Maybe it’s premature to say goodbye to winter when snow and ice still cover the ground. Perhaps a party to welcome in spring seems like wishful thinking when the air still gnaws at your bones and a stroll outside requires all manner of fleece and fur for protection. But consider the circumstances: By mid-March, Russians have endured nearly five months of blistering winds, rampant snowfall, and brutally short days. And for the 150 million or so Orthodox Christians about to plunge headfirst into the meat-less, booze-less, joyless weeks of Lent, there’s an acute need to blow off some steam.
Maslenitsa is a holiday for Russians of all stripes, an open-air festival where an anxious population emerges from hibernation to eat, drink and prepare itself for bigger things to come. For nonbelievers, it’s a chance to shake off the winter doldrums and usher in the springtime (even if, like this year, winter shows no signs of going quietly); for Orthodox devotees, Maslenitsa is a time to steel themselves for the somber days of Lent that lie in wait.
We sent photographer Lily Idov right into the chattering teeth of Moscow’s Maslenitsa celebrations last week, where she found many of the pagan remnants that are staples of the weeklong festivities: pillow fights and snowball brawls, elaborate costumes and horn-blowing wolfmen, a giant bag of Russian winter words (“snow”, “flu”, “despair”) ready to be set aflame.