Maslenitsa: a guide to Russia's pancake festival

This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

Location: Vassilyevsky Spusk, Moscow, Russia

Dates: last week before Lent

Level of participation: 4 – stuff yourself silly

Maslenitsa. Russia. Pancakes. Festival.'Maslenitsa has come and whizz!…' by Aleksandr GolanovCreative Commons Attribution

Akin to Mardi Gras, Russia’s only surviving pagan festival celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring, kicking off Orthodox Lent on a very full stomach. The word ‘Maslenitsa’ comes from the Russian for butter, which is a key ingredient in the festive treat, bliny (pancakes).

As well as bingeing on Russian pancakes, the week-long festival features horse-drawn sledges, storytelling clowns and beer-drinking bears. It culminates with the burning of a scarecrow to welcome spring, as well as with Forgiveness Day, in which people traditionally ask their family and friends for forgiveness for wrongdoings in the past year.

Maslenitsa is celebrated throughout Russia but has been truly revived in the last few years in Moscow, where a ‘Maslenitsa town’ is created in Vassilyevsky Spusk near Red Sq. In St Petersburg, the Mariinsky Theatre celebrates Maslenitsa with special festival performances.

Essentials: in truth, it’s a little early to call this a spring rite, with temperatures in Moscow continuing to hover around -10°C for weeks, so come with plenty of warm clothing.

Local attractions: wander through the Kremlin for a brush with Cold War powerbrokers, and then tread the cobblestones in Red Sq with the wonderful onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral (and the embalmed body of Lenin) for company.

See more festivals in February here.

This article was first published in December 2010 and was republished in January 2013.