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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Last Chance to Butter Up Your Relatives

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?????????: Butter Week, Pancake Week (the festival week before Lent)

Unless you are barricaded in your office from dawn to midnight, doing five days work in the three business days after Women's Day, you must have noticed the holiday spirit bursting through the mountains of snow and ice. This is ????????? (which you sometimes still see in the old spelling ?????????), a once pagan celebration of the end the winter. The name comes from ?????, an all-purpose word that can mean any kind of oil or fat. Here it refers to butter, which people eat by the kilo since it cannot be eaten for the entire 40 days of the very strict Russian Lent (called ??????? ???? -- the Great Fast).

Each day of the week had a special name and tradition associated with it. Monday was called ??????? (greeting day), the first day that opened the celebration. Tuesday was ???????? -- the start of merriment (from ????????, to begin to play). Wednesday was ????????? ("delicacies" -- something like "yummy day" or "sweet-tooth day"), Thursday was ??????? (lavish), the day when no one worked and everyone pulled out all the stops. Friday was called ?????? ??????? -- "mother-in-law parties." On Saturday the tables were turned, as it were, and called ????????? ????????? -- "daughter-in-law parties." ????????? is from the verb ???????? (to sit for awhile) and means any kind of get-together when you sit around a table for hours of good food and talk. Sunday was called ??????? (seeing off) or ???????? (saying farewell), but more commonly was known as ????????? ??????????? (Forgiveness Sunday). On this day people asked forgiveness from their friends and relatives for anything hurtful they might have done or said. They said, ?????? ????, ?????????? (Please forgive me) and heard in reply, ? ???? ??????, ?? ??????? ???? ???????/??? (I forgive you and God forgives you).

The idea is to have a last blast before the liturgically and physically trying period of Lent. The food part of this blast involves mountains of ????? (pancakes or crepes) served with everything from jam to caviar, usually with as much ??????? (sour cream) and butter as you can eat. In the old days the entertainment part of the last blast involved ??????? ?? ????? ? ??????? ??? (sleigh rides down ice hills), ??????? (fairs), ????????? (traveling minstrels), ???????? (skits and buffoonery), and lots of ????????, four-line racy folk rhymes that are sung and that often require parents to cover their children's ears. And ???????? ???: highly ritualized fistfights, either one-on-one or between huge lines of men, which were designed to show off the strength and prowess of the combatants to the maidens. However, a beau with a shiner seems hardly alluring.

Then again, it gives the guys something to apologize for on Sunday.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator.