Last week was Maslenitsa, the Eastern Orthodox Church version of Shrove Tuesday, the holiday marking the beginning of Lent in the build up to Easter. 80 years of religious suppression under the Soviet era has left Russia a nominally secular nation, but the Church lives on and even secular Russians enjoy a good holiday and an excuse to eat pancakes, or as they are known here, blini. They also regard this holiday as the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring, and while it was a little colder today in general the weather has been following the script.
Monday was a work day as well as the first day of Lent so celebrations took place on Sunday, for many people the end of the 4-day holiday that started with Men’s Day. We went along to the Square of the Fallen Fighters, where all the big celebratory events take place, to see what was going on.
Just like at New Year there was a stage set up and there were a few stalls dotted around. People were selling craft goods and art, and the usual Sunday market fair. There were some interactive activities – many based on medieval fighting, but there was some Pole Climbing. On the stage there were people in costumes (including, disconcertingly, Father Christmas). There were large costumed figures – people, cows, rabbits, other things I wasn’t sure about. There were human-sized dolls, and what looked like a giant scarecrow which in fact turned out to be the Lady Maslenitsa effigy.
There were Cossacks who had set up their own army kitchen. There was a giant samovar. And there were stalls selling blini. I couldn’t bring myself to buy some without knowing how it would taste, so Janna and I went to a supermarket, she bought some flour, milk and eggs and made me some. They were quite nice but I did not like the topping she had bought – some sugary milk syrup. Luckily I had half a lemon in my fridge and Janna had some tubes of sugar, so I had lemon juice and sugar on my blini, which (I think) was exactly the right topping to make them taste perfect!
One other popular tradition is that the last Sunday before Lent is known as “Forgiveness Sunday” and it is a tradition to forgive people on this day. I hope you will all forgive my lack of blog updates the last few months!