London will host a week of celebrations of Russian Maslenitsa, the Russian Orthodox equivalent of Shrovetide, starting on Sunday and until February 26. Russian Maslenitsa in London is the largest annual festival celebrating Russian cultural traditions outside Russia. According to various estimates, the Russian-speaking diaspora in Greater London area numbers about 250,000 people. Organized by Ensemble Productions, Maslenitsa 2012 will include music, dance and theater performances by well-known and promising Russian performers. Traditional Russian pancakes and other national food will also be available. Maslenitsa in London is part of the Russian Culture Festival, which is supported by the Mayor of London, the Moscow government, the Russian Ministry of Culture, the Russian Embassy in London and the Russian Federal Agency for the CIS.
Shrovetide is the most ancient festival of the Slavonic people. In the old days, pagan Slavs believed that the change of seasons was the struggle between Yarilo, god of the sun, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness. People believed that they had to help Yarilo fight against winter and bring in the spring. So, for the whole week, ancient Russian villagers had fun and games. They built a straw dummy of the Shrovetide maid, then out it on a sledge and pulled it around the village laughing and playing. On the last day of the festival, they burnt it and chanted, 'we're seeing off Shrovetide and waiting for the sun to come! Come to us, spring, with your joy and kindness!' The most important part of Shrovetide week was making and eating pancakes. Hot, round pancakes symbolized Yarilo. The Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the power, light and warmth of the sun.
It is strange but I have never thought about the origin of this name - Maslenitsa. Obviously it derives from the word "maslo" (butter). Wikipedia.org explains it in the following way: Maslenitsa precedes the Lenten fast and it is the last week before this longest of the Orthdox fasts. The Church allows eating butter during this week; so the roots of Maslenitsa are traceble. The church discipline bans eating meat, and has no objections to other food forbidden to eat during a fast. The meaning of this week (which is also called the cheese-fare [pancake] week) is to make peace with your friends and relatives, to forgive offence, to prepare youself for the Great Fast.