Every year, the entire Samogitia celebrates Mardi Grass on the 46th day before Easter. It is also known as the Shrove Tuesday as it always falls on this day of the week. If you wish to witness the most preserved traditions of this celebration, Plateliai is the place to visit.
The Mardi Grass Mask Exhibition is the only exhibition of the kind that is open year-round and is one of the most attractive places of interest in Samogitia. The exhibition welcomes visitors since 2011. It is located in the Plateliai Manor Stables built in the second half of the 19th century. The Mardi Grass Mask Exhibition has a collection of more than 300 traditional Mardi Grass masks, all of them made in Samogitia. As the residents of Plateliai are famous for being the masters of wood carving, the majority of the collection is comprised of wooden masks.
A boisterous carnival and parade of people wearing various disguises is one of the most important elements of the Mardi Grass celebration. In the old times, groups of masquerading people of up to 15 persons would make their way through heavy snow from one house to another from morning to late evening.
The tradition of making and wearing Mardi Grass masks was born hundreds of years ago. According to the ancient Lithuanian myths, the spirits guard people’s homes from rye harvest till spring, but the spirits must be scared away from home on Mardi Grass so that they go and protect the fields. Believing that the human power hides in one’s face, people would wear masks to prevent the spirits from coming too close to their faces. The scarier the mask, the easier it was to scare the spirits away.
As of the 19th century, devil, doctor, grim reaper, the gipsy and the Jew were the most popular characters of Mardi Grass. Sometimes, the masks would be adorned in tall ceremonial crowns with multicolored paper strips. Wearing such crowns on Mardi Grass made the masquerading people look taller and clearly visible from afar.
Another ancient Mardi Grass tradition is to include a bear in the parade of disguised people. Years ago, on Mardi Grass, a bear would fight a moose. The beer would win the fight and scare the moose away together with the winter. Later on, when our ancestors engaged in agriculture and hunting lost its importance, the bear and the moose were replaced with other indispensable Mardi Grass characters known as Lašininis (the Porky) and Kanapinis (the Hempen Man). The fight between these two symbolized the battle between winter and spring. No matter how plump and hefty the Porky is, he always gets defeated by the feeble Hempen Man, who heartily misses spring after a long and torturous winter.
However, the most important character of Mardi Grass is always Morė, the goddess of the celebration. She symbolizes fertility and richness of the earth, and therefore is a stout and scantily clad woman with fine curves. Traditionally, the locals of Plateliai would place Morė on a chariot wheel and sled runners. The wheel is a symbol of spring and the sled runners symbolize winter. Morė would hold a flail in her hands, and when the horse pulled her along, she would turn in a circle and beat the air with the flail. This way she would wake up the Earth, banish the winter and welcome the spring. At the end of the Mardi Grass celebration, Morė is always burnt at the stake as a symbol of the banished winter.