This past weekend the study abroad cohort took a trip into the beautiful Old Town of Klaipėda to participate in Užgavėnės, the Lithuanian festival to scare away winter and precede Lent–very similar to Mardi Gras. Stemming from pagan roots, the festival is now carried out as a fun cultural tradition in the main square of downtown Klaipėda (and throughout many other major cities in the country). We had a great time investing an afternoon in true Lithuanian culture!
We got to eat lots of classic Lithuanian food (pancakes, pancakes, potatoes in various forms, and more pancakes!) and experience the locals playing traditional games. The food was delicious! For the Lithuanians, this festival is a day to feast on pancakes and other fattening foods before Lent begins and they fast from those kinds of things. But, the main event is the burning of the Morė, who represents winter!
This tradition symbolizes the end of winter and birth of spring. Dancers in masks surround her and perform a traditional dance before setting the large, wooden woman on fire in the center of the square. All throughout the day, people can be seen wearing masks, some fun and others dark and scary, and banging on makeshift drums in an attempt to scare the winter season away for good. The twin pinnacles of this holiday are the burning of Morė and the fight between Lašininis and Kanapinis. Lašininis, who represents meat-eaters, is always defeated by the vegetarian Kanapinis, marking the beginning of Lent. It’s really cool to be in Lithuania during the time events like this take place because it gives us a better glimpse at the country and their culture!
We felt like locals for the day and realized that this is what our semester in Lithuania is all about–partaking in the country and traditions they value rather than trying to Americanize every aspect of our four months here–and we look forward to more experiences like this one as our adventure continues!