Let’s Scare the Winter away – Carnival Season in Eastern Europe
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.
Here are the 6 Eastern European Carnivals You should Not Miss
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
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
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
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 - LithuaniaApproximately 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
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.