March marks one of the most prominent holidays in Russian culture, known as Maslenitsa. According to National Public Radio, Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic folk holiday that is celebrated just before Russian Orthodox Lent. The website Culture Trip states that Maslenitsa is traditionally one week-long and marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. For Willamette, this year marks the 10th year that the Russian Club (led by Associate Russian Professor Sarah Bishop) has put on an event celebrating Maslenitsa.
This year, on Thursday, March 7, both students and community members came to Ford 102 to celebrate the coming of spring and enjoy some traditional food and music.
“I was part of the main team setting up for it, and my job at the LLC (Language Learning Center) is also to push the media for events like this,” said Miles Gilmore (‘22). “Along with media and set up, I went out with a few friends to Salem’s Euro market to buy all the food.”
One of the staples of the event were Russian pancakes known as blinis. Blinis, which are sometimes thin crepes, are traditionally topped with sour cream, caviar, berries or cream. They are a food of choice during Maslenitsa because of what they represent: their round shape and warmth are meant to represent the sun and the warmth it brings in the spring. Other foods and drinks presented at the event were traditional candy, kvass (a traditional beverage made from rye bread), wafers, pretzels, cookies and carbonated drinks.
In addition to the large buffet of food, there was also a table to create effigies, which are paper images or figures that are made of burnable materials. These effigies are then traditionally burned to symbolize the end of the season and the beginning of a new one.
Other activities at the event included a traditional dance, a Russian song performed by the Russian speakers at the event and human musical chairs. At the start of the Russian song, the room was divided into two sections, one of male identifying and one of female identifying members. From there, each section sang portions of the song, and the men put their arms around each one another and swayed with the music. Afterwards, anyone was invited up to play a game of human musical chairs. People paired up and formed a long tunnel where one person had to run through the tunnel and grab another pair, causing both members to run through the tunnel and repeat the process.
The event concluded with the burning of an effigy in the form of a woman holding flowers. There was also a fire show put on by several Willamette students from the Poi Club.
This event was a hit with the Willamette community, and was filled with the sound of music and laughter as everyone ate, crafted and talked.
Gilmore discussed the importance of events like this in bringing a community together. “An event like this is extremely important. All events that bring people together to celebrate life have an amazing purpose and value. Especially an event like масленица [Maslenitsa], where the study and celebration of a culture that lives on the other side of the world is bringing people together.”