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Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is a merry carnival. It is celebrated on Tuesday, the eve of Ash Wednesday, to mark the winter's end. Earlier, up until the beginning of the 20th century, the celebrations used to start on Sunday and continue for three days.

Shrove Tuesday celebration was particularly popular in Zemaitija. In so- me Zemaitian villages these traditions have survived to the present day. The traditional figures in the carnival are the loan Kanapinis (the Hemp Man), Lasininis the Fatty, a "Jew" offering his goods in broken Lithuanian, a "Gypsy" looking for something to pilfer, and a great number of other funny, caricature masks. Men disguise themselves as women, and vice versa. Shrove Tuesday celebrations were first recorded in Prussia in the 15th century. The old maid More - a female symbol of the clash between winter and spring - is trundled about in a cart. In one hand she usually holds a flail and in the other a broom, for she cannot make up her mind whether she should continues flailing last year's harvest or start sweeping the yard and do the spring cleaning. Shrove Tuesday celebrations are full of humour, jokes, superstitions and fortune telling. It is a popular theatrical, held before the busy summer season. Carnival members deride farmers who lag behind with their winter chores, old maids and bachelors.

Shrove Tuesday is a pancake day, for the pancake is a symbol of the sun. But this is also a day for universal gluttony. People glut themselves on the last rich meat dishes, for example, pork stewed with peas, before the long Lent fasting period. The next morning mothers will tell their children that the previous night there was a fight in the chimney where flitches used to hang, and the lean Kanapinis or a Gypsy carried them all away so that up until the very Easter the family will have to make do with lean food flavoured with hemp seed or herring which they will buy from the local Jew.

A "Jew" and a "Gypsy" entered Lithuanian folklore at the turn of the 19th century together with the boost in the commercial life of the countryside. In the Shrove Tuesday carnival people made fun of all the social groups of the village community (except the priest, of course) and thus Jews and Gypsies became traditional figures in the carnival, celebrating the victory of spring over winter. The Jew came to substitute Kanapinis, and the Gypsy took the place of Lasininis.

Other figures of the carnival include animals - a horse, a goat, a stork, the devil, death. All of them take part in a simple theatrical. Masks are made of wood or bark with as terrible a countenance as possible. This is a day of universal relaxation and entertainment. Everyone can be made fun of, even those who cannot be derided on any other occasion.

This is how the Lithuanian writer Zemaite described the celebration of Shrove Tuesday at the beginning of the 20th century: "At dusk large groups of people disguised as Jews leading a horse or a goat appear in the high street of the village. They take the goat inside one of the houses and try to sell it to the master. They praise the goat, demonstrate how much milk it gives, try to milk it. The goat bleets, kicks and sends the milkers rolling on the floor, spilling the milk all over. Or they take a horse inside a house and try to sell it by praising its strength. They say the horse has lost all taste for water, soon it is going to lose taste for fodder. The horse jumps, neighs, kicks, the farmer's family all rush out. The "Jews" pretend they want to buy old maids, they haggle over the price, rattle "money bags", filled with fragments of glass or ash, under the nose of the master of the house. They grab a young girl, pretend they want to take her away, sometimes drag her out and roll in the snow. Children and young girls scatter around, but the bolder ones sometimes take a tow of hemp or flax and try to set the "Jew's" beard on fire. There is a lot of laughter, noise and hilarity."

People do not do any hard work on Shrove Tuesday. They go on swings and merry-go-rounds, visit friends, enjoy sledding down the slopes while others try to pour water on them. All this is done to make "flax grow tall", to ensure hens lay more eggs, birds do no damage to the corn, and so on and so forth.

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Copyright , 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.