What’s Maslenitsa? - by Kyle Tucker (March 2019)
While many Americans may be familiar with Mardi Gras, fewer know about the Russian equivalent to the week before the Christian holiday of Lent: Maslenitsa! The name is derived from the Russian word for butter and is traditionally celebrated in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. While today it is an official holiday in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Maslenitsa has its origins in Slavic pagan mythology, where it honored the ancient sun god Volos and the beginning of spring.
During the festivities, Russians typically consume a lot of dairy with the most famous foodstuff being bliny—a type of crepe. There is also a ton of partying and merrymaking before Lent begins. Each day of Maslenitsa has a tradition associated with it. Popular activities throughout the week include sledding, snowball fights, carnivals, and “wall-to-wall” fist fighting, which honors Russian masculinity. The most famous custom is perhaps the burning of an effigy representing “Lady Maslenitsa” to herald the end of winter.
At IU, the Russian Language and Cultural Association hosts an annual Maslenitsa celebration in early March. This year we had a great turnout and visitors could try bliny for themselves with a wide array of jams and other condiments. Adding condensed milk was a favorite of mine. There were also presentations on the cultural traditions, a Russian riddles challenge, authentic Russian dancing, and more! Next year, we hope even more people can stop by and join us in celebrating this fascinating holiday!