Maslenitsa, also known as "Butter Week," "Pancake Week," or "Cheesefare Week," could possibly be one of the most intriguing religious holidays in the world.
A folk holiday that has not been officially celebrated for 85 years, Maslenitsa began again in 2002. Its roots are actually in pagan ritual, celebrating the sun and the end of winter, though the festival is now Christian in nature. It is held the last week before the Orthodox Lent begins every year, and is considered the last time of year that Russian Orthodox Christians can eat things like milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Naturally, this is a time when many people like to feast, especially on pancakes (called "blini/bliny" in Russian). Blini are an essential food for Maslenitsa, and unlike American pancakes, they are usually topped with caviar, mushrooms, jam, sour cream, and butter.
Although the roots of the festival are interesting, some of the activities during the week of Maslenitsa are really uncanny. Take the group fist fighting, for instance. It may sound violent, but this is all done in good fun to commemorate Russian military history, when soldiers supposedly fought each other in hand to hand combat. Not unusual enough for you? In the past, tamers and their bears used to perform and wrestle during the festival. I'm sure you can imagine who usually won.
Other activities include bonfires, sledding, theater, puppetry, singing, and fireworks. So if you have an extra pair of boxing gloves and a week to eat some tasty pancakes, head on over to Moscow.
Do you know of any other holidays which have both pagan and religious roots?