IPA Lithuania celebrate a traditional Winter Festival

01 Apr 2018


February is the month of Carnivals around the World, celebrated in many different varieties. One of the most jubilant Lithuanian holiday celebrations is Užgavėnės. Seven weeks before Easter and the day before Ash Wednesday, Užgavėnės marks the end of winter and the beginning of Lent. Lithuania’s unique version of Mardi Gras, it is a day filled with food, dance and merriment. Every year, IPA Lithuania gathers to celebrate this festival in the area of Ignalina, in the small village Meironys. A large team of colleagues, guests, relatives and like-minded people, police officers with families, foresters, firefighters, border guards, Lithuanian Police Veterans, IPA members of the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian Sections, police department teams and all residents of the village celebrate together.

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This holiday is known for its pancakes served with an abundance of toppings. The pancakes are similar to breakfast pancakes made with flour and buttermilk, but are heavier and crispier since they are fried in hot oil or lard. Toppings include sour cream, fruit sauces and syrups and caviar among others. Lithuanians feast on pancakes throughout the day as a last hurrah before the long Lenten fast.

Užgavėnės is the celebration of the end of the winter. The whole celebration represents the battle between winter and spring. The fight takes place between Lašininis whose name translates as ‘porker’, and Kanapinis whose name translates as ‘hemp man’ or ‘hemper’. Whereas Kanapinis is lean, hard-working and flexible and personifying spring, Lašininis is the opposite: fatty, lazy and representing winter. When they are fighting with each other, Kanapinis always has to win, because winter has to go!

Užgavėnės participants dance and frolic in a variety of costumes; mostly either lighthearted and cheerful or dark and frightening. Some celebrate by marching inparades while others dance at village parties. Merrymaking continues late into the night until the first rooster crows for the dawn of Lent.

During the celebration people wear scary masks to encourage winter to go away. The most popular joyful and frightening masks or characters are devils, witches, horses, goats and cranes.

The final part of the festival is the female effigy of winter. Known as Morė she is made of straw and typically decorated with garish rouged lips and cheeks. She is paraded through town and then burned at the stake to symbolize the death of winter and the birth of spring. It is hoped that all the troubles and hardships of the recent year burn with the dummy. During the burning everybody sings traditional songs around the fireplace and celebrates that winter is finally over.

During this year’s celebration, we did not forget the public, solemn, historical day of 16 February, a national holiday, commemorating 100 Years of Restored Lithuania. On this occasion, we brought together more than 100 masked people to give 100 kisses to our homeland.

Laura Zaleskiene, IPA Lithuania board member