Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring
Russia’s version of carnival heralds the immanent return of warmer weather with festivities in the city’s parks.
Published: March 6, 2013 (Issue # 1749)
ALEXANDER BELENKY / SPT
Drinking, music and dancing are all part of local Maslenitsa festivities.
In the run-up to the beginning of Lent, the week-long Maslenitsa (Shrovetide) is Russia’s version of the spring carnival and is 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 city’s 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 Russia’s 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 city’s 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 event’s 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.
The Mariinsky Theater responds to the ancient holiday by staging its annual Maslenitsa festival, which this year is launched with a performance of “The Snow Maiden” on March 11.
“The idea of the festival was born from the desire to create an event that would add attractiveness to St. Petersburg in this difficult, unpopular season of February and March, when the weather pleases neither city residents nor visitors to the city,” said Oksana Tokranova, press-attaché at the Mariinsky Theater.
“Historically, Maslenitsa celebrations were held on a grand scale and with great imagination. We wanted to return to this fine tradition. All of the operas and ballets based on Russian fairytales and choral concerts that will take place at the Mariinsky Theater and Concert Hall [during the festival] refer to the pre-revolutionary traditions of Maslenitsa celebrations. This year special attention should be paid to the choral concert, which will be held on March 13. It will consist of works by great Russian composers,” she added.
In addition to all the musical entertainment, many museums both in the city and the wider Leningrad region will offer holiday programs specifically meant for children. The State Museum of Religious History, the Rozhdestveno Memorial Estate, the Benois Family Museum, the Khleb-da-sol Ethnic Leisure Center and the Skazkin Dom Interactive Museum will offer a compelling account of Maslenitsa to young visitors and introduce them to the nearly endless variety of holiday customs.