Eastern Europe is home to dozens of mysterious traditions that have remained almost untouched since their inception. These traditions were inspired by historical events or magical legends that explain the renewal of the seasons.
We accompany you to discover these mysterious and fascinating traditions of eastern Europe.
The Mărțișorul or martisor is a tradition celebrated almost exclusively in Romania, although it can also be found in Bulgaria and Moldova less regularly. The Martisor is an event that celebrates spring and is held on the first day of March. During the festivities, it is customary to receive small amulets with red and white threads, sometimes tied with flowers, mirrors or reliquaries. There is little information about the specific origin of the celebration; however, it is believed that the tradition began more than 8,000 years ago. Despite not having a clearly traceable origin, there are several legends that metaphorically explain how the duality of the colors and the meaning of the festivities came about.
One of the legends indicates that a comet stole the sun for 3 seasons, so a brave man decided to recover the star. After the battle, the man was badly wounded, spilling blood on the snow. It is said that where the bright red blood fell, heralds of spring bloomed. However, there is another theory that the colors represent man and woman, as they complement and differentiate at the same time.
Although amulets were previously made by women and given as gifts to stimulate fertility, luck and prosperity, today both men and women make such amulets. In addition, they are given as gifts to everyone. During the days of Mărțișorul, fairs are held where people can purchase these amulets. People customarily wear the amulet for 7 days, after this, the amulet is not discarded, but istied to a tree, preferably fruit or flowering. In addition to the amulets, there are also big events with music and traditional dancing, popular meals and parades.
Mărțișorul traditions may vary in length or form depending on the region, but it is always celebrated on the first of March. Once March 8 arrives, people hang the amulet on a tree.
The Maslenitsa is the equivalent of the carnivals in Russia. The event is a grand celebration ofwinter farewell and spring welcome. During Maslenitsa, it is customary to hold some events and eat bliní, traditional holiday pancakes. The proper origin of the festivities is unknown; however, some people relate them to the god Volos, while others simply associate the celebration with winter farewell rites thousands of years ago.
The Maslenitsa is afull week-long celebration in which a large number of activities take place such as playful games, music live, competitions and some parades. In addition, each day of the week a different activity takes place, whether it is blini-making, spending time with family or games with friends and neighbors. In the larger cities there are a variety ofcommunity events, concerts and large events.
The event that stands out the most during the Máslenitsa is the burning of the winter effigy. This effigy or doll features a few items of clothing. Every year, the doll is placed in a public place, games are played and on the last day it is burned. This ceremony is also considered as acleansing rite for the activities committed during Máslenitsa. Likewise, this ceremony also culminates the festivities.
TheMaslenitsa will be held approximately from March 8 to 14.
Also known as the Lajkonik parade. It is one of the oldest traditions in the country and consists of a man disguised as a warrior passing through the city of Cracow, in southern Poland. The tradition has been celebrated in the city for approximately 700 years. The story behind this very particular character tells that in the year 1287 a group of Tartars decided to attack the city. The day before the planned looting, the group was discovered and defeated by some rafters, who took their clothes and ridden through the city as a symbol of victory.
This celebration is one of the most beloved by all Cracowians and they look forward every year to the incredible parade. The main character, known as Lajkonik, wears traditional eastern warrior clothes, a pointed hat, knitted beard and a fake horse that is built into the costume. At the start of the parade, the iconic warrior is not left alone, as the rest of the villagers also wear ancient clothes and accompany him on his route. The event has deeply permeated the traditions of the city, being celebrated with much affection.
The Lajkonik route starts in Senatorskiej at noon and ends in the historic center of the city at 7 pm. All along the way, it visits some locals where it asks for some contributions. In addition, some stops are also made to perform dances and performances to entertain people. During these dances, a large number of people also join in to party together. After the tour, the character is received by the mayor. From then on, the party continues until the early hours of the morning.
The Lajkonik parade will take place approximately on Thursday, June 10.
The city of Gabrovo, located in the north of the central region of Bulgaria, is the epicenter of one of the most satirical celebrations in the entire country. At present there is no formal record of when the first mass parades or carnivals were held in the city of Gabrovo. However, prior to the establishment of the carnival, it was customary to celebrate the Oleliynya, a celebration that preceded Carnival Saturday and whose celebration was extremely similar to the carnival. The Oleiynya functioned as a kind of escape valve for everyday life. In addition, sweets were eaten and there was singing until dawn.
