Many nations have traditions related to the festivities of the farewell to winter. In Lithuania it is Užgavėnės, Shrove Tuesday, a community celebration, the purpose of which is to awaken the nature from the winter stagnation. The customs of this calendar festival intertwine with the old Baltic beliefs and magic rituals, which stimulate liveliness, fertility and prosperity, for example, by rolling on the ground, ‘milking’ male goat, ‘buying’ unmarried women, dressing opposite gender, splashing water, etc.The oldest Shrove Tuesday customs remain in the villages and towns of Žemaitija. On the eve of Lent fasting introduced by Christianity, people were inclined to celebrate joyfully by dressing like mythical creatures, animals and foreigners, visiting neighbours, being mischievous, to unrestrictedly have fun and eat pancakes, mashed potato balls and pie, pig intestines stuffed with potato filling, blood or barley grain filling, fat meat, meat jelly, ham, hotchpotch with pig tail, pies and kvass three times on Sunday, six – on Monday and on Tuesday – even nine or twelve.
The older people, who have been taking part in the Užgavėnės processions since their childhood, to this day remember how the festivities were held pre-war. Banned during the Soviet period, Shrove Tuesday was resurrected in 1971 because of the resistance of Kurtuvėnai community and on the initiative of teacher Janina Čepulytė-Lukoševičienė. The celebration became an expression of resistance and inspired other Žemaitija communities to hold the festivities of the farewell to winter.
Kurtuvėnai Shrove Tuesday takes place annually on Tuesdays, seven weeks before Easter. The procession of costumed people is organised by the association ‘Kurtuvėnai Community’ and the folklore ensemble ‘Kurtuovė’ (leader Edita Ramančionienė). Locals put on traditional (male goat, bear, crane, horse and its rider, wedding characters, Jew, gipsy, beggar, devil, witch, Death, person with a huge head, girls on hey, kanapinskis and lašinskis) and modern (seaman, rescuer, clown, priest, robber) masks, walk in groups, tell future, cure, sell and beg. In the evening children join the adults and take part in the procession too. Those, who left their hometown, on Shrove Tuesday come back to visit and take part in the festivities.
Kurtuvėnai residents to this day consider Shrove Tuesday as the biggest celebration of the year uniting the community.
Dressed up participants of the Shrove Tuesday procession
Photograph by Balys Buračas, 1926
Submitted by Bazilionai Chapter of Šiauliai District Municipality Cultural Centre, 2017