For most foreigners Slavs are odd people – they drink too much vodka and rakia, they lavishly eat strange foods (good luck explaining selyodka pod shuboy or slanina) and they have the weirdest customs on the planet. Don’t believe me? Ask any non-Slav what he or she thinks of the following traditions Slavic people have for welcoming spring.
Baking zhavoronki cookies
Associating the arrival of springtime with birds isn’t something uncommon, but baking zhavoronki cookies isn’t common outside Russia. Zhavoronki (meaning lard birds) are baked each year on the 9th of March, following centuries old traditions. Russians prepare these bird-shaped cookies and call for the lark birds to fly back to their lands, bringing them health, prosperity, good harvest and luck. In the old days these cookies would be placed on high perched places, but today they’re simply left for kids, friends and other relatives to enjoy.
Drowning Marzanna/ Morena dolls
It might sound a bit morbid, but many Slavic countries, including Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Ukraine and others, have a long-standing tradition of drowning dolls as a way of welcoming spring. The Marzanna/ Morena dolls are colorful handmade dolls representing the goddess of the same name who must be reborn into the goddess of spring. The tradition consists of throwing the doll into a river or lake, thus sacrificing her in honor of the new season. Through the years numerous attempts have been made to ban this ritual, but as you might have already guessed – they’ve all been unsuccessful.
Tying martenitsa bracelets on trees
In Bulgaria people exchange martenitsa bracelets and clothing decorations colored in red and white on the first day of March and they have to wear them every single day from that moment on. The Bulgarian way of welcoming spring is tying up these bracelets and decorations on blossoming trees, usually around the end of the month. According to the old customs, one must remove the martenitsa from their hand or clothing and tie it on a blossoming tree only after they’ve seen a stork in person.
Dressing up in scary masks and marching the streets during Masopust
People in the Czech Republic have a different approach towards welcoming spring – they dress up in scary masks and animal costumes and march the streets of their towns and villages in a massive parade called Masopust. It’s organized just before the Long Lent and the processions are often quite colorful and festive, despite the repulsively looking masks. People sing, dance and cheer throughout the carnival and even though foreign kids might have nightmares afterwards, Slavic children truly enjoy the Masopust.
Cooking humongous portions of čimbur (scrambled eggs) by the river
Here’s another culinary tradition associated with the welcoming of spring. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in the areas around the river Bosna, people from all over gather by its waters at sunrise and start cooking scrambled eggs, called čimbur, in humongous pots and pans. They share the food with the rest of the participants and mingle together while enjoying lots and lots of eggs.
Ringing bells to exorcise evil spirits
Croats have a fancy way of exorcising evil spirits. Instead of reciting cleric rites, they simply dress up in special costumes and ring brass bells. Depending on the region the costumes vary, but most are associated with animal skin and colorful flower ornaments. The bell ringers are called zvončari and their customs allegedly originate all the way back to pagan times. UNESCO included this tradition in their official Cultural Heritage list back in 2009, but don’t expect to see the same zvončari in different municipalities of Croatia. Part of what makes the bell-ringing ritual so unique is that each region has its own special costume and choreographed dance.