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Encounters International celebrates Maslenitsa

Maslenitsa - Russian Mardi Gras (February 24, 2001)

Kustodiev "Maslenitsa" 1916

B. Koustodiev  Maslenitsa. 1916

Russians in America (like Americans in Russia) celebrate  two sets of holidays -- Russian and American. We've hardly had time here to "recover" after last week's  Valentine's Day party and  it is already time to celebrate Russian Maslenitsa. 

At the end of February all Russian people celebrate Maslenitsa - the holiday of  saying good by to Winter. Of all Russian holidays Maslenitsa is the oldest. Until the 14th century Russians celebrated the New Year in March. So it was natural to see the Old Year off at the end of February. Maslenitsa celebration continues for one week. Every day of this festive week has its name and its meaning. 

Monday is called "vstrecha" (meeting) because this day Russians are "seeing in" the holiday. From early morning women cook pancakes that symbolize spring sun. Then children and adults alike go outside with songs and dances. They carry a tree decorated with bells and colored ribbons. Then the symbol of winter - Maslenitsa - would be installed on the sleds pulled by ten or more horses. There would be a horse rider on every horse with a broom in his hands. The horse riders would symbolically sweep out cold winter.

Tuesday is called "zaigrysh" (pre-play). It is the start of Maslenitsa games.  Wednesday is calld "lakomka" (sweets lover), Thursday is "razguliay" (play until you drop). During these days Russians build snow fortresses and play snow ball battles. On  Friday and Saturday they traditionally  visit each other. Pancakes on the tables would be a must in every house on these days. Sunday is called "proschanie" (farewell). That is the day to say good by to Maslenitsa and traditionally it is an opportunity to ask relatives and friends for forgiveness. Then everybody would forgive each other and burn Maslenitsa -- a scarecrow of the winter. This would symbolize the wish that the departing winter would take  people's old problems and burn them the fire.

This year Washington, DC weather has reminded me so much of the weather in Russia. We have a long, cold and seemingly endless winter here. That is why this year, as never before, we are looking forward to Russian Maslenitsa.  Although we would not be able to build snow fortresses and fight with snow balls for lack of snow,  much less we'll be able to ride  horse drawn sleds, never the less we want to keep the Maslenitsa tradition alive.  

We will treat all the visitors to our February Saturday Club social  with the pancakes made in strict accordance with old Maslenitsa recipes. 

Probably burning the scarecrow would get us in trouble with Montgomery County police and fire fighters, but we still can ask each other for forgiveness. I think that  Sunday will arrive by the time we will be ready for that :)  judging by the experience of the previous parties.

You are invited to celebrate the tradition of Maslenitsa - Russian Mardy Gras

February, Saturday 24, 2001 at 6 pm


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