10 Places to celebrate Carnival in Eastern Europe

Cities, towns and villages all over Eastern Europe celebrate carnival. Here are some of the best places to attend.

Mardi Gras, Carnival, Carnaval, Karneval, Masopust, Maslentisa . . . that’s just Carnival by another name! Here we look at some of the carnival celebrations that take place in other parts of Europe.

Masopust Carnival in Hlinecko Village, Czech Republic

10 carnivals eastern europe

What is the carnival in the Czech Republic?, What is Masopust?

Masopust means literally, “giving up meat” and is carnival in Czech. Masopust celebrations that take place in the six villages of the Hlinecko Region in Eastern Bohemia are ancient carnival celebrations that haven’t changed in centuries. Instead of a traditional parade the procession travels door-to-door.

This popular carnival celebration occurs at the end of winter before the onset of Lent and sees thousands of village men and boys, disguised in traditional carnival character costumes of mythical creatures, who are supposed to chase away the winter spirits and usher in spring. These characters travel door to door around the village along with a brass band.

They stop at every house and perform a ritual dance for the home owner, so that they may secure a rich harvest and prosperity for the family. In exchange for this blessing the carnival characters must receive treats. At the last house they hold a symbolic “Killing of the Mare” to punish it for its alleged sins.

Read more about Masopust Carnival here.

Surva Carnival, Bulgaria

10 carnivals eastern europe

What is carnival in Surva?

In North West Bulgaria is a town called Pernik who every year hosts the Surva Carnival, that is also known as the International Carnival of Masquerade Games. This carnival is a two-day celebration that is dedicated to masks and disguises.

The Surva Carnival was established in 1966 with the idea of establishing a carnival celebration that emphasised traditional Bulgarian and ancient Bulgarian cultural traditions. This event receives thousands of tourists and the highlight of the carnival is the mask parade which features carnival groups from Bulgarian villages throughout the whole country.

Meteņi, Latvia

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What is Meteni?

Every February in Latvia, Latvians celebration one of their most traditional festivities called Meteni, which is a carnival celebration that is all about chasing out the winter and ushering in the spring. The carnival celebration is still very traditional and full of special folk songs. Meteni is celebrated in towns and villages all throughout Latvia.

It is custom for the Latvians to go out dressed in their traditional national costumes. The locals go out and dance and sing traditional songs, whilst meeting their friends and neighbours. During the procession traditional carnival masks are worn. A unique tradition of Meteni is that locals must take a ride in a sled, a horse drawn carriage, or ice-skate. This ensures a good harvest.

Užgavėnės, Lithuania

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What is Užgavėnės?

Užgavėnės is the name for a pre-Lenten carnival celebration in Lithuania. Užgavėnės kicks off on night prior to Ash Wednesday when a giant effigy that is meant to represent ‘winter’ is burnt in a giant bonfire. This is all about symbolising the end of winter.

There is also a staged battle between ‘ašininis’ known as porky in English, who personifies ‘winter’, and ‘Kanapinis’ known as hempen man in English, who personifies ‘spring’. This also features numerous other carnival characters like the Devil, witches, the grim reaper, gypsies and goats, who are locals dressed in costume.

A traditional dish of the holiday is eaten, which is lots of pancakes, covered in various toppings. The celebration takes place in towns and villages all across the country, but the biggest occurs in the capital city of Lithuania, Vilnius.

Busójárás, Hungary

10 carnivals eastern europe

What is Busojaras?

Winter in Hungry is very cold so of course the locals will do whatever they have to ward it off. This is an ancient carnival celebration that takes back to pagan times when the people would chase away the evil winter spirits and usher in the spring.

For six days at the end of February, masks and cloaked individuals will dress up in traditional costumes and parade through the streets to scare away the bad weather.

The main even is called the Farsangvasárnap and is held on Carnival Sunday, and sees hundreds of people in cloaks, arrive into the town by rowboat, and then parade through the town. This all culminates in a brandy fuelled party that will last all night and into the early morning.

