Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Clean Monday
By: Lina

One Monday we got up not so early (after the big costume festival in Kalamata). And because it was a holiday our friends decided to take us on a small trip to village up in the mountains - Nedousa. With sleeping mood, rain outside we reached the village. The rain was rather strong, but there were some people, who were preparing something very energetically: tables, white table cloths, square in the middle of abandoned house - a shelter from the rain. We took a small look around the village and that time the party began. The traditional Greek dances, special bread, that you could get only this day, special bean soup and wine. Mmmm… amazing. Normaly I don't like bean dishes so much, but for this cold morning it was more than perfect. Finally the rain stopped and the real celebration began. People were dressed in horns with sooten faces and other costumes. An escort was plowing, funeral and wedding pageants, water was gathered on the people, painted soot crosses on the foreheads and of course dances. Everything was with a lot of fun and jokes. All jokes were of course in Greek and I didn't understand, but still I was trying to stick my head everywhere inside the mass of the people. I had a lot of fun.

So this is Shrovetide Festival, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day or Tuesday and a lot of other names, but in general it is the same fest. Shrovetide is winter farewell festival. It reaches back to pre-Christian times when, to celebrate the coming of spring and the rebirth of vegetation, fertility rites were very important. Our ancestors celebrated it before Christianity and it lasted longer - three days or all week. Under the influence of Christianity, the pagan festivals of spring coalesced with festivity of Shrovetide, and some have remained to this day in the shape of carnivals and masquerades. A similar celebration in February is celebrated all around the world. In many countries, people dress up, puts on masks and have carnivals. The most famous carnivals are in Rio de Janeiro and Venice - it's Shrovetide descendants. Christianity Mardi Gras - it is the last day and the last opportunity to have fun and nourishing meal before seven weeks of fasting before Easter. Lithuanian Shrovetide Festival is called (Užgavėnės), and occurs on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, every year. The name of Lithuanian carnival means “the time before Lent.” Because of Christianity the ancient festival names and real meanings in the long time that passed were forgotten, but the customs survived. Now we have Catholic Mardi Gras traditions. This festival, from pagan roots, had to be noisy; in an attempt to scare off evil forces. The people portrayed both mythical people and creatures, disguised as beasts and birds. From early morning people in costumes acting in disguise as strangers and demons begin roaming. The oldest costumes - devils, witches, horse rider, goat, bear. Later practice was to impersonate local types: the Jewish peddler, the tramp and the cunning gypsies, the pretended beggar, the Hungarian doctor, death personality, the wedding guests, the soldiers. Foreigners were chosen to show that they are from other places - unknown lands. Jews, gypsies brought about the influence of Christianity, and where they were not consistent with the teachings of the Church, those other religious people were called Jews and gentiles.

People do not do any hard work on Shrove Tuesday. It is especially liked by children, young people and newlyweds. They go on swings, ride horses in the fields, make races, visit friends, enjoy sleigh rides down the slopes while others try to pour water on them. Of high value ​​during Mardi Gras was the sprinkling of water, it means to cause air warming. It was also the custom of rain water on the bees. The custom to jump out of the sleigh and bathe in the snow, proceeded from the belief that man and earth are closely interdependent. It was believed that after that flax, grain and other crops and animals would grow well. So that the flax fiber would be longer, both young and old would swing on swings: the higher swing, the better the flax and corn grow. An important part was for pagan plays of dancing. Often women dressed in men's clothing, men in womens’. On Shrove Tuesday, they put on funeral pageants and wedding pageants. The groom usually dressed as a small fellow, and the bride - the larger man. They usually visit homes, play pranks, act, sing folk songs, try to snatch something and then demand payment, throw water or catch someone and bathe in snow, making a lot of noise and jokes to each other. After the pranks, the ones in costumes ask for pancakes or money. On Shrove Tuesday, a lot of people eat oily foods and often overeat, so a doctor is necessary! The Hungarian pharmacists are searching for patients, giving medicine and speaking in a funny ​​incorrect language. The gypsies were telling funny future predictions. Other sorcery also is very common.

Relatives  wait for guests and brown pancakes. On Mardi Gras day it is normal to eat much oily and nourishing food before fasting. The main dishes - medley, pancakes, meats and stewed cabbage. In ancient times, the main dish was a medley of Mardi Gras. Its main ingredients were mostly grains, peas, barley, flour, beans, bacon and a boiled cereal with meat. Pancakes’ shape and form could symbolize sun. During the day people would eat nine or even twelve times. It is believed that on this day you have to eat a lot, because it is the last day before the fast of Lent and these numbers were supposed to insure that in the spring and summer you would not be lacking strength for the hard work in the fields. It was believed that if you cram full, Shrove Tuesday will keep you satiated all year.

Ethnologists say that a long time ago - the New year was reminiscent of Shrove Tuesday with it’s traditions. It was celebrating almost in the same way: the youth were visiting neighbours in costumes of new and old years with escort: bear, oak, evil and others. It is very important to make an original mask, more scary or funny than others’. They were made of wood, fair paper and tree bark. Mardi Gras masks, whatever they may be terrible, all smiles. Typical masks attributes - big noses, shattered teeth, unkempt hair, asymmetrical eyes, mustache, beard. The mask could also be just painted on the face, used to cover it, cheeks with soot, carbon or even beet ink.

Another essential attribute of Shrovetide is Morė. Morė is a tall doll, dressed in women's clothes, made of straw. It is a female effigy, a fertility deity, who is paraded through streets and burned in the evening yelling "winter, winter get out of the yard", as a way to say farewell to winter and to celebrate springtime, getting rid of the accumulated evil of winter frosts. It is believed that fasting begins vegetation.

In addition to the character Morė, two other symbolic figures - Lašininis (Bacon) and Kanapinis (Hempt) - fight. Kanapinis - the embodiment of spring - a slender and spindly character, with diligence, abdomen girded with rope, who represents renewal, always wins, while the fat one - the embodiment of winter - always thick, creamy, symbolising laziness - is chased away.

A lot of these traditions I saw in Nedousa, that's why I decided to write about it. No one could explain the real and full meaning of these prehistoric traditions, except the main goal: to kick out the winter and invite and welcome the spring, but it is clear that they are very old and the meaning of course is very important. It is amazing how in such a big area and in such a big distance we have practically the same customs and traditions. Even the time is going and everything is changing very drastically, it is important not to forget everything. I think that important things we will not.

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