Gabrovo is known as the capital of humor in Bulgariadue to the humorous nature of the inhabitants. This very particular humor has allowed them to create one of the most wonderful carnival festivals inEastern Europe. One of the most important figures of the carnival is theBlack Cat, a figure that arose due to an inside joke among the inhabitants of the region towards the inhabitants of Gabrovo.
The black cat is an obligatory figure in the carnivals, as this one represents the humor and satire of the carnivals. This character is part of the parades, which is also accompanied by large floats that occupy theatrical performances. Musicians, costumed people, children and bigheaded dolls are also part of this incredible celebration. In addition, the event also includes other events such as live concerts, festivals and children’s carnivals.
Despite being a carnival, this is not celebrated during the traditional calendar of festivities, during the months of February to March, but it takes place in the month of May..
The Malanka is the equivalent of the new year in theJulyian calendar. At present, the origin of this enigmatic celebration is unknown. However, many historians claim that this holiday is of pagan origin, carried out before the Christianization of Ukraine. One of the legends of the holiday’s origin explains that Mylanka, meaning amorous and in turn representing spring, was kidnapped by her evil uncle to take her to a desolate land. Upon her release, spring returns and flowers bloom again. The Malanka is one of the most important traditions in the country, which came to a head during theSoviet Union, as the Soviet Union tried to suppress it, but many of the Ukrainians kept it alive.
Although the celebration takes place nationally, the events that take place, rituals and characters change from region to region. This great variety of elements is what makes the traditions so special and people try to preserve them as much as possible. One of the most famous towns for its celebrations is Krasnoilsk. It is believed that this town has the best preserved traditions, so the festivities are more the most faithful in the whole country.
The celebrations involve exclusively men, with some exceptions of girls or adolescents who want to participate. During the carnivals are organized several groups consisting of various characters, which visit the houses of the city and to make presentations, dances or play music in exchange for contributions. Some of the characters present at the festivities are the Did (grandfather), Baba (grandmother), Likar (doctor), Zhyd (Gypsy) and some secondary characters. The most prominent character is the bear, which is performed by young bachelors. The bear’s costume is made of straw and sometimes features some ornaments. In addition to the house-to-house tours, there are also several playful games and plenty of eating and drinking.
The Malanka or Ukrainian Carnival always has a fixed date, as this correspondsto New Year’s Eve of the Julian calendar, extending until the following day. La Malanka will be celebrated approximately from January 13 to January 14.
Lithuanian Carnival, generally known as Užgavėnės is amajor nationwide celebration celebratingthe end of winter and thebeginning of spring. The beginning of the festivities is quite remote, as it was a ritual or ceremony performed mainly in the rural areas of the country. Farmers were the ones who celebrated the festivities most fervently, as it was a festivity that was directly related to cultivation. The tradition also includes the battle between Kanapinis and Lašininis, both characters representing the struggle of good against evil, spring against winter. Lašininis is depicted as lazy and malicious, while Kanapinis is depicted as bond, graceful and working.
During the holidays people wear disguises or masks, the latter are usually quite disturbing and rustic, as they are made from barks of trees. These masks are designed to be ugly enough to scare away the winter. However, the masks are no obligation and everyone can dress as funny, creepy or funny as they prefer.
Carnival celebrations generally take place in a family, quiet and agreeable atmosphere. However, in large cities, big celebratory events take place. In addition, during the festivities it is quite common to eat pancakes. Small towns and villages, hold small parties with the neighbors, performing playful games, some parades, singing and dancing. Likewise, small performances simulating the battle of Kanapinis and Lašininis are also held.
One of the most anticipated events of the festivities is the burning of Moré or Boba. This character is nothing more and nothing less than an effigy representing winter, old things and sin. The doll is burned during the last day as a kind of closing of the festivities to welcome spring.
TheLithuanian Carnival or Užgavėnės will be celebrated on approximately February 16.
The Busójárás is the equivalent of the carnivals in the town of Mohács, in southeastern Hungary. This celebration is unique in its style, as it features hundreds of masked characters, some of them being somewhat terrifying. These characters are known as busós and wear masks that look like beasts with horns and a hairy suit, usually white.
