Experiencing Maslenitsa in St. Petersburg

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«С Масленицей из России
Всем!»
(S Maslenitsey iz Rossii) // Happy
Maslenitsa from Russia to Everyone!

This semester I am grateful to be studying in St. Petersburg, Russia. My favorite experience so far has been, without a doubt, celebrating Масленица (Maslenitsa).

What is Maslenitsa?

What does it stand for and how is it usually celebrated?

Maslenitsa is a uniquely Russian holiday that is a week-long in length and is celebrated the first week of March in honor of the coming of spring.

Maslenitsa is often referred to as Russia’s pancake holiday. This is due to the sheer number of blini (Russian pancakes) that people eat during the week of Maslenitsa. Blini are eaten during this week, because, when cooked, they are a golden-brown color and are meant to symbolize the sun. Blini can be filled with all sorts of fillings! They can be sweet or savory. My personal favorite is blueberry jam with a little bit of sour cream.

Another traditional event that takes place on the final day of Maslenitsa is the burning of an effigy. This effigy is called a chuchala and is typically made of straw. It is dressed up as a woman and then burned to symbolize saying goodbye to winter and welcoming spring. There is typically a lot of dancing and music during this ritual.

How did we celebrate Maslenitsa?

I celebrated Maslenitsa by eating blini almost every day. If I wasn’t shoveling them down at my apartment with my homestay mom, I was either attempting to make them in my friend’s dormitory or enjoying them at a food stand.

The largest day of celebration at my university was the final day of the week. On that Sunday, the university hosted a festival that lasted most of the day. The celebration was open to all students, faculty, and community members. I danced for hours without stopping, ate until my stomach hurt, and laughed until I cried.

My favorite memory of the entire day was when about 40 people, most of whom were students, united in a giant dance circle. We held hands and simply danced to the beat of the music as one giant group. Regardless of our native tongues or our nationalities, we simply danced without inhibition. A babushka appeared from nowhere and enthusiastically joined our circle. When she decided to lead our dance circle no one questioned her. She led us in dances of complete chaos and nonsensical rhythm. We danced and we laughed while enjoying each other’s company with utter childlike joy.

After we danced, we burned a chuchula doll that was 10 – 15 feet tall. We cheered as we welcomed spring, hoping to not see another snowflake this semester. I will always look back at that day with a smile and remember how it felt to simply dance and be without worry.

How to wish someone a “Happy Maslenitsa!”

When you are wishing
someone a “Happy Maslenitsa” you say “С Масленицей” (S
Maslenitsey), which literally translates to “With Maslenitsa.” You can also
say “С Праздником” (s prazdnikom) which means “With the Holiday.”

A common phrase that children enjoy saying during this week of celebration is “С масленицей поздравляю, пусть веселье в дом войдёт! Пусть весна в права вступает, а зима скорей уйдёт” (S maslenitsey pozdravlyayu, pust’ vesel’ye v dom voydet! Pust’ vesna v prava vstupayet, a zima skorey uydet). This saying means “Happy Maslenitsa, let the fun enter the home! Let spring come into the law, and soon winter will quickly leave.” In saying this, people are officially saying goodbye to winter and welcoming spring.

This piece was contributed by Dmitry Tereshenko, a student from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who is spending his spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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