Maslenitsa Celebration Helps Russians Thaw From Winter

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Sunday is the final day of a week-long Russian festival that celebrates folk traditions, heroic eating and the distant promise of spring. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports on Maslenitsa, or "pancake week," the last culinary blow-out before the austerity of Lent.


Today is the final day of a weeklong Russian festival that celebrates folk traditions, heroic eating and the distant promise of spring. It's called Maslenitsa, or pancake week, and it's the last culinary blowout before the austerity of Lent. The festival is also just a good reason to get out of the house for many Russians who are plain sick of winter. NPR's Corey Flintoff has this postcard.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: It's a silver-gray afternoon in Moscow, which is just digging out from another two-day snowstorm. Like all city snow, it was lovely for a few hours but now it's mostly brown slush on the sidewalks and a muddy soup splashed up by the tires of passing cars. There's a constant grip of icy water from the buildings.


FLINTOFF: That's one important reason why Maslenitsa is a sanity saver. It comes along just when you think you can't take it anymore.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

FLINTOFF: You can hear the celebrations long before you reach them because music and folk traditions are big part of the festival.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

PAVEL: That's our Russian tradition actually to say goodbye to today, well, let's say to the long winter, and welcome the upcoming spring. So, and you may see normally the little festivities around and even the wedding.

FLINTOFF: This is Pavel, a young father who's come to the Hermitage Garden in Moscow with his wife Olga and his youngest daughter.

JARNA: May name is Jarna(ph).

FLINTOFF: OK. The Maslenitsa celebration at the garden is mostly for kids with booths for crafts, such as weaving edible necklaces of ribbons and pretzel rings, or painting folk designs on wooden spoons. There's a wedding party too, and a bride in white who's holding her train up above her white boots to stay clear of the slush.

PAVEL: It's the time when people celebrate and when people feast, eating a lot of pancakes. That's the most famous thing about Maslenitsa I would say.

FLINTOFF: Pancakes are the center of attention on one side the garden, where cooks are turning out stacks of blini, the crepe-like pancakes that are slathered with sour cream and caviar, stuffed with chocolate, jam or cheese. How's business?

IRINA: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Irina, a veteran blini griddler, says unblushingly that business gets better and better because her pancakes are the best. People take their blinis seriously here, and Maslenitsa features contests of the best in many categories. And stunts, such as an attempt to break the record for the highest stack of pancakes. Some say the round blini are symbols for the sun, and indeed, the sun does come out briefly in the afternoon as if to promise that it will come back after all. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.


MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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