Maslenitsa is an ancient Slavic holiday. It was originally a spring solstice celebration but when Christianity arrived, the festival became attached to the week before Lent, just as Carnival has in many other Christian countries.
Early Slavic people did not recognise spring and autumn, but they knew that when the weather began to change, it was the start of a new year. That's why it became so important. Lavish feasts have always been important to Slavic people and they love celebrating, so a good hostess would please her family by making pancakes with sour cream and caviar and rolls with jam.
Pagan Maslenitsa was celebrated on the vernal equinox - March 22nd. It marked the start of spring, the beginning of new life in nature and the gift of the sun - warmth. Even the making of pancakes has a connection, as the shape of a pancake mirrors the shape of the sun.
People offered gifts to the gods and praised Jari - god of sun, nature, fertility and passion.
In 988 AD, Prince Vladimir, an important ruler in Russia, converted to Christianity and soon after the country followed him and adopted the new faith. After this, the celebration was moved and became an important time before Lent. People indulged in merry-making and enjoyed worldly delights which included delicious food. This was in preparation for the long and exhausting fast before Easter - a real challenge.
Each day in Shrovetide had special rituals.
Monday - was a day for meeting and people made pancakes. The first pancake was traditionally given to a beggar and he was requested to say prayers for the dead.
Tuesday - people invited friends and visited relatives. Young men looked out for young and beautiful girls to marry.
Wednesday - an elaborate and substantial feast was provided in each household, so that everyone could sample the delights as they visited each other.
Thursday - celebrations started in earnest. People went sledding/sledging, built snow forts and destroyed them.
Friday and Saturday were the most fun-filled days and were not just aimed at celebrating, but often led to betrothals.
On Sunday, the effigy of winter was burnt.
As the celebrations came to an end, people traditionally asked each other for forgiveness, ending the week with a lighter heart and a purified soul.
Maslenitsa ended with the first day of Lent, Clean Monday, a day of purification from sin and food.