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Meteņi is a Latvian holiday when people bid farewell to winter and welcome spring. In the past ancient Indo-Europeans used to mark the beginning of a new year  in mid-February, The word ‘’Meteņi’’ originates  from ‘’meti’’, which used to mean ‘’turn of time’’. It may be celebrated based on the ancient Latvian solar calendar – on the 6th of February or according to Christian traditions, Meteņi is held 7 weeks before Easter (in February or early March).

During this period of time people are tired of the long and harsh Latvian winter, therefore one of the traditions of Meteņi is to roll down effigies made of straw from a hill, and burn them afterwards  in order to ward off winter. Meteņi marks not only the end of winter, but also the end of winter jobs and the start of the spring ones, so many fertility increasing rituals are performed. In accordance to ancient beliefs, in order to properly perform these rituals, one must remain unrecognisable, therefore one of the most essential elements of this celebration is for people to dress up as different characters. The most popular ones  include a bear, a crane, a wolf and a goat. Although the bear symbolises sleepiness and sluggishness, with its growling and strength it wards off evil spirits. Crane signifies intelligence and caution. Wolf symbolises evil and darkness. Goat represents light, sun, and good virtues.   

Another important ritual is sledding down a hill for nine times before the sunrise, which is thought to improve the growth of flax. Even visiting others is viewed as a fertility rite. It is believed that the longer of a distance one travels to visit someone, the better the flax will grow.  People also try to predict the future weather based on the weather on Meteņi. If it is dry, the crop yield is going to be good. If it is snowing or raining, it is going to be a good year for picking mushrooms and berries.     

As Meteņi is followed by Lent, there is a big feast. On the table dishes with beans, peas, pearl-barley and different parts of a pig its ears, legs etc., as well as pierogi and barley pies are served. The alcoholic beverage of choice is beer.

In other cultures this is the time of Roman Catholic holidays, such as Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, and Carnival. Whereas in Russia a celebration called ‘’Maslenitsa’’ is held in order to celebrate the end of winter by sledding, horse sleigh riding and eating pancakes. Arguably the most similar celebration is the Lithuanian festival  Užgavėnės, which means ‘’the time before Lent’’. People participate in similar festivities as in Meteņi – they dress up as devils, witches, goats, the grim reaper and gypsies, as well as burn an effigy of winter.

Tags:  Meteņi,   Winter,  Spring ,  Celebration ,Fertility Rites

Question: People dress up as different characters during Meteņi in order to:

  1.       scare each other
  2.     improve the harvest

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