, and ate them in enormous amounts, knowing that during the following 7 weeks they will have to fast. Maslenitsa has always been the time to have fun! People used to build snow fortresses reinforced by two towers and with two gates. Many children gathered round these fortresses and divided themselves into two groups: the “cavalry” and the “infantry”. The “infantry” occupied the fortress and the “cavalry” prepared for the attack. After the fight the cavalry victoriously entered the gates of the fortress. Then together with the “besieged” defenders they ruined the fortress singing cheerful songs.

The complete story can be found here.

Russian’s will celebrate Easter on April 27.