There are two types of legends that explain the origin of the festivities. The first one indicates that, during the Turkish invasions, the villagers fled the city, some time later they returned to the town with terrifying masks. The Turks thinking they were evil spirits and abandoned the town. The second is somewhat similar, but instead of chasing away the Turks, the villagers chased away the evil winter spirits. Due to its great cultural importance, the Busójárás was recognized as Immaterial Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
The celebration comprises 6 days of festivities, with Sunday, also known as Farsang vasárnap or Farsangvasárnap, being the most popular. During this day the great parade of the characters takes place. It is a great event that seems to come out of another era. Hundreds of thousands of characters take to the streets to entertain and riot the public. The celebration culminates on Carnival Tuesday, when the Farsangtemetés, which translates asburial of the carnival, is held.
The Busójárás is a celebration that takes place during the traditional carnival calendar, between the months of February and March. The Hungarian Busójárás will take place from approximately Thursday, February 11 through Tuesday, February 16.
The Meteni or Meteņi is an event thatcelebrates spring in different parts of Latvia. This is a tradition that has been part of the country for thousands of years. The Meteni is a pre-Christian tradition that celebrated the arrival of spring and the farewell of winter. In addition, these were dates in which it was customary to eat and drink at will, so it was tradition for people to slaughter pigs for their traditional meals. Although today the traditions are not celebrated with as much animosity or effervescence, the celebration still remains latent through the various events and activities.
Despite being a national tradition, some elements of the festivities may change from region to region, mainly in the use of costumes. The people who dress up during the festivities are known as ķekatas. These ķekatas can take various forms, including animals, objects or people. The most common costumes are usually gypsies, rabbits, bears, horses, birds, goats, cross-dressers or even moon or vegetable costumes. These costumed people take to the streets to entertain people, dance, sing and sometimes visit neighborhood houses.
Besides, going out to sing and party, Meteņi is also a celebration to be with family and friends. Some people decide to visit their places of origin to spend time with their parents, family and friends. In addition, it is also a tradition for people, especially children to perform some playful games or even sports activities such as sledding or skiing. Food cannot be missing during the event, the tables are always full of traditional food and drinks.
The celebration of Meteņi always takes place between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In addition, the celebration also takes place on the days close with Ash Wednesday.
The Surva Carnival, also known as the International Festival of Mask Games, is an incrediblecultural celebration held in the village of Pernik, in western Bulgaria. The event has been held in the town since 1966, but it was not until 1985 that it acquired international status. The event is a vehicle for celebration of the ancient Bulgarian cultures, so it has been preserving and maintaining the traditions through the costumes and masks. In addition, the Surva Festival also functions as a competition.
Every year, about 6,000 people from about 100 groups from all over Bulgaria come to the town to participate in this magnificent cultural event. In addition, the organization also includes groupings from other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. These groupings compete tirelessly to be recognized as the winners and obtain the public recognition they have long awaited. Likewise, Surva Carnivals are also a vehicle for recreation, fun and strengthening the bonds of brotherhood.
The Surva festival also integrates some other activities such as conferences, gastronomic fairs and children’s carnivals. However, what stands out most in the celebration are the displays or parades of the groups. These displays of costumes are divided into two: the national and the visiting groups. Among the national ones you can find traditional costumes such as the Kukeri and the Survakari, both costumes that stand out with much more notoriety.
The Surva Carnival will be taking place from approximately January 29 to February 1.
Masopust is the celebration equivalent to carnivals. Although it is a national celebration that spans the various regions of the country, there are several towns that celebrate the carnival with much more animosity. Some of the towns that celebrate Masopust with much more enthusiasm are Dboudlebsko and Hlinecko, both located in the central region of the country. The first record told of Masopust dates back to the 13th century and is believed to have been related to theGod Bacchus.
During the celebration the men and young people of Hlinecko wear characteristic traditional costumes. Each person has a distinctive costume with which he or she accompanies the rest of the group. In addition, they go house to house, dancing, playing music and eating. Generally, the costumes are differentiated between young single men and married men, the former being red while the latter is black. The musical bands are also part of the whole event, animating the whole tour in the village.
The whole event is carried out with a lot of joy. All people participate in the ceremony and after the door-to-door event, people head to the different venues to celebrate with more food and drink.
The Masopust celebration is held from Twelfth Night, taking into consideration the Christian calendar, until Ash Wednesday.