celebrating Užgavénés, the winter festival in Vilnius

Monday, March 17, 2014

I always consider it 'a stroke of good luck' when while travelling I stumble upon a local festival by chance. And this is exactly what happened to me earlier this month while in Vilnius, Lithuania. Amazing!

Užgavénés, the winter festival takes place during the seventh week before Easter - and as explained by Martyna (my amazing Lithuania free walking tour guide) - it is a day when the people of Vilnius gather together to scare off Winter so Spring can come sooner. In short this celebration marks the end of Winter in the capital.

Locals dressed up and dancing to live folk music - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
locals dressed up in costume and dancing to live folk music

And what a fun, outrageous street festival it was! Everyone - adults and children alike were dressed up in a variety of costumes or masks, and there was dancing and music from early in the morning till dinner time in Gedimino Prospektas, the main shopping street of Vilnius.

Colourful mask for sale - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
colourful mask for sale

Live street music - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
locals in costume playing music in the street

Užgavénés also coincides with Shrovetide - commonly known as pancake day and I saw lots of locals out and about picnicking on homemade pancakes, as well as buying them at the crowded food stalls. Of course I had to sample some myself and they were delicious - and came with a variety of sweet jam and chutney-like spreads.

Pancake food stall - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
local pancake makers pose for a picture

Pancake food stall - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
pancakes... yummmm

From early in the morning people started to appear in costume - witches, reapers, different animals and gypsies. And by late afternoon the street was full of merriment.

Locals in costume - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
locals in costume watching a live band play

Giant chicken - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
a giant chicken (?) wandering the street

My brother and I took full advantage of the festivities snacking on the street food, listening to the music and generally enjoying ourselves with all the goings on.

Sausage, pigs ear and pickled cabbage street food - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
sausage, pigs ear and pickled cabbage

Sausage, pigs ear and pickled cabbage street food - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
of course I had to sample that!

Mushroom cookies - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
gingerbread cookies in the shape of mushrooms and fruit

Hot chocolate - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
hot chocolate!!!!

Smoking squid - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
smoking squid

Gingerbread cookies - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
gingerbread cookies, similar to what you often see in Germany at Christmas

There was also an amazing looking 'scarecrow like' woman who was paraded up and down the street all day. Since being back in London I've done a little bit of research - and I think she must have been 'More' - a creature made of straw, and the symbol of winter who is burned at the end of the day to chase away the cold and celebrate springtime. Although I never actually saw any burning...

Scarecrow woman - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
scarecrow woman

There was also alot of craft and homemade goods for sale, which suited me. The more I saw of Vilnius and it's people the more I became convinced of how creative the city is...

Crafty cat - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
soft toy cats for sale

Coffee cart - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania
mask and coffee cart :)

Don't be fooled by these photos though - it was freezing! I had to pause several time to 'defrost' my hands over the day.

Warming my hands - Užgavénés - Vilnius, Lithuania

Such a fun experience - and I would love to do it all over again. If you're planning a trip to the Baltics around the start of spring time next year I suggest you pencil this festival into your diary.

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  1. I am with you, I love when I happen to be traveling in a place when a local event is happening. Those cookies look amazing, the corn one looks unreal!

    1. They were really delicious too!!! I liked the mushrooms, which were half covered with chocolate. Gingerbread and chocolate - a winning combination :)

  2. This looks so cute, I love stumbling across things like this when I'm traveling.

  3. How awesome! I was in Spain once and stumbled upon a street festival in a little town. Was so much fun!

    1. That's cool. The Spanish do know how to party! Local festivals are my favourite :)

  4. What an awesome celebration! I'm curious to know if you tried to smoked squid? I love calamari so I wonder what this would taste like...

  5. 1. That is awesome that you were in Lithuania. 2. That is awesome that you just "happened" to stumble upon a festival. I love hearing "accidental travel" stories like that. And those treats look amazing! Thanks for linking up again. :)

  6. What a great experience. Stumbling across festivals is always fun. It happened to me in Kotor, Montenegro last summer when we realised it was carnival night and it was by far the noisiest festival I have ever experienced! All that food looks delicious. The Baltics are definitely on my wish list fo ra visit soon.

  7. Oh I love it when I happen upon something like this only increasing the experience!! So fun!

  8. Amazing food and what fun looking masks! Thank you for linking up for Travel Tuesday!