Malanka, Ukraine

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What is Malanka?

Malanka is carnival in the Ukraine. It is a giant feast that occurs on the eve of January 14th in villages and towns all across the Ukraine. It is about celebrate the advent of the old-calendar New Year or St Basil’s Day. This celebration has been celebrated for over a thousand years and is very traditional.

There are several traditional carnival characters that take to the streets every year including the She-Goat, Malanka, an Old Man, a Gypsy, a Horse, a Doctor and Basil. Thousands of people dress up and hit the streets as these characters and perform skits. In the evening everyone gathers at someone’s house and enjoy a big feast around a festive table as well as drink lots of moonshine vodka.

After the feast the She-Goat character who is attached to a leash and is usually a local man in disguise. They walk the in groups around the local villages and towns to different peoples houses and sing. People invite the performers into their home and let them perform for them. It’s a big night of partying.

Maslenitsa, Russia

10 carnivals eastern europe

What is Maslenitsa?

Maslenitsa is carnival in Russia and it is also known as butter week or pancake week. This is their way of welcoming the spring and celebrate the passing of winter and they celebrate by eating a ton of pancakes with all different toppings both savoury and sweet. Maslenitsa essentially is seven days of festivities.

Maslenitsa is full of pagan and Christian traditions and is typically celebrated the week prior to Lent with Shrove Tuesday being the final dose of gluttony before Great Lent, or the seventh week before Eastern Orthodox Easter. They say that an important part of Maslenitsa is that you must eat throughout the day as many times as a dog wags its tail.

Another important part of the holiday is horseback riding with the horses dressed up in the finest festive trimmings to welcome Spring. In Moscow every year there are over 500 events to celebrate the Slavic holiday.

Sunday is the final day of carnival, it is a day of forgiving when people ask for forgiveness against the wrong done against them and the Maslenita mascot is burnt. The mascot is just a straw doll dressed in a female costume with a pancake in her hand. This practice is an iconic symbol of the festival and the end of winter.

Mărțișor, Romania

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What is Martisor?

Most people in the Northern Hemisphere believe that spring starts on the 20/21 March but not in Romania where the bright sun rays fall over the city streets on the 1st March which is what they call the first day of Spring. To honour this day which they call Martisor, which is a diminutive for Martie, the Romanian word for March.

Romanians celebrate this day with snowdrops, traditional gifts, lots of joy and dinners in the downtown. Its is when every city, town and village is bustling with people. The country is brought to life and loads of colourful market stalks come out to sell Marisoare. Martisor is an authentic Romanian celebration which actually dates back to the time of the Thracians.

Bulgaria Funny festival

10 carnivals eastern europe

Bulgaria is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of carnival, but there is one place in Northern Bulgaria that is known for its hilarious locals who throw an annual Spring Carnival that is all about comedy. If you want to enjoy a good laugh, then you must attend the Gabrovo Carnival. The Gabrovo Carnival originated from old traditions and festivals that used to be held in the town.

 Gabrovo is a town in Northern Bulgaria along the Yantra River. Gabrovo is a town with a population of about 80,000. They call Gabrovo the Bulgarian capital of jokes! Carnival in Gabrovo is an all about humour and satire. The Gabrovo Carnival slogan is “let’s get crazy with laughter”! This easily sums up what Gabrovo Carnival is all about.

Lajkonik, Poland

10 carnivals eastern europe

What is Lajkonik?

Lajkonik is one of the most colourful and vibrant traditions that occurs in Krakow. That says a lot in a city that is full of incredible festivals. Every year a bearded fake Mongols rides into the city on his ornate hobbyhorse and rides through the streets of the historic centre of Krakow. This occurs on the first Thursday after the Corpus Christi feast day.

The parade is full of men clad in historical costumes on beautifully ordained horses. The Mongol visits shows and restaurants to collect a ransom. The tradition of this horse parade is very old and stems from when the Mongol raids tormented Poland back in the 13th century.

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