Maslyanitsa: the Pseudo-Mardi Gras of Russia

Map of Country




Maslennitsa is a Russian celebration preceding lent, much like Mardi Gras in other regions of the world. In English, this celebration is called Pancake Week. This celebration has a long history in Russian tradition. Unfortunately, as generations pass, and people move towards the future, this tradition may be left in the past.


Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

Russian Winter



Making Pancakes

Taipei Times



I argue that Maslennitsa has a very crucial meaning to the remaining towns that practice it. It gives these small rural villages a sense of communitas that they otherwise wouldn't have. Figure 2 is of two girls making pancakes for this celebration.


Context of Russia

Russia is located in northern Asia , and it is bordered by the Arctic Ocean , Europe , and the North Pacific Ocean . Since Russia is so large, its regions have many different climates. Southern Russia enjoys a warm summer and a cool winter, while northern Russia has cool summers and frigid winters. Russia also houses a variety of geographic landscapes; it has vast stretches of open plain, it has short rolling hills, it has beautiful mountains and it has barren tundra.

  Russia has had a very complex history. The principality of Muscovy formed through the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Through the seventeenth century, the Russian Empire continued to expand. During World War I, the Russian Empire lost much of its power. Then the communists took power shortly after World War I, and the newly formed USSR saw a rise in strength. The Cold War brought about the decline of the USSR , and in 1991, the USSR was dissolved into fifteen separate republics. Since then, Russia has been slowly recovering, but it is still trying to overcome the old ways of communism, and there are many struggles ahead. (The World Factbook 2004).


Origins of Maslennitsa

The celebration of Maslennitsa has an ancient past (1993 Milovsky) . This celebration originally started as a way of welcoming spring. In fact there are many Russian celebrations that have the same origins and hold the same functions as Maslennitsa. A.N. Afanasyev , the author of a book on Russian folklore, stated, "The Slavs have an old custom of welcoming spring in the month of March and banishing Death, or Winter. They carry a straw effigy of Death out of the village and down to the river, then drown it or first burn it and throw the ashes into the water, because Winter dies in the burning rays of the spring Sun and the swift streams of thawed snow” (1993 Milovsky).

This tradition of welcoming spring and killing winter has been around for over one thousand years, and since the introduction of Christianity in the tenth century, the government has tried to suppress Maslennitsa and other similar celebrations so that it fits into a Christian society. Maslennitsa is named after the snow queen. Another spelling for this celebration is Maslyanitsa, and it is also known as Butterweek or Pancake Week.




During the celebration of Maslennitsa, you can witness the preparation and consumption of pancakes and the preparation of the costumes. You can also witness the preparation of the effigy of Maslennitsa herself. During the actual ceremony, you will see the orange-clothed effigy of Maslennitsa lowered onto the roaring ceremonial pyre (1993 Milovsky). Figure 4 is a picture of the effigy.







Prognosis for [name of celebration]

The prognosis for this celebration is hard to determine. The people that practice Maslennitsa will undoubtedly try to pass this celebration along to their offspring, but will the new generations continue the tradition? The Government doesn't support the celebration, and some ethnologists actually refuse to admit that people still practice this old tradition. One might argue that even though this celebration is hard to find, the villages that do celebrate it will continue to for many more generations. The anthropologists that went searching for towns that held Maslennitsa and similar celebrations found this task to be very difficult (1993 Milovsky).




Maslennitsa is an exceptional tradition that dates back countless generations, and despite its decline in popularity, it is still celebrated in a few small rural villages. It has survived through troubling times, and it has survived through the Christianization of Russia, but with each generation, the details of the celebration get ever so slightly blurred, and this could signify a possible end to Maslennitsa.


Internet References Cited

  • Russia .” The World Factbook . 14 Sept. 2004 . <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/rs.html>


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Alexander S. Milovsky.

      1993     The Death of Winter. Natural History. January. Vol. 102. pp. 34.

  • Raymond Sokolov

      1993     Sun Food. Natural History. January. Vol. 102. pp. 34.

  • Davies, Merryl Wyn and Piero

      2002     Introducing Anthropology. edited by Richard Appignanesi.  pp. 128.    McPhereson's Printing Group, Victoria.


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