Both in the Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox tradition, Shrove Tuesday is the eve of the first day of Lent. This is the last day when you can still eat rich foods and take part in loud and boisterous social activities. The Estonian Open Air Museum invites you to explore the customs of Shrove Tuesday and Maslenitsa on three separate days: Family Shrovetide on February 27, Shrove Tuesday on Mach 1 and Maslenitsa on March 5.

Make sure to visit the museum on all the three occasions to learn about the similarities and differences between the Shrove Tuesday foods, games, and other traditions of Estonians, Setos and Old Believers.

While Shrove Tuesday is celebrated by Estonians, Maslenitsa (which stands for “butter week”) is observed by Orthodox Christians: Setos, Russians, Ukrainians, Russian Old Believers on the shore of Lake Peipus and numerous other peoples. Both feasts are moveable, but one is determined by the “new” (Gregorian) calendar and the other by the “old” (Julian) calendar, so it is a special and rare occasion when both happen to occur in the same week.

After Shrove Tuesday and the Butter Week people would abstain from fatty food either for religious reasons or because the barrel of salt-cured meat had been emptied, and the period of self-reflection and cleansing one’s spirit would start.

That is why this is the time to enjoy life properly for the last: have fun and eat well. The dish most characteristic of Shrove Tuesday celebrations is pea soup with pig’s trotters, and the favourite thing to feast on during Maslenitsa is pancakes stuffed with various fillings and positively drowned in butter, which are a symbol of the sun’s victory over darkness.

To make sure that flax plants grow long next year, one is supposed to follow the tradition of having a good slide downhill using a vehicle to one’s liking, be it a sled, toboggan, skis or skates. Those who stay at home risk spending the whole year there like a bump on a log and probably even growing some moss!

Saturday of the week of Maslenitsa is traditionally when winter is symbolically shown out by the burning of a straw doll known as “Chuchela”. On Shrove Tuesday, too, people in olden times would make a straw figure called “Metsik” (The Wild One) and take it out of the village’s lands to chase away bad things. Later, the straw doll was replaced by “kada”, a ball made of rags, that would also be “banished” from one’s land.

Shrove Tuesday is the women’s holiday; instead of knitting or spinning yarn at home women were to go to the inn and “water flax roots” so that flax would grow well in the summer. The red liquor enjoyed at the inn on this day was believed to make sure you could boast beauty and healthy complexion in the summer, and the hair cut on Shrove Tuesday would grow especially well.

The last day of the Butter Week is also known as Forgiveness Sunday. After major noisy gatherings, visits and even fights this is the time to ask one another for forgiveness so that you can start the lenten fast a better person.