March is here. You know what that means: it’s time for Maslenitsa! Maslenitsa is an East Slavic folk holiday where people traditionally celebrated the arrival of spring. It also serves as the Eastern Orthodox answer to Mardi Gras and Carnival, so it is a last hurrah of gluttony before the forty days of Lenten abstinence.
Maslenitsa is well known for its masquerade parties, friendly visits, and (on the last day) asking for forgiveness from all you have wronged. But perhaps Maslenitsa is most loved for its blini. Round and yellow like the sun, these pancakes are drenched in butter and served with any topping you like. You can go the standard route and dab them with a little jam and sour cream, but why not go all out with some pumpkin blini, blini with a side of caviar, or a thousand-layer cake made of blini? As the Russians say, без блина не масляна — it’s not Maslenitsa without blini!
Speaking of proverbs, this festive celebration has riveted the cultural imagination in many ways. Anton Chekhov wrote an essay reflecting on blini, their cultural significance, and the women he deems inseparable from the blini-making process. But it’s not just Chekhov: over the centuries, many popular sayings have arisen about this time of feasting, celebration, and fun. As you sit back and savor your blini, consider marking this holiday with one of the five following Maslenitsa-themed proverbs.
Cats love sour cream, so naturally Maslenitsa is their favorite time of the year. Unfortunately, that cat won’t get to feast on sour cream forever, because pretty soon the humans won’t be able to eat sour cream, and as human logic goes, why should a cat eat something humans can’t? More metaphorically, there’s nothing like a time of unadulterated joy to remind you of the other times when your joy is, well, adulterated. This saying is particularly fitting, because after the feasting of Maslenitsa comes Lent, when Orthodox Christians must abstain from meat, butter, and other delicious things for forty days.
We all love blini, but unfortunately, blini doesn’t literally rain from the sky. As we devour the blini, so does the blini (and everything else) devour our wallets. Next time you find yourself eating your sixth blin in a day, say this saying to yourself in a stern voice. If this doesn’t stop you from buying a seventh, then your bloated stomach will.
Everyone’s been working all year, slaving away at their jobs, going on diets, denying themselves pleasures. This is the week to let it all go. Whether you’re rich or poor, happy or unhappy, do everything in your power to go out and celebrate this week. You deserve it!
Radunitsa is an Orthodox holiday observed 9 days after Easter, which is 40 days after Maslenitsa. Need I say more?
Who doesn’t love blini?! But, more metaphorically, there’s just nothing like enjoying a meal surrounded by friends and family, with plans to go sleighing and maybe catch a fistfight. If the blini don’t warm your heart, then the bonfire definitely will. It’s tradition to burn an effigy representing Winter on the last day of Maslenitsa, though people have gotten creative (last year, some people even burned a structure shaped like a Gothic cathedral). And if you don’t burn anything else, then hopefully during those seven weeks of fasting, you’ll at least burn some calories.
Thanks to Yuliya Ballou for her special assistance!
Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567