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: Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Dates: 12–14 June

 

On the feast day of St Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon, the Portugese capital goes sardine crazy. The winding streets and steep staircases in Alfama, the city’s oldest quarter, fill with the smell of sardines being grilled outside little houses and restaurants.

Even by the standards of a coastal country where the population lives on fish dishes, the grilled treats consumed in honour of Anthony of Padua are a tasty snack. The tradition relates to a remarkable event that occurred while the 13th-century Catholic saint was in Rimini, Italy. Depressed that the locals would not listen to his sermons, he wandered to the shore to confide in the fish. Suddenly, row upon row of fish raised their heads above the waves, from nippers in the shallows to sizable listeners in the deep water. Rimini’s townsfolk flocked to witness the fish, which bowed their heads and opened their mouths to show their reverence to the wandering missionary.

There is a parade along Avenida de Liberdade and balconies everywhere are draped with coloured lights, streamers and paper lanterns. And the quirky practices don’t end with sardines. Single girls carry out all sorts of rituals to implore Anthony, known as the matchmaker saint, to help them find a worthy husband. The girl might fill her mouth with water until she hears a man’s name mentioned, or write her suitors’ names on pieces of paper, roll them up and place them in a bowl of water under her bed. In the morning, the piece of paper that has unfurled the most indicates the lucky man.

If girls are really sick of being single, they stand a small statue of Anthony upside down and bury its head, returning it to its proper position only when the hard-working saint has placed their case at the top of his long list of lonely hearts. Men, meanwhile, present the Portugese pomme of their eye with a basil plant containing a love poem. This is a popular practice, and balconies across the city sport pot plants and paper carnations with messages of affection for Anthony or the recipient.

 Unsurprisingly, a popular soundtrack for these activities is fado, the melancholy Portugese music imbued with a sense of longing. Bands often play alongside an image of the saint.

The matchmaking ploys must work. Mass marriages, known as St Anthony’s Weddings, take place in his church, where you can also see the tradition of St Anthony’s Bread. People write prayers and press them, with a small bread roll, into the frame of the saint’s portrait. The practice relates to a woman who agreed to give the poor an amount of wheat equal in weight to her drowned child, who Anthony revived.

 

Local Attractions: One of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Lisbon has architecture from Baroque to Art Deco on its seven hills.

 

More Info: www.visitportugal.com

 


 

 

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Location: Old Market, Trie Sur Baïse, Hautes-Pyrénées, France

 

 Dates: Second Sunday in August

 

The smell of roast pork fills the air at this porcine celebration, which gives a boost to the declining pig-farming industry. In fact, it’s universally enjoyed, because it gives everyone an excuse to do an impression of a porker at the swill trough.

 

Trie Sur Baïse, once the country’s largest pig market, fills with decorative piggy displays in shop windows. In the old market, waiters flourish pigtail corkscrews and banqueters happily dig in until it’s time for the spectacular sports. The Piglet Race pits the speediest runts against each other, but the strangest contests are purely human affairs. In the Black-Pudding-Eating Competition, men force down yummy lengths of congealed blood stretching over 1m. The judging criteria are simply ‘how much and how fast?’

 But the event that challenges entrants to really make pigs of themselves is the Cri do Cochon (pig-squealing championships). Contestants not only imitate our pink friends, but represent various stages in the twisty-tailed life cycle. Starting with the squeals of newly arrived piglets, they cover the whole gamut of pivotal moments in the pen, from the grunts of lovemaking to the wheeze of an old hog preparing to trot off this mortal coil.

 

Local Attractions: Walk off the pork in the mountainous Hautes-Pyrénées area, where snow-capped peaks lie along the Spanish border.

 

More Info: www.pourcailhade.com in French

 


 

 

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When: September
Where: Galway, Ireland

The Galway International Oyster Festival is a food festival held annually in Galway during September, the first month of the oyster season. Inaugurated in 1954, it was begun by Great Southern Hotel manager, Brian Collins, and in 2000 was described by the Sunday Times as “one of the 12 greatest shows on earth”[1] and was listed in the 1987 AA Travel Guide one of Europe’s Seven Best Festivals.[2]

The reason why the International Oyster Festival began is all from the worries of a hotel manager. Brian Collins was the manager of the Great Southern Hotel, he was questioning himself about how he would be able to extend the tourist season through the month of September. The head chef of the hotel and Brian had discussed having oysters put into the menu since they were in season. Brian Collins realized that by not just adding oysters to the menu but having an oyster festival would surely increase tourists to their hotel. Therefore in September 1954, the first oyster festival was held, and still remains today as one of the longest running festivals of the world.

Galway International Oyster Festival website