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Put Your Best Mask On – It’s Carnival Season

Let’s Scare the Winter away – Carnival Season in Eastern Europe

Prague Masopust Carnival SeasonCarnivals are great fun. They go by different names, in Lithuania it is Užgavėnės in Estonia Vestlapaev, while in Poland some just call it Paczki Day (Donuts Day) but it is in essence the same thing they commemorate. In pagan times people used to think winter was caused by evil, so during carnival times they put on scary masks to drive it away.

In numerous cultures carnival tradition includes some kind of winter/evil banishment mostly by burning and effigy made of straw. If you analyze it a bit, you will come to realize that carnivals also consist of eating and drinking a lot. Nowadays it is probably tradition in most cases, and a fuel to have loads of fun, but for Christians traditionally this was the time before the big lent and on Fat Tuesday, when the carnivals finished the indulging did too.


In Croatia Carnival seasons starts right after Three Kings and as my mother once told me, men running around the village in scary masks used to be the way to shorten those long winter nights without the TV. It was also the time to tell your neighbors what you thought of them, tell the girl you liked her (so much easier in disguise) or just have a drink on the house… because MAŠKARE were not to be turned away.
That said, there are numerous carnivals in Easter Europe, some even lasting for up to a week. There is no need to go to Venice to have masked fun, why not visit Prague for the similar effect, but cheaper coffee and much better beer? Why not check out the ancient custom of Busójárás in Mohács, Hungary? Or…

 

Here are the 6 Eastern European Carnivals You should Not Miss

 

Maslenitsa - Russia

Maslenitsa - Russia


Where: Russia, main event takes place in Moscow, Vasilyevski Spusk (Behind St. Basil Cathedral)

When: One week before Great Lent. In 2013 it falls on March 11-March 17

What: Eating blini (crepes) till you drop and hitting the streets for festivals. After a short break of about 85 years, Maslenitsa is back since 2002, not only as a local excuse to have fun but as a tourist attractions too. This one week long party including fist fights, performing bears, troika rides, sledding and burning of Lady Maslenitsa made out of straw to say ta-ta to winter and welcome to spring has been said to be the most cheerful of the Russian festivals.
Photo by: Tjukka2

Kukeri  (Surva) festival - Bulgaria

Kukeri (Surva) festival - Bulgaria


Where: Bulgaria, Pernik

When: last weekend of January or first weekend of February

What: In the region of Pernik scary masked people hit the streets on 13th and 14th of January - Saint Basil’s Day (Surva or Vassilovden). Masked men - kukeri - wearing two sided masks and colorful costumes play games in honor of god Dionysus. Similarly to the Hungarian Busójárás they go around the village making lots of noise with big bells hanging around their waist. The festival  itself is a 3 day long event featuring a mask contest  for about 100 groups of kukeri from every folklore region of Bulgaria, as well as masquerade companies from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Official organizers brag about this being the biggest event of this type on the Balkans.
Photo by: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Bohemian Carnevale - Czech Republic

Bohemian Carnevale - Czech Republic


Where: several locations in the centre of Prague, Czech Republic

When: at the end of Masopust (Shrovetide season), in 2013 from 1st to 12th February

What: Bohemian Carnevale can to some extent be compared to the carnival in Venice. It aims to revive the medieval carnivals as well as allegoric festivals traditional to Czech people. With the rich program they have there is bound to be something for everyone.
Photo by pragensismac

Croatian Carnivals

Croatian Carnivals


Croatia Carnival happens all over the place with the biggest and the oldest one happening in Rijeka having a motto: "Be who you want to be. Come to the Rijeka Carnival!!!" According to some measurements Rijeka Carnival is the 3rd largest carnival in the world. It is also a part of Croatian heritage and is included in the "top 500 European events".
Samobor Carnival is the one close to my heart. The city of Samobor becomes Carnival Republic during the Carnival celebrations, not just people, but restaurants and streets get masks. Apart form beers, mulled wine and rakija (schnaps) which are a necessary minimum in February weather, one definitely has to indulge in Samobor donuts (krafne) and custard slices (kremšnite).

Užgavėnės - Lithuania

Užgavėnės - Lithuania

Approximately the same as for other Shrovetide celebrations in the region Užgavėnės is a masked party during which in between eating pancakes and drinking an effigy called More is burned to banish winter
In addition to carnival celebrations held in different venues in the capital Vilnius, there is a big celebration in Rumšiškė Open Air Museum of Lithuania (one of the largest of this sort in Europe).
 Photo by Evaldas

Vevčani Carnival - Macedonia

Vevčani Carnival - Macedonia


Unlike most of the other Carnivals in the region, that are held in February, Vevčani Carnival is held on 13 and 14 January on New Year eve according to Julian calendar and it is more than 1400 years old. D uring these two days the whole village becomes a theatre and actors in masks improvise on the streets of Vevčani.

Read more here.

 

I am checking out the Samobor (Croatia) one on Sunday, so stay tuned!
How about you? What were you up to this Carnival season? Let me know in your comments below!

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About Petra Tkalcec

Petra Tkalcec
Petra is a Co-founder and Executive Editor of EastOK Europe. She is a Croatian living in Budapest with her Serbian husband, two sons and an English bulldog.

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