Location: Vassilyevsky Spusk, Moscow, Russia

Dates: Last week before Lent

Description: Akin to Mardi Gras, Russia’s only surviving pagan festival celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring, kicking off Orthodox Lent on a very full stomach. The word ‘Maslenitsa’ comes from the Russian for butter, which is a key ingredient in the festive treat, bliny (pancakes). Besides bingeing on Russian pancakes, the week-long festival features horse-drawn sledges, storytelling clowns and beer-drinking bears. It culminates with the burning of a scarecrow to welcome spring, as well as with Forgiveness Day, in which people traditionally ask their family and friends for forgiveness for wrongdoings in the past year.

Maslenitsa is celebrated throughout Russia but has been truly revived in the last few years in Moscow where a ‘Maslenitsa town’ is created in Vassilyevsky Spusk near Red Sq. In St Petersburg, the Mariinsky Theatre celebrates Maslenitsa with special festival performances.
Essentials: In truth, it’s a little early to call this a spring rite, with temperatures in Moscow continuing to hover around -10°C for weeks, so come with plenty of warm clothing.

Local Attractions:
 Wander through the Kremlin for a brush with Cold War powerbrokers, and then tread the cobblestones in Red Sq with the wonderful onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral (and the embalmed body of Lenin) for company.

More Info:
 www.maslenitsa.com


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Location: Rynek Glówny, Krakow, Poland

 

Dates: Thursday after Corpus Christi

 According to Polish legend, when the head of Krakow’s defensive raftsmen defeated a Tatar marauder in the 13th century, he slipped into the Mongolian’s robes and triumphantly rode into the city. The folkloric myth has been celebrated for more than 200 years with the procession of ‘Lajkonik’ through the Gothic city.

Clad in Mongol robes, the fairy-tale figure rides a hobbyhorse topped with peacock feathers, accompanied by the Mlaskoty musical troupe. The pageant proceeds from the Premonstratensian Convent in the suburb of Zwierzyniec to the main square, where the mayor greets Lajkonik and presents him with a symbolic ransom and a goblet of wine. En route, the energetic larrikin dances, jumps, greets passers-by, pops into cafés, collects donations and strikes people with his mace (it’s said to bring good luck).

 Another bizarre tradition, the abruptly ending hejnal trumpet call from a church tower in Rynek Glówny, commemorates the trumpeter who received a Tatar arrow to the throat as he tried to warn medieval Krakow of the approaching threat.

 

Local Attractions: With its basement bars, Krakow’s nightlife is like Prague’s with less stag parties. If you prefer to swot up on Lajkonik, head to the Historical Museum to see the hobbyhorse that was used in the early 20th century. Covered in leather, caparison, nearly a thousand pearls and coral beads, it weighs about 40kg.

 

More Info: www.krakow.pl/en

 


 

 

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Location: Binche, Belgium. The parade begins at the town hall.

Dates: Shrove Tuesday

Description: Come prepared for a bruising at Belgium’s most bizarre carnival celebration. Listed by Unesco as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Binche carnival sees local men, known as Gilles, stomp around while wearing strange green-eyed masks and shaking sticks to ward off evil spirits. The Gilles slow-dance through town, decked out in all their finery, including enormous ostrich-feather headdresses, and accompanied by local lads carrying baskets of oranges. From here, things get messy as the crowd is pelted with oranges to bless the forthcoming summer. No matter how tempting, don’t hurl one back – that bit of fruit that just hit you behind the ear is a gift!

Despite appearances, Binche’s carnival is a serious celebration, taking months of preparation and involving strict rules of conduct. The rituals surrounding it date back centuries and the Gilles’ costumes, some of them up to 150 years old, are thought to be modern interpretations of the elaborate, Inca-inspired dress worn by courtiers at a feast to honour Emperor Charles V in 1549.

Essentials: Binche has little to offer visitors, so you may prefer to stay in Mons, 40 minutes away by bus.

Local Attractions: Visit the Musée Internationale du Carneval et du Masque for a glimpse behind the carnival.

More Info:
 Carnaval de Binche


 

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Location: The Greyhound, Tinsley Green, England

Dates: Good Friday

Description: You probably played marbles as a kid but did your parents ever tell you that if you knuckled down and worked on your tolleys you could be a world champion? The championships are held each year in the car park of this West Sussex pub – the Wembley of marbles – when around 140 competitors vie for championship honours inside a 6-ft concrete circle. It might sound like a lark but it’s no gimmick; the championships have been held here since 1932.

Competition marbles sees 49 of the glass balls placed in the ring and the first person or team to knock 25 out of the ring with their tolley (shooting marble) goes through to the next round. The event has attracted players from Continental Europe and the USA, with German teams winning a couple of world titles, something the Britons ruefully blame on their own excessive alcohol intake.

More info www.marblemuseum.org

source: www.worldnomads.com