Russian House of Kansas City

In Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa is a Spring festival, a celebration of the imminent end of the Winter. In fact, it might be the oldest Slavic holiday that survived the millennia.

In the traditions of other cultures, one can see some similarities with Mardi Gras, Rio Carnival, Patras Carnival, Holi, and several others.

It is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent in the Orthodox tradition or the 8th week before Eastern Orthodox Easter. Religious and pre-Christian elements are tightly interwoven in this celebration of Spring, which falls on different dates every year. In 2021, Maslenitsa will be celebrated from March 8th to March 14th.

Depiction of Maslenitsa by Boris Kustodiev. Public domain.

Meat and dairy would traditionally be forbidden during Lent, so Maslenitsa is the time for feasting. Butter, eggs, and milk are permitted during this week, therefore Maslenitsa is also known as Butter Week, Crepe week, or Pancake week. The term Maslenitsa itself comes from maslo, the Russian word for butter.

During the communist times, the religious aspect of the holiday was prohibited and people celebrated just the secular part of it – the food part. The most known food of this holiday is blini – thin crepes made from wheat flour, butter, milk, and eggs. Round, golden and warm, blini symbolize the Sun and signal the coming of Spring. Each family has its own recipe for making blini, which are often served with butter, fruit jams, sour cream, or caviar.

Loyna, CC BY-SA 2.5 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

People visit each other’s house and share blini with friends and relatives. Each day of the holiday week has a special significance. The last day of Butter Week is called “Forgiveness Sunday.” Even people who do not observe Maslenitsa still bake blini on the last Sunday of the week, share them with the family members and ask for forgiveness.

Leonid Solomatkin. Maslenitsa. 1878. Public Domain.

Traditionally, Maslenitsa is celebrated with lots of outdoor activities: folk games, public street parties, fist fighting, climbing a greasy pole, and taking a snow fort. 

Vasily Surikov. Taking a snow town. 1891. Public Domain.

As the culmination of the celebration on Sunday, people gather to burn the straw personification of Maslenitsa (a large figure made of straw) in a bonfire. Burning it symbolizes the farewell to winter.

Burning of Maslenitsa. By Vladimir Lobachev- Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Kansas City, Kansas Public Library and the Russian House of Kansas City invite you to celebrate Maslenitsa via Zoom on Sunday, March 14th at 11 am. See the video of this program here.

Russian House of Kansas City