A Russian Winter Festival
This weekend, I loaded the kids up and spent about 15 hours roundtrip in the SUV, heading to Hillwood Museum in Washington, DC. Actually, it’s practically around the block from us, but granted, our weekend dacha is far away from their dacha, and hence, the trek.
We had never visited “The Russian Winter Festival”, now in its 12th year, and featuring music, theatre, crafts, and roving Russian characters on the grounds of the Marjorie Merriweather Post mansion. Like the museum itself, this is a paid event, whether with reserved tickets, or purchased at the door. With three teens and one preteen, we felt it important enough to make the effort.
We’re glad we did.
The Hillwood Museum sports plenty of important Russian art to make a visit anytime worthwhile—Faberge’ eggs, lacquerware boxes, icons, fine paintings, and even finer furnishings—simply take the breath away. While there is no Russian audio tour available, a booklet in your choice of Russian, English, and a couple of other languages may serve as your guide. The main entryway and grand staircase with floor to ceiling hanging Russian rulers’ portraits sets the stage for the magnificence to come. After our visit to the perennial favorite of our family, Konstantin Makovsky’s “Boyar’s Wedding Feast” of 1883, and the outrageously fanciful current exhibition ending later this month, “Pret-a`-Papier” featuring Isabelle de Borchgrave’s spectacular historic costumes and dresses constructed from “crumpling, pleating, braiding and painting the surface of ordinary paper”, we were ready to immerse ourselves in the festival.
First on our lineup was a 30-minute concert with the Samovar Russian Folk Music Ensemble, about 6-8 musicians playing everything from the onion-shaped domra, to a guitar, to an accordion, to a balalaika—one of those huuuge base balalaikas shaped like a triangle! The men donned Russian rubashka tunics with braided trim at the collar and cuffs, the women wore similarly embellished Russian dresses with the decorated kokoshnik headdress on the lead singer. They heralded us with Russian love songs, as well as holiday offerings, even bringing out a few tambourines and wooden percussion instruments for the youngsters in the crowd to try. The group’s musical skills are apparent, as is their ability to interact with their audience.
The musicians were able to speak with our teens in Russian and that added a nice touch. There’s something about live music that warms the soul, and our kids could not stop smiling, along with the rest of the crowd regaled by Samovar’s concerts throughout the day.
On to the “Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden: A Play for Families”, produced by Adventure Theater and Hillwood. The lighthearted, two-actor play held the youngest children’s attention due to many quick costume changes and playful arm wrestling between America’s Santa Claus and Russia’s Grandfather Frost (Dyed Moroz). Never mind that many of the Russian words interspersed throughout the play were mangled by the American actors, we got the idea. My youngest laughed and giggled at the play, so that’s what matters, they reached their target audience and the acting was good.
Heading outside to the mansion gardens, two roving Russian fortunetellers greeted us, asking if perhaps we needed to know something about future events or possible love interests-? Having a fairly good idea of our own futures, we left them to elderly patrons who only seemed too keen on getting their opinions, lol. The couple’s costumes were among the best of the day, plus their animated personalities added a lot to the atmosphere.
Keeping to our schedule, we hastened to the museum’s dacha (country house-cottage) through the garden pathways. Awaiting us were craft materials and ample supplies to assist in creating a Russian man’s winter hat for the guys, and a lady’s Russian headdress (kokosh’nik) for the girls. We glimpsed fake fur remnants, beading, visor forms, wrapping paper to cover the visors, doilies to add a lacelike effect, ribbon, and press-on “jewels”. Stick glue and a bank of glue guns stood at the ready.
Considering that we had all of about 20 minutes to spend on this activity, rather than the couple of hours that those of our skill level probably required, the kids enjoyed the flavor of the experience, plus some pretty fun results. The volunteer staff was well-organized, helpful, and there to direct crafters young or old.
Throughout the day, I chatted with other families that were similarly international, upscale, and full of witty reparte’. My people. I wish we had more time to stroll and savor, but even “Russian culture lite” was better than none at all.
Pazdrahvlah’yoo (Bravo), Hillwood, for continuing Mrs. Post’s Russophile legacy.
—————Tags: balalaika and domra, dc urban mom, family holiday activities in DC, how to make a kokoshnik, Russian adoptive cultural activities, Russian cultural events, Russian Winter Festival at Hillwood Museum, Samovar Russian Folk Music Ensemble