Russia is celebrating Shrovetide, or Pancake week, one of the jolliest, most vivid and fun-filled feasts here.
The tradition of celebrating Shrovetide came to us from pre-Christian Russia. This is a feast of bidding farewell to winter, injected with the joyful anticipation of spring’s arrival, Nature’s awakening and the renewal of life. Shrovetide was the name of a straw effigy, dresses in women’s garments, which was first used in the general merriment, and at the end of the feast – burnt in a bonfire.
An invariable attribute of Shrovetide were pancakes, round in shape – symbolizing the sun, and as such – a ritual dish.
Our ancestors celebrated Shrovetide for a whole week, and every day of the week-long merriment served its purpose and had pre-planned events designated for it.
on Monday they dressed up the straw figure of Shrovetide, which they took out into the streets and strode around with. Children built snow hills and shouted: “Shrovetide is here!” In wealthy homes they began making pancakes already from Monday.
On Tuesday the fellows invited the girls to go on downhill rides in sleighs and to eat pancakes. This was an opportunity to get a closer look at each other and find prospective brides and husbands. Many at Shrovetide managed to find their intended and after Easter they would have the wedding.
On Wednesday, dubbed “Sweet-tooth”, pancakes were served in all the houses, as well as all other sorts of dainties. Traveling shows and vendor’s stalls appeared everywhere, selling pancakes, hot sbiten (mead), roasted nuts, honey cakes. On that day it was the tradition for the sons-in-law to visit their mothers-in-law, for whom they made pancakes and a veritable feast was laid out (providing they liked them, of course!)
Thursday marked the start of “Broad Maslenitsa” - the culmination of Shrovetide festivities. The fun spills out into the streets of towns and villages. On this day one had to eat as many pancakes as was humanly possible.
On Friday – sons-in-law invited their mothers-in-law and all their relatives to eat pancakes.
On Saturday the young daughter-in-law invited her husband’s relatives and the guests were to appraise her culinary abilities.
Sunday – the last day of Shrovetide – is dubbed “Forgiveness Sunday”. On that day the straw effigy of Shrovetide was cast into a bonfire, with the ashes scattered over the fields to ensure a good harvest.