There is one day in a year when Lithuanians eat as many pancakes as they can and are dressed up like funny devils or witches. Also, they play fun games and sing loudly silly songs. And the craziest part at the end - they set on fire a giant doll called Morė and dance around the fire. When there is no rational explanation everything sounds like a real craziness, right? Keep reading to learn more about a crazy Lithuanian festival - Užgavėnės, the time when spring defeats winter.
After a long and dark winter, at the end of February, Lithuanians start to be very tired of winter. And then, according to our ancestors, the easiest way to get rid of it is to celebrate the upcoming spring. That is the main idea behind this festival - to scare the winters so that the spring would come earlier.
The Užgavėnės takes place during the seventh week before Easter (Ash Wednesday). Nowadays, it lasts only one day, but some decades ago, it was celebrated for a whole week. One of the biggest festival’s symbols are the pancakes that symbolize the spring sun, the thing Lithuanians missed too much. So during the Užgavėnės day, it is said that the more pancakes you eat, the healthier and richer you will become. The next symbols of this day are the masks - wooden or paper ones, the most important thing is to look like a devil or a witch (or a goat) for the purpose to scare the winter. The masquerade follows the loud dances and games. And the most important thing of this day is the stage battle between the personalized spring called Kanapinis (“hempen man”) and personalized winter called Lašininis (“porky man”). I will reveal you one important secret - the spring always wins. At the end of the day, the effigy of winter called Morė is set up on fire to confirm one more time that the spring won and that the winter must leave our land.
As you can already understand, this celebration came from paganism, as most of the celebrations in Lithuania. Although the Užgavėnės is celebrated in all parts of Lithuania, the biggest celebration and the main country’s festival takes place in an Open-Air Museum (Lithuanian Folk Museum) in Rumšiškės. The Open-Air Museum of Lithuania is one of the largest ethnographic open-air museums in Europe, that stretches across the area of 195 ha. The museum is established near the Kaunas city and represents the ethnographic regions of Lithuania: Dzūkija (Dainava), Aukštaitija (Highlands), Suvalkija (Sudovia), Žemaitija (Samogitia) and Lithuania Minor, as they looked at the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 20th century. So, if you would like to celebrate the Užgavės, this is the best place in Lithuania to do so.
I hope that now you know why Lithuanians eat a lot of pancakes during the Užgavėnės festival and watch the spring’s and winter’s battle. The festival by itself is very traditional, funny and positive, full of traditional games and manners. Thus, if you would like to experience it as the Lithuanians do, it is the perfect chance to try.
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