The Epic Russian Tradition of Building and Storming Giant Snow Forts

During the week before Lent, Maslenitsa, Russians celebrate the coming of spring with a symbolic battle between good and evil. 

During the week before Lent, known as Maslenitsa or "pancake week," Russians celebrate the coming of spring with a host of folk traditions, based in Christian and pagan beliefs. A "Lady Maslenitsa" is burned in effigy, but that event pales in comparison to the symbolic battle waged over a snow fort, representing the forces of good vanquishing the forces of evil and welcoming spring. This documentary by Sasha Aleksandrov captures the tradition in all its glory.

Yael Levine, a researcher at Eurasia Group, has translated the voiceover narration for us:

Every year we build a snow fortress in the woods. We pick the place in advance; that's set by spring. In the summer we mow the grass off the field and clear away the wind-fallen trees, and then: snow, we wait for it, just wait for the snow. So you see the whole year we prepare for the holiday, and then as the apotheosis: it finally arrives, the day of Maslenitsa. The celebration follows a most traditional scenario: evil forces who oppose the coming of spring hide in the fortress on the day of Maslenitsa, and the good forces must conquer the fortress and burn the Maslenitsa effigy, and after that spring can begin!

This is already the 23rd surrender of the fortress ... and god willing, it won't be the last.

For more videos by Sasha Aleksandrov, visit his Vimeo channel