Also known as Butter Week, Pancake Week or Cheesefare week, I think it can be safely assumed this was not my healthiest experience in Russia.  Масленица is a week-long celebration born of both pagan and Orthodox traditions; on the secular side, the holiday was used to bid adieu to winter and welcome the sun; religiously, the festival takes place the week preceding Orthodox Lent.  Yet regardless of your religious persuasion (which in Russia can be rather diverse), Масленица is best known and loved as the week when every gathering is a chance to make, share and eat wonderfully delicious блины. For those not familiar with this Russian treat, I would describe блины as either an incredibly thin pancake or a thick crepe stuffed with whatever your heart desires, but that really doesn’t do it justice.  All I know is it is by far the most delicious thing this vegan stomach has tasted for a while (and then promptly suffered tremendously for, but it was worth it).  Блины plays an important part in the festival, for according to pagan tradition, the round, golden pancake represents the sun, and by cooking and sharing and enjoying блины, it was believed the sun would be coaxed out of hiding.  Accordingly, during Масленица every day offers a different reason for enjoying блины: one day you are to invite the parents of your husband to dinner, the next of your wife, the next day, the sister of your husband, and so on and so on until everyone is officially stuffed with блины.  The week culminates in “Forgiveness Sunday” during which, in the spirit of Lent, family members and friends confess their sins and beg the forgiveness of those who were wronged.  In this way, Russians feel they can enter Lent with a clean slate (Clean Monday).  Yet Sunday is also known by another name: “Cheesefare Sunday”.  During Lent, Orthodox tradition forbids the consumption of meat, dairy, egg, wine and olive oil, so many take advantage of the week and final day preceding Lent to stock up on the foods they will miss for the following 40 days.  I for one am extremely excited, however, for I will finally be able to request vegan food without having to explain that, no, vegan is not the same as vegetarian (in Russian it is the same word), and no, fish, chicken, goat and caviar are not considered vegan, or even vegetarian for that matter.  Don’t get me wrong, my strange eating habits have been accommodated (for the most part), and, for my part I have learned that travel requires a certain amount of flexibility, but it will be nice to take a break from the rich, sour-cream laden foods that seem to appear at every social gathering.

Apart from a worthwhile week-long stomach-ache,  I found this festival to be quite enjoyable.  Bring on the sun.


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