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Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday, celebrated mainly by Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian communities. In the Eastern Orthodox Christian calendar, Maslenitsa spans the seven days preceding Great Lent.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Maslenitsa is the oldest surviving Slavic holiday and has retained elements of Slavic mythology in its ritual, including the making of a Maslenitsa scarecrow - a straw doll effigy which is decorated and paraded on the Monday, then stripped and ceremoniously burned on a bonfire the following Sunday. Once Lady Maslenitsa has burned, her ashes are buried in the snow or scattered in the fields to ensure good crops. Other traditions include skating and sledding, building ice-forts and snowball fights.
Maslenitsa is also a time for visiting and socialising, and the final day is known as the “Forgiveness Sunday”, when relatives and friends will make amends and sometimes offer small gifts.
The eating of meat is prohibited to Orthodox Christians during Maslenitsa, but eggs, milk, and cheese are still permitted before the fasting of Lent begins, hence Maslenitsa being also known as “Cheese-fare week”. Another name for the festival is “Crepe week,” as the making of blini – thin, golden pancakes which symbolise the warm spring sun – is an integral part of Maslenitsa tradition.
Maslenitsa is not a winter festival in Aotearoa New Zealand, so fun snow activities are not an option. Pancakes, however, definitely are!
Maslenitsa is the week before the onset of Great Lent in the Eastern Orthodox calendar and is determined by the date for Easter in the Julian calendar, between the 4th of April and the 8th of May.