March 02, 2019

Five Proverbs to Get You Hyped for Maslenitsa

Five Proverbs to Get You Hyped for Maslenitsa

March is here. You know what that means: it’s time for Maslenitsa! Maslenitsa is an East Slavic folk holiday where people traditionally celebrated the arrival of spring. It also serves as the Eastern Orthodox answer to Mardi Gras and Carnival, so it is a last hurrah of gluttony before the forty days of Lenten abstinence. 

Maslenitsa is well known for its masquerade parties, friendly visits, and (on the last day) asking for forgiveness from all you have wronged. But perhaps Maslenitsa is most loved for its blini. Round and yellow like the sun, these pancakes are drenched in butter and served with any topping you like. You can go the standard route and dab them with a little jam and sour cream, but why not go all out with some pumpkin blini, blini with a side of caviar, or a thousand-layer cake made of blini? As the Russians say, без блина не масляна — it’s not Maslenitsa without blini!

Blini cake
Tasteful and tasty. / Restaurant "Druzhba"

Speaking of proverbs, this festive celebration has riveted the cultural imagination in many ways. Anton Chekhov wrote an essay reflecting on blini, their cultural significance, and the women he deems inseparable from the blini-making process. But it’s not just Chekhov: over the centuries, many popular sayings have arisen about this time of feasting, celebration, and fun. As you sit back and savor your blini, consider marking this holiday with one of the five following Maslenitsa-themed proverbs.

1. Не все коту масленица, будет и Великий пост.

Literal translation: It is not always Maslenitsa for a cat; Lent is also coming.
Used when: Reminding someone that the good times don’t last forever.
Cat with blini
This cat is disappointed that Maslenitsa won't last forever. / tasmirno

Cats love sour cream, so naturally Maslenitsa is their favorite time of the year. Unfortunately, that cat won’t get to feast on sour cream forever, because pretty soon the humans won’t be able to eat sour cream, and as human logic goes, why should a cat eat something humans can’t? More metaphorically, there’s nothing like a time of unadulterated joy to remind you of the other times when your joy is, well, adulterated. This saying is particularly fitting, because after the feasting of Maslenitsa comes Lent, when Orthodox Christians must abstain from meat, butter, and other delicious things for forty days.

2. Масленица объедуха, деньгам приберуха.

Translation: Maslenitsa is the gluttonous one; it will take all your money.
Used when: Urging someone to be more careful.

We all love blini, but unfortunately, blini doesn’t literally rain from the sky. As we devour the blini, so does the blini (and everything else) devour our wallets. Next time you find yourself eating your sixth blin in a day, say this saying to yourself in a stern voice. If this doesn’t stop you from buying a seventh, then your bloated stomach will.

Maslenitsa doll
Wrapped in blini. / cafe_blinnaya

3. Хоть с себя все заложить, а Масленицу проводить.

Translation: Even if one has to to sell everything, one must celebrate Maslenitsa.
Used when: Encouraging others to live a little.

Everyone’s been working all year, slaving away at their jobs, going on diets, denying themselves pleasures. This is the week to let it all go. Whether you’re rich or poor, happy or unhappy, do everything in your power to go out and celebrate this week. You deserve it!

Husky with Lady Maslenitsa
The husky knows it's Maslenitsa, too. / lerika_hi37

4. Выпили пиво об Масленице, а похмелье ломало после Радуницы.

Translation: We drank beer during Maslenitsa, but the hangover did not go away until after Radunitsa.
Used when: Commiserating about the effects of over-celebrating.

Radunitsa is an Orthodox holiday observed 9 days after Easter, which is 40 days after Maslenitsa. Need I say more?

Cheese and trout blini pie
Cheese and trout blini pie. /

5. И самый хладнокровный человек любит горячие блины.

Translation: Even the most cold-hearted person loves hot blini.
Used when: Admonishing someone for not being more relaxed or fun-loving.
Hot blini
Extra high-class blini. /

Who doesn’t love blini?! But, more metaphorically, there’s just nothing like enjoying a meal surrounded by friends and family, with plans to go sleighing and maybe catch a fistfight. If the blini don’t warm your heart, then the bonfire definitely will. It’s tradition to burn an effigy representing Winter on the last day of Maslenitsa, though people have gotten creative (last year, some people even burned a structure shaped like a Gothic cathedral). And if you don’t burn anything else, then hopefully during those seven weeks of fasting, you’ll at least burn some calories.

Thanks to Yuliya Ballou for her special assistance!

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  • February 20, 2012


In honor of Maslenitsa, we offer this great story/essay by Chekhov on bliny: "Did you know that bliny have been around for over a thousand years, since what is known as the old Slavonic ab ovo...? They appeared on earth before Russian history began and have lived through it all from the beginning to the last page, without any doubt, invented, like the samovar, by Russian minds...."
Painting Maslenitsa
  • March 03, 2019

Painting Maslenitsa

In which we look at how Russian painters have been inspired by Maslenitsa.
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