Every spring there is such an interesting festival in Russia as Maslenitsa. This cold but sunny week is considered to be the beginning of long-awaited spring, thus every Russian heart gets warmer with the word ‘Maslenitsa’. Why don’t we use these fascinating and warm traditions for our students to improve their English? Here are some exercises that can be used for a lesson about Maslenitsa for Upper-Intermediate or Advanced students.

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Warm up

To start with, suggest your students some pictures of:

  • a pancake with butter,
  • a traditional Russian musical instrument harmonica,
  • a maiden and a young man dressed up in traditional Russian clothing,
  • “samovar”, an old traditional Russian piece of kitchen equipment used to boil water for tea.

And ask them to answer the questions:

1) What do you think these objects have in common?
2) What Russian festival is associated with these objects?

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Lead in

Let’s see what you know about Maslenitsa.


Maslenitsa is celebrated on …

  1. the 21–27 February every year
  2. the eighth week before Easter
  3. the 1st of March

This is a festival for …

  1. young unmarried people
  2. hostesses and bakers who cook and sell a lot of pancakes
  3. all the people

The main idea of Maslenitsa nowadays is …

  1. to burn a straw figure to make soil more fertile
  2. to strengthen family bonds and relations with friends
  3. to sell a lot of pancakes
Answers: 2, 3, 2

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Reading for gist

Look through the text and answer the question.

How has the main purpose of Maslenitsa changed in Russia with the advent of Christianity?

More lesson plans:

Reading 2

Fill in the gaps in the text with the extracts below.

Maslenitsa is a fascinating but at the same time provocative Russian festival. It is considered to be an ancient pagan event, which still has some particular features of old Slavic culture with burning a straw figure of Maslenitsa as the main one.

The idea of the festival held by old Slavic tribes was to call for spring 1) _____ . The figure of Maslenitsa in Slavic traditions was understood as the personification of evil causing frosts, blizzards, famine and death. People sincerely believed the action of burning the straw figure would frighten the evil Winter, make it run away.

Apart from the frightening, severe winter, people tried to call spring to come. 2) _____ , spring was expected to replace her gloomy predecessor. That is why the week of Maslenitsa included such hilarious games as “Capture of the Snow Town”, funny fights, sledding, dancing and others.

Welcoming the arrival of the long-awaited spring, our ancestors associated it 3) _____ there were a lot of “bride shows” and meetings arranged for youngsters. Maidens and young men dressed up in the brightest clothing 4) _____ .

One more symbol of spring arrival was an awakened bear, this is the reason for having bear-shaped biscuits and bear shows at the fair during the week. Christianity replaced Slavic paganism in Ancient Russia, but Maslenitsa surprisingly didn’t disappear. Being, in essence, very kind, the festival obtained new content and a unique aim. The centre of the holiday is no more riotous and wild fun 5) _____ and even grave injuries, but it is love and family relations. Now the tradition of baking pancakes is closely associated with treating each other.

On Monday the first pancake is made and given to a pauper, as charity is one of the key virtues in Christianity. Then on Tuesday, which is called “Zaigrysh” (Play time), costumed youngsters visit their neighbours or friends to congratulate, sing and dance, and even unknown guests are treated like close relatives with pancakes and the best dishes hostesses have. Wednesday, “Lakomka” (Gourmet), is the time when mothers invite their sons-in-law for tea with pancakes. Thursdays start three days of “Wide Maslenitsa” which are usually spent in festivities including singing and dancing, sliding down and getting acquainted with everyone, and nobody gets angry or takes offence even if they have been accidentally bothered or pushed. The family days continue on Friday when it’s time for mothers to come to their sons-in-law, and Saturday — time for sisters-in-law to share presents and eat pancakes together. The last pancake is traditionally left to commemorate the relatives 6) _____ . The week ends with Shrove Sunday, the day when everybody asks for forgiveness from all their relatives and friends.

In such a tradition nowadays Maslenitsa is still a festival of love and care. This is the time when everyone can see the real Russian culture of people who are very hospitable, ready to welcome and treat everybody and also are very devoted to their families and friends.

A. with the birth of a new life, thus

B. and make the grown hateful winter leave the sooner the better

C. and spent a lot of time playing, dancing, singing and having fun together

D. Associated with joy, sun and life itself

E. that often led to drunken brawls

F. who passed away

Answers: 1B, 2D, 3A, 4C, 5E, 6F

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Vocabulary practice

Find in the text words or phrases that mean:

  1. belonging or relating to a religion that worships many gods, especially one that existed before the main world religions (adj.) — __________;
  2. groups of people who lived together in Eastern Europe (adj. + noun) — ________ _________;
  3. the description of an object or an idea as if it had human characteristics (noun) — _____________;
  4. someone who had a job or a position before someone else, or something that comes before another thing in time or in a series (noun) — _____________;
  5. filled with or causing strong dislike after a long time of being together with something (participle + adj.) — _______ ________;
  6. relating to the most important characteristics or ideas of something (prep. + noun) — ____ __________;
  7. very loud and uncontrolled, and full of energy (adj.) — _________;
  8. a noisy, rough, uncontrolled fight (noun) — _________;
  9. a good moral quality in a person, or the general quality of being morally good (noun) ________;
  10. the day before the Christian period of Lent begins, when it is necessary to ask for forgiveness from everyone (adj. + noun) — ________ ________.
Answers: 1) pagan, 2) Slavic tribes, 3) personification, 4) predecessor, 5) grown hateful, 6) in essence, 7) riotous, 8) brawl, 9) virtue, 10) Shrove Sunday.

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Answer the questions

  1. Why did ancient Slavic tribes make a straw figure of Maslenitsa? What did it represent?
  2. Why did people play “Capture of Snow Town” and other games?
  3. What did young people traditionally do on Maslenitsa days in ancient times?
  4. What has changed in the festival with the advent of Christianity in Russia?
  5. What are the traditional actions on different days of the Maslenitsa week?
  6. What are the roles of the first and the last pancakes?
  7. Who is traditionally treated with pancakes these days?
  8. Do you think Maslenitsa is a necessary holiday for Russian culture or it must be eliminated as an archaic and useless one?
  9. Do you follow any traditions of celebrating Maslenitsa? If yes, what are they?
  10. Which of the Maslenitsa traditions do you think you would like to follow in your family or with your friends?
  11. Which of the Maslenitsa traditions do you think must be eliminated or limited, if any?
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Interesting facts

By the way, Maslenitsa is not the only festival held in association with spring arrival. A lot of countries have such big or small celebrations at the same time. The most widespread version explains the word ‘carnival’ as originally Latin ‘carne vale’ — ‘farewell, meat’, so there are a lot of carnivals in Christian countries to prepare for Lent and Easter.

Guess the country according to the tradition:

  1. Pancake race. Only women can take part in this event, they are to carry pans with pancakes while running.
  2. Dancing contest. Different dancing schools have a great contest between them.
  3. Parade of costumed people and musicians at night.
Answers: 1) Britain, 2) Brazil, 3) Switzerland

We hope these activities will allow you to organise a warm and efficient discussion in your class, enlarge your students’ vocabulary and learn about our native Russian traditions. 

Happy Maslenitsa!

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Комментарии (1)
  • Фото аватара
    Светлана Юрьевна

    Спасибо за интересные идеи. Урок провела со старшеклассниками и взрослыми. Советую добавить видео с заданиями.


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