Holidays to Flip For, From East and West

I have just discovered more proof that my old mother Russia is an exact antipode of the West -- not that we walk upside down, but almost.

Vita has had a week of standing on her head in excitement at the prospect of her first series of Halloween parties -- held around Moscow by the enthusiastic expatriate community. She brought home bags of goodies -- pumpkin mugs, witch-shaped chocolates, and plastic flies and worms to scare me and little Ben. She also acquired a wicked fairy party dress.

Excitement nonstop, which made me jealous because I couldn't find similar wild fun among Russian holidays at this time of year.

I vaguely recall that, back in the times when Russian was an agrarian society, there used to be a week of village fetes around mid-October. Officially it is the Orthodox Church holiday called Pokrov of the Virgin -- Deposition of the Robe -- but in fact a transformed pagan festival of the harvest and first snow. It is all but gone now. Harvesting crops has no influence on the flow of city life, and there are not many people living in proper villages nowadays anyway.

So, in search of a Russian equivalent of Halloween I went through the whole calendar of holidays, not the official flag-waving or purely religious ones, but those which entail real fun for kids and their parents. That's how I made the discovery.

Of course, there is Christmas and New Year's Eve. But with trees, presents, family get-togethers and meals it is not much different from the West. So, I kept looking.

The same with Easter: we don't have bunnies, but colored eggs make it a fairly similar affair. So, I continued the search.

Midsummer fetes have to be crossed out as well for the same reason.

What I had left was the late-February holiday of Maslenitsa, or Shrovetide. In England, Miranda tells me, it is just a day of father haltingly trying to do the pancake-toss-and-turn trick. But here it is a full-scale week-long time for revelry. With a whole ritual of hundreds of pan-cakes -- blinis -- to be made and consumed with caviar, or salmon, or smetana, or, certainly, with honey, and non-stop party-going. With each day devoted to either friends, or in-laws, or parents, or sleigh rides and snowball fights, it is enormous fun, both for kids and grown-ups.

Historically, Maslenitsa is the sun festival. Round shaped pancakes are a feast to welcome the sun and the end of the long, long winter. So, I thought proudly, while you Westerners celebrate the end of warm days with gusto, we stretch ourselves toward the coming warmth.

I am now looking forward to Maslenitsa, to let Vita stand on her head the Russian way, just as she has enjoyed doing it the Western way.