Nothing in Russia says party like Maslenitsa, or Butter week. It is a week-long carnival that originated in pagan times as a way to mark the end of winter and beginning of spring. This year, the festival kicks off on February 24 to last till the start of the Orthodox Lent.
Like Mardi Gras, Maslenitsa has a lot of associated traditions, like snowball fights, sleigh rides, fistfights and dancing, but mostly feasting. And pancakes are its traditional food of choice. As a traditional Slavic holiday, it has roots in the ancient sun cult and the round shape and warmth of blinis was meant to symbolize the sun. Russian pancakes are usually drenched in butter, hence the name of the week.
The last day of the Butter Week is the «Forgiveness Sunday,» when Russians ask for forgiveness before the Lenten fast.
Many cities across Russia are preparing special festivities and buttered foods for the period of Maslenitsa, including blini-eating competitions, ice-pole climbing, brick-oven riding and the burning of the traditional straw effigy, the Lady Maslenitsa, which symbolizes winter.
The West Siberian region of Altai is getting ready to greet no less than 15,000 guests from Russia and abroad at an international food fair that will run from February 28 to March 1. The event promises chefs’ duels and cooking workshops. Meanwhile, chefs in the city of Nizhny Novgorod are preparing to compete for the tastiest blini award, while guests will practice blini speed-eating.
Maslenitsa in the city of Yaroslavl kicked off with a traditional fistfight between 300 men – an organized and orderly one. Fistfighting was a traditional pastime for ancient Slavic people, and a chance to show off their strength and courage. After the fight, Yaroslavl citizens continued to celebrate the Russian Mardi Gras with a spectacular parade to the sounds of a brass orchestra.
In St. Petersburg, festival-goers are treated to a snowman-building contest, a show of dancing bears, a pillow fight, a tug-o’-war competition and a bit of competitive heavy lifting. Those willing to climb slippery surfaces competed in the scaling of an ice-covered pole – for a prize.
Kirov administration has launched a fundraiser selling blinis in the streets. All returns will be donated to treat critically ill children.
In Rostov, only sons-in-law will be allowed to take part in a blini speed-eating contest, together with their mothers-in-law who will be feeding them the buttery treat.
Elsewhere, the city of Smolensk will bid winter a fiery goodbye with a contest of straw effigies that must be at least 50 cm high. The effigies will be burnt to see winter off at the end of the fest that is expected to offer its guests such prescribed Maslenitsa activities as sleigh races and tea-drinking by the open campfire.
On March 1, the western city of Tula is to hold a horse race for a region prize. After the race horses will be giving out free rides. The small town of Torzhok is also going to take part in the general merrymaking with a variety of traditional – all but daring – activities like knife-throwing, axe-wielding, spear-hurling, and apple-crushing. The best archers will have a go at shooting a bow or a crossbow.