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Užgavėnės: Lithuanian Mardi Gras

Užgavėnės: Lithuanian Mardi Gras

Last February, around 300 people joined Wisbech Lietuvių Bendruomenė at The Spinney in Wisbech to take part in Užgavėnės festivities. Here, in a joint farewell to winter, we share images of the event alongside objects from the Museum collection.

We extend our thanks to Wisbech Lietuvių Bendruomenė for working with us on this exhibition.

The Lithuanian equivalent of Mardi Gras, better known as Shrove Tuesday in the UK, Užgavėnės is a pre-Lenten festival marking the end of winter and celebrating the arrival of spring.

Celebrations often take place the weekend before the official date, with large public events held in squares and parks. Those taking part dance and parade wearing elaborate masks and carnival costumes. Popular choices include goats, cranes, and witches. The characters are intended to be frightening and loud in order to scare away the winter. It has become customary for children to put on scary masks and special carnival costumes and go from door to door asking for sweets, much like Halloween.

During the festival, a theatrical battle is staged between Lašininis and Kanapinis, personifications of winter and spring. Kanapinis always wins, just as spring always triumphs over winter.

A highlight of the festival is the casting out of the darkness and hardships of the season through the symbolic burning of a giant female effigy of winter, known as Morė.

Like Shrove Tuesday, it is traditional to eat pancakes at this festival. Their round shape is considered a symbol of the Sun and of the better times ahead, and eating lots of them is thought to help you stay healthy and strong in the coming year.

Pancakes are an ancient form of food, with evidence of the consumption of flat cakes made from batter dating back to the later part of the Stone Age. The ancient Greeks and Romans traditionally ate pancakes sweetened with honey, whilst the Elizabethans are known to have flavoured them with spices, rosewater, sherry, and apples.

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Užgavėnės: Lithuanian Mardi Gras

Lašininis character

The rotund Lašininis is a male personification of winter.

© Wisbech Lietuvių Bendruomenė, 2020

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