Elk Valley Times

Follow Us On:

East-European Spring Festival returns to North Alabama

Posted on Monday, February 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm

MADISON, ALA:  It’s extremely rare that those in the Tennessee Valley region have a taste of Eastern European culture, let alone via an event that also embraces Russia and Central Asia.


But at least one day a year, they can visit Madison County to immerse themselves in an Eastern Orthodox Lenten celebration, sample traditional foods, enjoy authentic regional folksongs and folkdances, and experience firsthand an insider’s view of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and more!


It’s a fun and tasty way to savor the richness and diversity of our collective heritage—brought to you by the International Society of Huntsville (ISH) and the City of Madison—in an expanded form AND a brand new location:


MASLENITSA – AN Eastern European SPRING FESTIVAL will run from 10:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, 1 March in the Rotunda, Member Social Area, Teen Center, and surrounding halls of the Craig and Steven Hogan Family YMCA, 130 Park Square Lane, in Madison.  The 2014 Spotlight Country for the Third Annual Maslenitsa celebration is Ukraine, and Madison Mayor Troy Trulock and other dignitaries will be on hand to welcome the festival to the city and the citizens to the festival!


By definition, MASLENITSA is a family event, and this festival is no exception; moreover, it’s open to the public.  While admission is $5 for the general public, it is FREE for children under twelve and local YMCA Members presenting their badges.


PLEASE NOTE the MASLENITSA meal itself will be $5.00 per plate for all attendees.  There will be four Combination Plate options from which to choose, one of which will be Vegetarian.  Attendees may pay at the door with cash or check.


The key symbol of MASLENITSA, one might even say the mascot, is the buckwheat-based “blini” (think “blintz”).  Blini, with their round, golden warmth, hearken back to the sun and are thus harbingers of spring.  Closer to crêpes than to everyday flapjacks as most Americans know them, blini may be eaten straight, with extra ingredients incorporated in the batter, while plain versions are topped, or filled and rolled, with various “condiments.”  Blini garnishes provided at the Toppings Table will range from honey, sour cream, sugar, and condensed milk to maple syrup, jam, jelly, and homemade cottage cheese.  Food service begins after 10:00 a.m. in the Juice Bar area.


In addition to blini, this year’s bill of fare will be catered by “Café on Wheels—Neon Lilly” and boasts Olivier Salad (a popular Eastern European specialty, similar to Potato Salad), Pelmeni (a.k.a. “Russian Ravioli”), a Vegetarian Borscht (a ruby red Vegetable Soup), and Salata Ez Svejey Kapusta (Green Cabbage Slaw).  Beverages include hot/cold black or green tea, coffee, and water, with sugar and/or jam available for the hot drinks.


This year’s festival will ratchet up the fun by expanding the vendors’ area, bringing in new artists for our exciting roster of performers, and providing several new (still free!) children’s activities.


Pore over the local and imported wares of area craftspeople and merchants in the YMCA hallways…and a “Traveling Bake Sale” of sorts.  Representing our Spotlight Country, area artist Mykola “Nick” Pawluk will demonstrate the painstaking creation of Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter Eggs).  Individually priced baked goods from the ladies of Brookside, Alabama’s Sisters of St. Olga will include the following and more:  Pierniki (Polish, Lebkuchen-like Spice Cookies); Rozky (Slovakian Crescent Cookies); Vatrushki (Russian “Danishes”);  Ciasteczka Cynamonowe (Polish “Cinnamon Stars”); and Kolacky/Kolachie, a flaky “loaf” filled with anything from prunes to poppy seeds.


Other vendors include Piper and Leaf (Teas); Café on Wheels—Neon Lilly (Homemade Sauerkraut, Kielbasa, and Pickles); Sofie Dofie Boutique (Traditional Easter Hand Towels, Children’s Clothing); and more.  All participants will accept cash or checks.


On the Main Stage in the Rotunda, members of Atlanta’s “Balalaika Fantasie” will perform a repertoire of Russian, Ukrainian, Gypsy, Jewish, and other folksongs on authentic folk instruments, including the Bayan (Button Accordion) and Domra (Three-Stringed , Lute-like Instrument).  Also on schedule:  dancing by Olgadanz members, songs and dance by Russian and Ukrainian groups, performances by Romanian keyboardist Val Bratu, and child pianists and violinists playing the music of Eastern European composers.


In the Member Social Area, where Russian cartoons will run continuously, kids and adults can enjoy puppet shows, a “dress-up” photo booth, face painting, Russian language quizzes and games, and several hands-on workshops, including the making of Kokoshnik (“Russian Crowns”), Vinok (Ukrainian Headbands), paper Pysanky, and Mărțișors, red-and-white decorations from Moldova/Romania, made in honor of the 1 March holiday of the same name and which represent friendship, appreciation, and respect.  They can also color Samovars (Eastern European “Teakettles”) and decorate and color paper Matryoshka (Russian Nesting Dolls).


Participants will be able to boost their worldly knowledge by visiting the Teen Center, where they can view video/PowerPoint educational displays on the nations constituting the former USSR:  Eastern Europe (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine); Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania); Southern Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia); Russia; and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).


Further info is available by contacting Olga Osdacii at (256) 585-8354/olgaosadcii@gmail.com or Maria Kimpe at (979) 324-4834.







In 2007, the International Society of Huntsville was formed with the following mission:  “To promote the International Community of North Alabama through cultural, educational, and social programming.”  You can follow ISH on Facebook or visit http://internationalsocietyofhuntsville.org.


It is the goal of the Society to establish a permanent International Festival for the City of Huntsville along the scale of those in Birmingham and Mobile.  North Alabama is the cradle of Alabama’s confluence of foreign-born citizens that contribute to the region’s diversity and its wealth of world views and experiences that in turn give rise to varied ideas, perspectives, knowledge, and skills—social ingredients that make North Alabama prosperous while enhancing the area’s Quality of Life.




Though associated with Lent, MASLENITSA is not a solemn occasion; rather, it is a merry celebration, one of Eastern Europe’s oldest surviving holidays, embraced by the Orthodox Church sometime in the 16th Century, years after its inception.  Says the magazine Russian Survey:


“According to the pagan beliefs, this is the time when Jarilo, the Sun god, melts the snow awaking Mother Nature with the powers of spring.”


Also known as Cheesefare Week, Butter Week, or Pancake Week, MASLENITSA takes place during the seven days prior to Great Lent; its name is rooted in the Russian word for butter or oil, “Maslo.”  Though it will remind one of Carnival, Fasching, or Mardi Gras, MASLENITSA is associated with Eastern Orthodox, rather than Roman, Catholicism.  Orthodox Lent begins on a Monday, instead of Wednesday, and this year, MASLENITSA runs from February 24 till March 2, leading to the timing of the Saturday festival.