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Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring

Russias version of carnival heralds the immanent return of warmer weather with festivities in the citys parks.

Published: March 6, 2013 (Issue # 1749)



  • Drinking, music and dancing are all part of local Maslenitsa festivities.
    Photo: ALEXANDER BELENKY / SPT

In the run-up to the beginning of Lent, the week-long Maslenitsa (Shrovetide) is Russias version of the spring carnival andis a time to indulge in soon-to-be-forbidden food and celebrate the return of warmer weather.

This year, Maslenitsa celebrations will be held across the country from March 11 through 17. In St. Petersburg, the citys parks, museums and restaurants are all busily preparing for the holiday. Visitors to local celebrations can look forward to mounds of buttery blini, swing rides and the burning of a Maslenitsa effigy. Known for its traditional foods and entertainments, the weeklong holiday is traditionally celebrated on a grand scale across both the city and the Leningrad region, and this year is no exception.

Dating back to Pagan times, Maslenitsa is possibly Russias most beloved folk holiday. Its traditions include ceremonies meant to welcome the return of the life-giving spring sun and the renewal of nature. Because of this, the most characteristic food of the holiday is blini. The rich Russian pancakes are seen as a symbol of the sun due to their round form and golden color. Maslenitsa is celebrated during the last week before Lent, in preparation for Easter.

Locally, festivities are planned for the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Summer Garden, which will be divided into interactive zones to cater for every taste. Over on Yelagin Island, the festival program will include trick horse riding shows and fiery pyrotechnics.

Perhaps the most unusual Maslenitsa celebration of all will be held in the Tercentenary Park in the citys Primorsky district. According to the organizers, the park will be transformed into an attraction of intergalactic appeal.

We delved into the history of Russian culture and concluded that the ancient pagan rituals and traditions of celebration were lost long ago, said the events project manager Svetlana Malyakina. In my opinion, a reconstruction of ancient Maslenitsa traditions is possible only for a narrow circle of specialists. We are creating a holiday for everyone, and so we chose the broad concept of a universal Maslenitsa celebration.

Among the festival-goers enjoying both intergalactic and Russian folk amusements, visitors to the park can expect to see people dressed as aliens. Plans for the holiday include a celebrity blini eating contest, a selection of unearthly treats and gifts, and a banya for little green men.

In addition to the celebrations throughout the city, folk festivals will also take place across the region. In Strelna, for example, the festivities will kick off March 17 on the grounds of the Konstantinovsky Palace, where up to 10,000 people gather annually to celebrate the holiday. Visitors will be able to take part in snowball fights, try their hand at Russian folk dancing, and view a folk costume competition. Emerging local musical acts, as well as St. Petersburg favorites like the folk-rock band Iva Nova, will serenade audiences kept warm with traditional blini and mulled wine.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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