Shrovetide, or Carnival, as they call it in Catholic countries, is an old Slavic holiday designed to say goodbye to winter in the tastiest way possible. The feast lasts one week, and pancakes are eaten throughout the whole week, being the main dainty of the end of winter. Pancakes stand for the sun, or spring that hurries to people to warm them after frosts, which were very severe this year. Shrovetide is filled with festivities, songs, dances, toboggans and snowball fights. The “send-off of Shrovetide” is the brightest moment of the week: people gather around fires for round dances to let flames and smoke drive away trouble and illnesses. Besides, they burn the dummy of Marena, the symbol of winter. The dummy is made of straw or wipers and is dressed as a woman. Burning the dummy ancient Slavs said goodbye to winter and hello to spring.
Shrovetide is still celebrated in Belarus, and the first days of March were filled with the aroma of pancakes. Folklore teams were responsible for the festivities and colours of the snow-covered but spring-smelling streets of Belarus. Bright folk costumes filled life with the pagan past with saltimbancos and guisers asking passers-by whether they would like a dance or take part in a game or two.
The last day of Shrovetide is called Shrove Sunday, the best moment to ask the close ones to forgive you for any troubles. Minsk citizens asked forgiveness and forgave in hundreds. It is very important to forgive, because if you bear malice, trouble will haunt you until the next Shrovetide.
Time not only stripped Belarusians off their national costumes, but also changed, or upgraded, some traditions, as large sledges with bells and ribbons are almost nowhere to be seen, however, smaller toboggans are everywhere, and bring even more joy.
Fires are as important as ever, and although days seemed sunny and warm, winter was strong enough to puff out all fires. It took some time to light them, and someone said “Frosts will return”.
Children were the main heroes of the festivities. Special games and contests, tasty presents and souvenirs for winners. Quizzes for the best knowledge of traditional Shrovetide food always ended in special treats, like regular and covered pancakes with dressing and fillers. Parents were eager to prompt their kids the right answers, as every answer meant a tasty bit.
Children were mesmerized by national instruments, such as cembalo, accordion, and spoons. They were listening to stories about good old times to remember them and retell to their kids in the future, for traditions must live.
by Olga Kornei