Nothing says party like pancakes and butter!

At least, not if you happen to be in Russia during the midst of celebrating Maslenitsa. The holiday is observed in other Slavic Orthodox European countries, but nowhere more elaborately than in Russia.

This Slavic folk holiday that takes place the week before the start of Russian Orthodox Lent. Though now tied to the Christian calendar, Maslenitsa has roots in ancient Slavic sun worshipers — it originally marked the end of winter and advent of spring. And, like Mardi Gras, it involves a whole lot of feasting before the Lenten fast — with blinis, a Russian pancake, as the food of choice.

Topped with sour cream, caviar, berries or jam, blinis are everywhere, anyway you like 'em. Why blinis? Their round shape and warmth were meant to symbolize the sun. And they're usually drenched in butter (the festival, whose name derives from "maslo," the Russian word for butter, is also known as "Butter Week").

Pancakes are king during Maslenitsa, but there's more to the festival than just food. Sleigh rides, snowball fights, family gatherings and general merrymaking are all part of the tradition, with prescribed activities.
How about Dancing bears? Yep, in some places. Bears are considered a symbol of Russia. And performing bears are an old tradition among Russian Gypsies, also known as Roma. But the bears are not obligatory. Eating and drinking, blini and sour cream and caviar,that is the main thing.

Welcome to Russian Mardi Gras - Maslenitsa!