Burning the Maslenitsa "chuchilo," or scarecrow.

We witnessed the traditional burning of the Maslenitsa "chuchilo," or scarecrow, at some touristy old-country reconstruction outside Petersburg.

This week is the Russian folk festival “Maslenitsa,” celebrated the week before the Russian Orthodox Church’s Great Lent, although like many Russian traditions, it’s really just a pagan sun festival with a thin facade of Christianity.  Maslenitsa is known for “bliny” (traditional Russian pancakes that resemble crepes and are served with everything from jam to liver) and little else; as far as holidays go, it’s pretty repetitive.  Maybe this is why nobody, besides tourists and forgotten bumpkins in the depths of the Russian countryside, celebrates the holiday anymore.

Monday is the day for meeting Maslenitsa: Hearty Russian peasants build sledding hills and great the holiday by shouting, “Your soul is mine, Maslenitsa!  Come to me in the wide yard to sled down hills, wallow in bliny, and soothe the heart!”

Tuesday is the “beginning of merriment.”  People run around the village in costumes and the sledding starts in earnest.  Also traditional (read: chaste) kissing games for young couples.

Wednesday is “lakomka,” the day of sweets.  Husbands visit their mothers-in-law, who bake them mounds of bliny (notice a trend yet?).

“Wide” (“shirokii”) Thursday is the day for strolling.  There’s the rituals around the “chuchilo” (scarecrow that’s eventually burned), more sledding, and fist-fighting all day long.  For a depiction of the later, see this news clip (actually for a different holiday involving fist fights; the bearded dude says, “Ah that’s good!  Good manly game!”) or the “zapoi” (binge) scene from Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Barber of Siberia” (“Sibirskii Tsiryulnik”).

Friday is “mother-in-law evening,” where sons-in-law repay Wednesday’s hospitality with another round of bliny.

Saturday is “sister-in-law chat-in” (what’s with all the celebrations for inlaws?), where relatives gather around a table of wheat and buckwheat bliny, filled with such assorted toppings as sour cream, egg and caviar.  Kids make snow forts and fight over them, representing the struggle between spring and winter.

Sunday is the day of forgiveness, where people gather around campfires, ask forgiveness — “Forgive me if I am guilty” – “And you forgive me” – “God will forgive you” — and later burn the chuchilo.

Man, I could go for some bliny right now …


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