I'd been waiting for this particular holiday since Tyler and I arrived in Russia back in September. While its official name is "Maslenitsa," many people call it "Butter Week" or "Blini (Pancake) Week." What started as an old Slavic, Pagan holiday, celebrating the approaching end of winter and beginning of lent, has turned into a day full of festivities, fun, and of course, delicious treats.
The conversation class that I conduct on Saturdays was scheduled as usual, but only this time, students brought blini and fixin's. We lathered our nearly see through pancakes with condensed milk, caviar, and jam made of pine cones (seperately, of course). I suggested we make this a tradition, every Saturday. My students laughed, but I wasn't joking.
Needless to say, I went to bed, stuffed, but woke up ready for more. Tyler and I joined the city in the square for the big celebration. Local schools had decorated large figures, similar to the one that would be burned later that afternoon. Some of them were really impressive.
Locals working the event were easy to spot with their beautiful shawls draped outside their coats.
Even the horse (that I later noticed was sticking his tongue out at me) was dressed in its finest.
As we made our way through the square admiring the children's designs, our noses began to take notice of what was ahead. Nearly every local business had its own stall, including our favorite bakery.
The smell of meat sizzling over hot coals completely enveloped the area. We stepped into the longest line and ordered up some belly warming food.
Pork shashlik, marinated onions, and focaccia, with a side of dipping sauce was exactly what we needed on this bitterly cold day.
We found two empty seats next to a couple of elderly ladies who were just as thrilled about their meal as we were. Why does food that's cooked outside in the cold over an open fired taste so much better than its indoor counterpart?
We enjoyed some local music with our local food and waited for the main event.
Men, dressed only in their unmentionables, took turns climbing a pole, in this case what was once a tree (maybe it's the New Year's tree?!), in the hopes of reaching the top and winning a prize (TV, computer, freezer, etc.).
After watching two contestants scramble impressively to the top, we scurried home to warm up and tuck into our treats. I had two blini, one stuffed with farmer's cheese and raisins, and the other stuffed with a cherry compote (swoon!). Tyler warmed up the bread and made a sandwich.
A couple of hours later, it was time to head back to the square for the burning of winter. Winter takes the form of a woman and is set afire, signifying the forthcoming death of winter.
Everyone had gathered when three torches appeared in the crowd, burning above their heads.
The jesters climbed into the pile of snow and immediately got to setting the figure on fire. It proved to be more difficult than they'd anticipated.
After some time, the fire caught and before long, all that remained was a charred figure, engulfed in flames.
Satisfied that winter was surely dead, we turned to see the sun, dazzling for a few last moments before it set behind the buildings.
Though spring is officially still three weeks away, to the day, Maslenitsa was a great way to let her know that we're ready for her.