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Pancake Week or Maslenitsa is widely known Russian Christian traditional holiday when people say goodbye to the winter time and greet the spring and warmness. The preservation of the tradition to celebrate this holiday in Moldova still exists because we, Moldavian residents, earlier were part of the Soviet Union, where people shared same traditions and respected each other's customs, sometimes even adopting them. Moldavians decided that it would be great to have a part of their history kept, so Maslenitsa became very popular and merry holiday here, in the vineyard's land. Moreover, this is a special preparation for another holy Christian holiday - Lent, so we take the Maslenitsa holiday quite seriously.
Maslenitsa is one of the oldest Slavic holidays, which is dedicated to the winter farewell. Many people still don't know the exact origins of the name of this holiday. Logic says that the reason lies in the oil. The point is that "maslo" in Russian means oil. It was made from milk, usually at the beginning of spring, to smear the pancakes that are the main attribute of Maslenitsa. Nowadays, pancakes are smeared with other things, like different jams, red and black caviar, jelly, etc. In addition, you may think why the pancakes are rounded? This sounds logical too because the Slavic people, in pagan times, believed in God of Sun - Yarilo. Round and yellow pancakes, richly oiled and sparkling, was a perfect symbol of the Sun.
The dates of Maslenitsa are different from one year to another, but always start on Monday and last the whole week, till Sunday. Everyone who celebrates Maslenitsa takes part in certain events. Moldavian people are not an exception. Thus, on Monday people ride on the sledges, make snowmen and have fun outside. It is also usual to organize various festivals with sweets and traditional cuisine. Days from Tuesday to Thursday are dedicated to the fist fights, rope pulling and round dances. Mothers-in-law invite their sons-in-law as guests for tasty pancakes. Friday is called "cracks of the evening" - so, mothers-in-law, visa-versa, come to their sons with a huge amount of pancakes and other Moldavian traditional food, like placinte, mamaliga, etc. The more food and pancakes, the happier the year will be. On Saturday, all the relatives gather together and say farewell to the winter time. Sunday is for burning the scarecrows of the "Winter". `They say, that this will help spring to come and stay.
Our ancestors had their own, original way of saying goodbye to the winter and meeting spring. Besides the certain events, common for many nations, Moldavian people had the "Ciuleandra" ritual dance, that was the ending of the Pancake Week. Earlier, it was just an analogue of Maslenitsa, but now it is one more tradition, that is kept and performed almost in every city/village of Moldova. Thus, our ancestors made a doll, which was called "Ciuleandra", buried it into the ground, and stamped everything around. They believed that, together with this doll in the ground, all the bad things, all the hardships, troubles and contradictions will surely go away. The dance "Ciuleandra" was the end of the ritual of burying the doll. Below, I will pin an episode from a movie, based on the novel "Chuliandra", written by Liviu Rebryanu, where you will see that ancient dance.
Maslenitsa was always one of my favorite holidays in Moldova. We usually celebrated it in school, bringing a lot of tasty food, especially pancakes and bagels. Preservation of this Russian tradition was the goal of this holiday because we studied Russian history and customs a lot. In addition, we brought a lot of decorations to the celebration and burned, as it was necessary, the scarecrow right on the stadium of the school, pulling the rope and dancing in rounds. Besides that, Maslenitsa in Chisinau was quite big too. It was usually placed right in the center of the city, in the Central Park, or on the Great National Assembly Square. The beginning of Pancake Week depends on the date of the main Christian holiday - Easter. According to Orthodoxy, the celebration of Maslenitsa begins 56 days before Easter. In 2019, Maslenitsa will start on the 4th of March and last until the 10th of March.
Cover picture © Credits to iStock/Artsiom Malashenko
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