SHROVETIDE

SHROVETIDE, last three day before the Lenten fast which begins on Ash Wensday. The Lithuanian name for Shrovedite, Uzgavenes, lays stress on the third day, Shrove Tuesday. The verb uzgaveti means "to eat well and heartily before beginning the fast."
Earlier the Lenten fast was struck, or as people used to say, "dry', i.e., without meat or dairy products. One was also supposed to abstain from all merrymaking. Before that long seven-week fast, the last day for merrymaking and excessive indulgence in food and drink was Shrove Tuesday. On that day one would eat richly, often and to satiety. The oldest traditional dish, especially favoured in Western Lithuania, was siupinys, a stew of peas, grout and meat. The more recent and fashionable blynai (pancakes) are not Lithuanian in origin. In the Shrovetide customs, there are elements which are kindred to different nations. They reach back to pre-Christian times when, to celebrate the coming of spring and the rebirth of vegetation, fertility rites were solemnised. Under the influence of Christianity, the pagan festivals of spring coalesced with merry-making of Shrovetide, and some have remained to this day in the shape of carnivals and masquerades. Up to the end of the 19th century in Lithuania Shrovetide superstitions and charms were still widely known.

Shrovetide earlier was considered a semi-holiday. Some kind of work were continued, others were avoided in the belief that kauke1.jpg (73491 bytes)success or misfortune depended on the choose. For example, one could not weave because the mice would gnaw through the cloth or the worms would "weave up" the cabbages in the garden. On could not make use of grindstones because during the summer a storm could come up and tear off the roof of the house. On the other hand, it was necessary to ride allot so that the flax would grow well. The custom was to ride with the best horses. Two-year-old fillies were hitched up to the wagon or sleigh for the first time. Naturally they would balk and shy the upset the sleigh, and that was as it should be because after a roll in the snow the year would be a much better one. Such rides then developed into sleigh on the frozen lakes with fine horses. The races were particularly well-known in northern Lithuania on Lake Sartai (q.v.). That the flax fibber be longer, booth young and old would swing on contraptions hung for the occasion in the barn. One was expected to eat 9 or even 12 times because these numbers were supposed to insure that in the spring and summer bread would not be lacking nor strength for the hard work in the fields.

Particularly characteristic of Shrovetide were the various masquerades and pranks which are mentioned in historical sources from the beginning of the 15th century. At duck from house to house went the masked men disguised in strange garments, transformed into animals (a horse, a bear, a goat, a crane), demon with pitchforks, figures of death and other evil spirits. As especially common practice was to parity local types: the Jewish peddler, the tramp and the cunning gypsy, the pretended beggar, the doctor who was rarely seen in the village, the uniformed soldier, etc. The maskers would make speeches, sing derisive songs, act out the story of the decrepit old bachelor trying to woo a fair young maiden, splash and spatter single men and women because they had not found mates. In Samogitia the groups of makers would haul around on a sled an effigy in woman's clothing called More or Kotre. After midnight she would be set on a mound and burned, or drowned; this meant the end of winter. Related to the coming fast which was heralded by Shrovetide, there took place impromptu battle between Lasininis (Bacon) and Kanapinis (Hempt); the latter, of course, would win because in Lent oil of hemp was used. The stuffed effigy of Bacon was also either burned or drowned. The amusements of Shrovetide were distinctive, improvised, popular expressions whose original symbolism is lost in antiquity. 


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Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 1998.
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