One of the many great things about Postcrossing is the opportunity it offers to learn to learn about the holidays, folk customs, folklore and history of countries all over the world.
Last week, I received this postcard from Natasha in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia. The front features an illustration by Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927), a Russian painter and stage designer. On the back of the card, Natasha writes:
Hello, Chris!First let me compliment Natasha, who is in her late teens, on her solid grasp of English in conveying this history. She did an admirable job. I'm sure I would not do nearly as well if I tried to explain Halloween or Independence Day in Russian.
Almost a month in our country starts a Holiday. Maslenitsa — farewell to the winter. It lasts for a week, when people bake pancakes (maaany pancakes :) ). And, the last day — Sunday — people burned stuff carnival. The holiday dates back to paganism and its traditions and ceremonies in pre-Christian (And it you can see on card.)
I looked up Maslenitsa on Wikipedia, and everything corresponds with what Natasha wrote. This Eastern Slavic holiday — perhaps the oldest Slavic holiday1 — is known by numerous other names, including Butter Week, Crepe Week and Cheesefare Week. It is celebrated eight weeks before Eastern Orthodox Easter (Pascha).
While Maslenitsa activities can vary, the main thing associated with the holiday, as Natasha notes, are pancakes, or blini, made with butter, eggs and milk. During Maslenitsa, meat is already forbidden and this is the last week in which eggs and dairy products can be eaten. Hence the mass production and consumption of blinis, which can be stuffed with cheeses and fruits.
Other Maslenitsa activities include parties, sledding, ice skating, snowball fights and sleigh rides. It can also be a time for courting, with that activity, and the others, then suspended once Lent begins at the end of the Maslenitsa week. Some of these activities can be seen on the festive postcard shown above.
This year, Maslenitsa will begin one week from today, on February 20, and conclude on Sunday, February 26. (Natasha wrote her postcard to me in mid-January. Postcards between the United States and Russia are typically in transit for 3 or 4 weeks.)
Here in the West, the holiday that corresponds to Maslenitsa is Shrove Tuesday, aka Fastnacht Day here in central Pennsylvania. But our holiday is just one day, as opposed to the week-long Maslenitsa.
Here, via Wikipedia, is another Kustodiev painting of Maslenitsa. (Click it to see it in its full glory.)
1. Per Wikipedia: "Maslenitsa has its origins in the pagan tradition. In Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa is a sun-festival, personified by the ancient god Volos, and a celebration of the imminent end of the winter."