GD: “Užgavėnės is a Lithuanian holiday, um, that’s translated to ‘The Before Lent.’ So, it takes place, um, right before the Lenten season, the weekend right before that, and what it is culturally is, um. It’s a festival in which we scare away the winter pretty much, and welcome the spring. Um, it’s been compared to, like, Mardi Gras and you’ll see as I talk more about it you’ll be able to connect that a little bit more, but um. The entire festival is just Lithuanian people getting together, making really scary masks and decorating them and going really big with these costumes and these like huge masks that they’ll wear, um, to scare away the winter. There is a structure that we construct that is usually a representation of winter, like taking place in like the form of a man or something or like a stick figure, uh, just this really large totem that we burn ultimately to just say ‘To the end with winter, here comes spring.’ And in the same light there is a little staged playing of a man and another man dueling pretty much, and one guy represents winter with the other guy represents the spring, and always the spring will overcome that and win against the winter.”
GD is a 19 year old Lithuanian-American second year student at USC studying Theatre and Classics. Her mother was born in Lithuania and moved to a Lithuanian community in New Jersey, where GD attended Lithuanian school and church. GD describes Užgavėnės as her favorite holiday growing up, attending it not only in America but also in Lithuania. She remembers waking up before dawn in order to peel potatoes in order to make pancakes specifically for the festival. GD believes Užgavėnės to be so important not only to her but also to her culture because it was one of the few pagan holidays that survived Christianization in Lithuania.
GD describes Užgavėnės as one of the more important holidays in the Lithuanian calendar with it originally being celebrated on the last day of winter before Christianization. It has been hastily Christianized and is now celebrated on the weekend immediately preceding Lent, but the traditions and meaning of the festival remain. GD describes Užgavėnės as being full of food like bagels and pancakes, and performers playing music as people dance.
Many traditional folk festivals and celebrations have been slightly changed in order to fit into the rising wave of Christianity, even Christmas retains many aspects of its original pagan traditions. It is unfortunate however that many of the traditions were lost in these re-skinnings, so it is nice to see that Užgavėnės, according to GD, was able to keep so many of its traditions. Festivals celebrating the end of winter and the coming of a sweeter season are a very common phenomenon especially in northern countries that experience harsher winters like Lithuania.