It's pancake day, but we spell it `Maslenitsa'

There is a strong human and cultural empathy between Russia and Britain. Russians admire your way of life, your traditions and arts. Dare I say that you British also appreciate many Russian things such as music, ballet, literature and theatre? Now you have the chance to enjoy one of our traditional holidays.


The old and very popular Russian festival of Maslenitsa arrives in London on March 1. The organisers are presenting a diverse and stunning range of performers from Russia who will offer a unique blend of music, dance and theatre at Potters Fields Park. Situated on the Thames between City Hall and Tower Bridge, there could not be a more dramatic and scenic venue. Please come and enjoy the experience of Maslenitsa, the Russian Pancake (blini) day.

Would it be an exaggeration to say that Maslenitsa is the favourite Russian holiday? Certainly not. For centuries it used to be a week of merrymaking and revelry. It was a lovely and colourful time, with outdoor games, singing, dancing, sledging, snowball fights and indulging in that popular pastime of eating and drinking. Maslenitsa festivities are held in every home and every family regardless of status, religion or age.

Maslenitsa is the oldest Russian festival, with a dual ancestry of being both pagan and Christian - although with time it has just became a secular peoples' festival. It survived for centuries, even in Soviet times, and has recently experienced a strong revival.

First and foremost, it is a sun festival (the pagan aspect). Winter is fading and the sun shines longer and longer. We Russians like our winter, but we like it even more when it's over. What a good cause for celebration. All week long we eat blini, the symbol of the sun - they are as round, golden and hot as the sun itself, hence the symbol of Maslenitsa. By the way, do you know that the first proper Russian version of blini was made from buckwheat flour and yeast?

On the Christian calendar, Maslenitsa marks the last week before Great Lent, a period of fasting.

Each day of Maslenitsa week has a special meaning: a day of eating blini with a sweetheart, a day of giving blini to the poor, a day of making blini for the son-in-law, for the sons' wives, etc.

The final glorious moment is the burning of an effigy that represents winter. In old times it would be a spectacular bonfire, often on a hill, visible from far away.

Russians believe blini and Maslenitsa are original Russian concepts, which have spread across the planet and catalysed all sorts of counterparts. Britain's Shrove Tuesday is very much akin to Maslenitsa.

Never mind that the London celebrations are to be held on a perfect English lawn and not on snow. Never mind that there will be no bonfire - blini, singing and dancing will be there.

It will be on the last day of Maslenitsa week, the Forgiving Sunday, when everybody asks one another for forgiveness in order to redeem themselves from their sins before the Great Lent.

We will bow to one another saying: "God will forgive you." Isn't it wonderful?

The festival is organised by the London-based company Ensemble Productions, well known for promoting Russian culture, in co-operation with the mayor of London, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and the Moscow City government. The supporting organisations look forward to welcoming you.


Venue: Potters Field Park, SE1 (next to City Hall). Nearest tube: London Bridge or Tower Hill. Sunday, March 1, 1pm-6pm; free.

Further information at www.ensembleproductions.co.uk

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