Maslenitsa is one of the oldest Slavic festivals and celebrates the end of Winter and beginning of Spring. The sun-festival has its origin over 2’000 years ago in pagan traditions and got adopted by the Orthodox Church as the last week before the start of the Great Fast (or Great Lent) before Easter.
Russian pancakes (called Blini) are usually eaten and gifted to friends and family during this time leading to the holiday week also being called Butter - or Pancake festival with the pancakes being said to symbolize the sun. They are usually eaten with a variety of toppings such as caviar or sour cream (Smetana) or jam.
During the Sovjet time the holiday was not observed much but since 2002 it is being again officially organised and Moscow for example holds now more than 500 different events celebrating the occasion. During this week you can find a variety of events happening, ranging from singing, bonfires, horse sleigh riding, puppet shows, play fistfights and sledding and of course many places selling pancakes.
Usually on Monday the beginning of the festive week the figure of Maslenitsa is build out of wood and straw and then dressed in women’s clothes. The week of celebration ends on Sunday on which people ask each other for forgiveness for wrongdoings in the past year, may pay a visit to the graves of family members and at the end burn the figure of Maslenitsa to say goodbye to the Winter months. In the past, celebrators would then throw the remaining pancakes into the fire to symbolise the beginning of the fasting period. The tradition of burning the effigy of Maslenitsa to celebrate the end of winter is probably the most important part of the festival (apart from the many pancakes) and several figures will be burned in public places in big cities.
Tips for celebrating Maslenitsa in Saint-Petersburg:
Many events will happen during this week in St. Petersburg, make sure to check some of them out and when eating in a restaurant see if they have some special pancakes on the menu
The Mariinsky Theater will have a special playbill to celebrate the event. One example would be the tale of the Snow Maiden, a four hour play, that had its world premiere in 1882. Tickets for it can be found here.
Visitors will be able to sledge down an ice mountain near the Peter and Paul Fortress. You can find the location of the fortress here.
The figure of Maslenitsa will be burned as well next to the fortress among other places