Suzanne Massie, a well-known author on Russian history and culture, writes the following about Maslenitsa in her book Land of the Firebird:
Two months of every year were spent preparing for and celebrating [Easter] and the coming of spring. The celebration began in the snow, with a pagan and earthy carnival celebrating life, and was followed by a long fast; it culminated in the beginning of spring and the new explosion of re-creation and happiness which are at the core of the Christian belief.
First there were the eight days of stuffing, feasting and carnival called Maslenitsa, or 'Butter Week.' During every day before the long weeks of Lent when all butter was prohibited, Russians consumed huge quantities of blini, little pancakes smothered in butter, at every meal. All restaurants and taverns served blini, always cooked a few at a time and brought piping hot to the table...
In the villages a straw Prince Carnival was seated before a bountiful table on a sled and drawn through the streets. 'Stay, stay!' cried the crowds. 'Stay with us forever!' But, at the end of his ride, he was enthroned on a bonfire and ceremoniously burned.
The burning of Prince Carnival is one of the last events of the eight-day celebration. Only a few hours usually remain until the village church bells chime six p.m., and all the festivities immediately stop and the villagers return to their homes to prepare for the Great Fast before Easter. This celebration of Maslenitsa and the following Great Fast is an intriguing but not uncommon juxtaposition of pagan and Christian beliefs in Russian culture and folklore.
Scenes from Maslenitsa are a popular theme in lacquer art, both for artists and collectors. The lively celebration can be brought to wonderful life in the realm of Russian lacquer miniature, with bright and captivating compositions.