Written by Annie Mesavage, Junior at Penn State
The cobblestone street of Red Square has seen a lot of history. It once was the marching ground for the Soviet Union’s military. It has seen the construction of Russia’s most famous sight, St. Basil’s Cathedral under rule of Ivan the Terrible. Today, it even houses Lenin’s mausoleum where his embalmed body can be seen by tourists. But on this past Sunday, March 9th, it was the witness of something even more profound: several hungry, unsuspecting American college students who just wanted a “Russian pancake” or blini. Why on this day? This food is the most popular associated with the Russian holiday Maslenitsa, celebrated each year during a Sunday in March.
Maslenitsa was originally a holiday of the equinox. The pancakes were meant to symbolize the shape of the sun. It occurs the week before the Russian Orthodox celebration of Lent and thus is a day when people ask for forgiveness from past sins before going into the Easter season. It is a very cheerful holiday as it represents the ending of winter and the beginning of spring. A large straw doll, symbolizing winter, is typically burnt as an attraction. People cumulate throughout Red Square and around Alexander Gardens outside of the Kremlin walls. Maslenitsa is also the day after women’s day celebrated this year on March the 8th. This is a special day where men often buy wives or loved ones flowers and other gifts.
This year we were taken to these festivities by two of our fellow Russian students, Dmitry and Alexander as well as their mother and other friend. We all walked around the Kremlin and took in the sights of Red Square. People bustled around with figurines of the small straw dolls and bouquets of flowers. Others ice skated on the square’s large rink or listened to singing. Later in the afternoon, we walked to the main celebration where thousands of people waited in lines to get blinis filled with caviar, sour cream, or fruit. Traditionally meat was not eaten for Maslenitsa. Yet, today the Russian shashlik, a kind of kabob is just as popular as blinis. Besides the food, there was also a live stage where dance and theatrical groups performed and sang many traditional folk songs. There were also numerous carnival game booths.
Before returning home, we walked across the large highway bridge overlooking the Moscow River (minus the crazy European drivers) as it is closed to traffic for the festival. There we could take photographs with government buildings and cathedrals of the city in the background.
Yes we did get a taste for some of those Russian pancakes but also for more culture. The snow has melted here and the days are longer and sunnier. The effects of Maslenitsa are in full swing!
Also in this Issue...
- Weekend Excursion to the Timirazevskaya Region
by Becky Dunmyer
"I have always enjoyed saunas but this was my first banya experience. I loved it. I never knew that being beaten with tree branches, running towel-clad through the snow, and dumping buckets of water on myself could be so much fun. The banya will certainly be one of my favorite memories of Russia."
- Where We Are: (a.k.a.) Moscow State
Agro-Engineering University by Ben Crooke
"Our host university here in Russia is Moscow State Agro-engineering University (MSAU), located in northern Moscow. This university started about 200 years ago and was originally called Peter’s Agricultural Academy, named after Peter the Great."
- Stuff from the Buff by Marina Besedina
"This was a two- part lecture with the first part being in the classroom discussing the world market for mushrooms and who are the leading producers and the second part seeing a farm first-hand."
This past weekend, Marina Besedina and I had wonderful time visiting the home of our new friend Marina Gorshkova. She and her family live in a town called Kimry, which is located about two hours outside of Moscow. The beautiful weather allowed us to enjoy lots of time outdoors.
After our train arrived Saturday afternoon we were greeted by the friendly faces of Marina’s happy parents. Once we were settled in everyone had lunch and tea together. I really enjoyed trying all of the different foods that Marina G’s mother and grandmother prepared for us. Being that Saturday was Women’s Day the ladies were given special treatment. Our dinner was followed by a relaxing night in the sauna and banya room. I have always enjoyed saunas but this was my first banya experience. I loved it. I never knew that being beaten with tree branches, running towel-clad through the snow, and dumping buckets of water on myself could be so much fun. The banya will certainly be one of my favorite memories of Russia. One more round of tea, candy, and conversation perfectly concluded a very special Saturday.
Sunday was also very exciting. We walked all around the town and spent a day in the park.
The town was having a celebration for Maslenitsa, which is meant to welcome the spring season. We ate blini and shashliks, which are Russian pancakes and kabobs. The food was delicious of course. We took lot of pictures, had a snow ball fight, and listened to music performed by a local group. Everyone was having a great time laughing and dancing. At the end of the day an effigy was burned to symbolize the end of the winter. Nothing’s better than fresh air, good food, and live entertainment.
For Marina B. and I the end of our visit came all too soon. No one was ready to leave the comfort of a warm house and a welcoming family. This weekend was fascinating to say the least.
Slowing down from the upbeat Moscow city life and enjoying the simple comforts of a small town proved to be a much needed luxury.