Masle - what?! Yeah, I know, right!?! It's a Russian pancake festival, the Slavic equivalent of Mardi Gras, a celebration of the end of winter - all answers that I have thrown out in quickly explaining to a friend what this mouthful of a holiday is all about. But what really is this Slavic tradition all about? Well, read a bit more and I'll do my best to give you a quick explanation of this week of fun and share how a room full of Slavs and wannabees (hey, that's me!) did Maslenitsa Indiana University style tonight.
Maslenitsa is religious and folk holiday prominently celebrated in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus during the week leading up to Lent. You see, Eastern Orthodox Christians don't mess around when it comes to Lent. They hard-core fast. I'm talking meat, fish, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and other dairy products. And oh, no dancing or merrymaking during Lent either - this is no time for secular fun! You're going to be sober, introspective, and really craving a nice Easter cake by the time of the glorious resurrection comes around, so Slavs go all out for Maslenitsa!
Bliny! The most popular food to eat during Maslenitsa is bliny (thin, Russian-style crepes), leading to the refference to Maslenitsa as a "pancake festival", because they are sweet and rich and are made with butter, milk, and eggs. A variety of tasty fillings from fruit preserves to caviar can be rolled up inside of bliny, but I'm partial to condensed milk or raspberry preserves. Maslenitsa also brings about the last batches of meat-filled borshch and those lovely Russian salads full of mayonnaise, boiled egg, and meat. Even though the holiday is often seen as a celebration of the end of winter, there is usually plenty of snow left in Russia for sleigh rides, sledding, snowball fights, and even some friendly brawling among (probably drunk) young men. Lastly, Maslenitsa often includes the construction of a straw female effigy of Kostroma/Lady Maslenitsa which is burned on the last day of the week of celebration.
So there is a little bit of overview of the holiday. Obviously not 100% inclusive because that would take way more time than any of us have and in reality, every family celebrates a little bit differently.
So that brings me to how the Slavic Department at Indiana University celebrated Maslenitsa tonight. Instead of an entire week we had about 2 hours in one of the rooms of the IMU, but we did have plenty of delicious food, music, and even our own small Lady Maslenitsa. The absolutely delicious food was accompanied by a friendly competition for best dish, separated into the categories of bliny, and not bliny haha! We even had our own small concert (My contributions were a Ukrainian pop song with my Ukrainian class and Частушки (musical limericks) with my Russian class). The Частушки were the same ones we performed at the Slavic talent show first semester, but they are definitely a crowd favorite and oh so fun to sing! All in all, I had a great time, hung out with some great people, and ate some wonderful food. Maslenitsa Indiana style was a success!
By the way, the movie The Barber of Siberia (Сибирский цирюльник) has a great Maslenitsa scene! If you start watching this clip at about 7:00, you'll get a pretty nice representation of a traditional village Maslenitsa!
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