Maslenitsa in Russia
Pancakes are, of course, a staple in the Russian diet. They come in many forms; with cottage cheese, mince, mushrooms, caviar, fruit compotes, honey or even just with sour cream. Throughout Shrovetide week, however, they are even more evident than usual. Everywhere in Russian cafés and fast-food joints and upmarket restaurants ‘The Pancake’ is somehow reinvented to encourage customers to get into the spirit of Maslenitsa and Spring. You will, of course, receive a disapproving stare from the enthusiastic waitress if you decline the offer to try a pancake.)
It is also customary to receive guests and visit family and friends to eat yet more pancakes during this week. It is not possible to decline such an offer at these gatherings, but moderation is accepted.
However, pancakes are not just a tasty Maslenitsa treat. Pancakes represent the (so far non-existent) sun in order to mark the end of Winter and encourage the quick arrival of Spring. This idea is continued in the creation of a Maslenitsa ‘doll’ (signifying Winter) which is burned Guy-Fawkes style at the end of the Week-of-Pancakes.
Throughout Saint Petersburg there were many festivals in the city’s parks on the weekend of Maslenitsa. Whilst eating pancakes is the main theme of these celebrations (naturally), there were also ice-skating shows, concerts with traditional Russian songs and even a “safe” interpretation of customary Russian fist-fights in the form of organized wrestling.
Much as you risk being put of pancakes forever, seeing Maslenitsa in Russia is fascinating. The atmosphere in Saint Petersburg felt lighter and more hopeful after what has been a rather cold Winter for the English students out here. So, here’s to hoping that our celebrations and extremem pancake-eating encourages Spring to start and for the temperature, even for one day, to reach at least -5°C!
The Maslenitsa doll