Rukla, Lithuania, 9 March 2017
The first forces providing NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence have been in Lithuania since the end of January. There are now around 550 soldiers from three different countries serving in the Lithuanian town of Rukla. Their Lithuanian counterparts came up with an excellent idea to give them an impression of regional traditions and customs.
It’s Shrove Tuesday in Rukla. A group of Lithuanian soldiers and performers enters the barracks singing loudly, wearing garish costumes and colourful face paint. It’s time to celebrate the traditional pancake festival, which takes place just before Lent every year and goes back a long way here in Lithuania. This year, the soldiers from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have a chance to be a part of the tradition.
Pancakes bring good luck
All the dressed-up revellers and the soldiers from the barracks first gather on a lawn to hear one of the performers give a speech to open proceedings. Then things get going. At a large number of stands set up in the square, Lithuanian soldiers and kitchen staff serve home-made pancakes with jam and hot tea. Demand is high, but supplies are plentiful too. The hosts did assume that all the soldiers would want to test the delicious specialities for themselves.
Twelve pancakes to ward off starvation
To Lithuanians, however, there is more to these pancakes than just eggs, flour and sugar. Particularly popular on and around Shrove Tuesday, this delicacy is supposed to bring good luck. There is a proverb which says you should eat twelve of these pancakes to ward off starvation for the coming twelve months. It is also meant as a way to help people cope with Lent, when they will be expected to avoid fatty foods.
“Moré” goes up in smoke
While everyone gets stuck into their lucky pancakes, the entertainment programme continues. With its loud singing, wild dancing and colourful costumes, this traditional celebration is supposed to drive away the winter and welcome the spring. To that end, all the negative elements of the past winter are symbolically burnt in the form of a large straw puppet called Moré. The costumed revellers dance around the effigy as it burns, calling, “Winter, winter, get off my land!” – in Lithuanian, of course.
A duel: Winter versus spring
Another custom intended to bring the long winter to end is the duel between winter and spring – which the spring, of course, ultimately wins. Almost every soldier is persuaded to join in with this spectacle in the end, as tradition dictates that those present are pitted against each other in small groups. These means off with the army boots for a boot-throwing contest, trying to balance on a log while knocking your opponent off and gathering your strength for the ever-popular tug-of-war. The fun of it is etched into every face.
A highlight: tug-of-war
Accompanied by much vocal cheering, the tug-of-war is one of the highlights of the occasion. For the soldiers of the eFP Battlegroup in Lithuania, these last few hours have been a pleasant opportunity to dip a toe into Lithuania’s traditions and broaden their own horizons.
This is a translation of an article by Rabe published on