Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Maslenitsa (Carnival)

written by Aleks Bakhmatov, age 15

Maslenitsa is a Russian holiday to say goodbye to winter and say hello to spring. It happens on the cold winter days when everybody is outside playing with snow and riding a sled down the hills with adults. For seven days, all of Moscow jingles with the sound of bells, sings with garmoshkas (accordions) and shines with the colors of bright dresses. The essential element, of course, are pancakes, or more accurately, crepes (bliny). Crepes are a symbol of the sun. They are as round, gold and warm as the sun. Russian pancakes are served hot with either butter or sour cream, jam, or caviar, or mushrooms, or sturgeon. A recipe for "bliny" can be found here.

On these days, people ride horse sleighs and sleds down the hill. Where else can you take a horse-drawn sleigh ride that will take your breath away? Or take a wild sled ride down an enormous ice slope? The Great Maslenitsa will reel you around. You'll find yourself dancing in a circle and your feet won't be able to keep still with the jolly chastooshkas (funny songs) sung and played.

Clowns and skomorokhs (harlequins) will make you laugh to tears. The show goes on and on in theatres. And those who don't want to simply be spectators can take part in the masquerade, dressing up in costumes, wrapping themselves in long fur coats or drinking shots of vodka with a tamed bear.

On the last day of the Great Maslenitsa, the feasting and drinking culminates with the burning down of a scarecrow symbolizing winter and saying goodbye to winter till the next year. The last day of Maslenitsa is called the Forgiveness Day. Everybody asks one another for forgiveness in order to redeem themselves from their sins before the Great Lent. They bow to one another and say, "God will forgive you." Maslenitsa is over, and so is winter, giving way to the spring.

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