Over here, winter always comes unexpectedly. We joke about it, but we actually can’t wait. For the fir branches, drooping from the snow, for the ski trails in the depths of the forest, for the well-trodden running path in the park, for the sledges, ice skates and ice boats, for the ice fishing and the bonfires during the midwinter celebration, and for everything that winter has to offer. When it gets cold, we invite friends to the cinema or to music and fashion festivals. And after surviving it, we shoo winter away as loud as we can. Pancakes and masks help us scare it off and wait for the spring again.
Have you heard about the fish that smells like fresh cucumbers? There was a time when fishermen used to lure them into their nets under the ice with songs. These days, the songs are sung on the shore of Palanga, where the Smelt Festival takes place every year for people who love to fish them or eat them. Everything there revolves around smelt – a fish that is small and homely, yet extraordinarily tasty. During the festival, smelt abounds in various forms: fresh, fried, marinated, smoked, or even made out of clay or carved from wood. The traditional fishing competition on Palanga Pier, the smelt-eating contest, and the food, music and games attract crowds of people to our largest seaside resort.
Shall we meet at the book fair? This is a very popular question in early February. The Vilnius Book Fair is a place where writers and their muses, and readers and protagonists fly, drive, walk and sail to come together. It is a place where characters come to life and you can ask all of the questions that you had while reading. At the Vilnius Book Fair, it seems like there is nothing more important to Lithuanians than a book. And if anyone tries to tell you that printed books are disappearing, take them to the book fair in Vilnius and show them that this is not the case. A children’s literature hall, creative workshops, a discussion forum, autograph, cinema and music halls, art exhibitions, a second-hand bookseller arcade – there is so much of everything that you might just come on Thursday and leave on Sunday.
It’s not you we want to scare off. We’re scaring off winter. For many years, we have been driving it away in February, shouting: “Winter, winter, get out of the yard!” Of course, winter doesn’t always surrender, holding out against the people in fancy dress who have gorged on pancakes and the children that go from door to door, asking for treats. Užgavėnės is a traditional celebration that is in our blood and lets adults feel like children again. Who will recognise you behind a mask? You can celebrate Užgavėnės in Rumšiškės – the traditions here never change. If you’re in Samogitia, stop by Lake Plateliai, where you’ll also find some winter fun. Come and burn your misery along with Morė, the symbol of evil and all misfortune.