VILNIUS - Every year, in every town throughout Lithuania, March starts off with a party: the Kaziukas fair, a ritual that marks the coming of spring. Dedicated to St. Kazimieras, the patron of Lithuania, the festival originated in the 17th century, and by the 19th century had developed into the fair that's now known internationally. This year's fair takes place March 2 - 4 and will be celebrated throughout the country. But the real center of the festivities, as always, will be in Vilnius.
As for what you can expect to see on the streets of Vilnius the first weekend of March, think first of all of arts and crafts. Craftsmen from all over Lithuania 's and even some from neighboring countries 's flood the streets with their original creations. Here you can buy woodwork, paintings, jewelry, pottery and pretty much everything else you can think of, both in traditional forms and contemporary designs.
And what would a Kaziukas fair be if there was no traditional food to try? Here you can sample a cup of good old kvass, a plate of porridge, a few pretzels, and if you're lucky you might even get ahold of the traditional potato dumplings, cepelinai.
And there are even more attractions waiting for you. This year macho men can test their muscle power by cutting through a log with a five-meter saw, or chopping it with a 200 kilogram axe. For those of a slightly more delicate physique, an entertaining ride on a tractor might be the ticket to a good time.
Alas, in this festival, tradition overpowers the cold and all events will take place outdoors. Before you baulk at the idea of spending time outside in this wintry weather though, consider this: Getting out into the streets in this chilly season, even for a couple of hours, can be a rewarding experience, and with so many nasty cold and flu viruses circulating through the indoor air, it may even be a salvation. And think of all those poor craftsmen, who spend three days from morning till night in the freezing weather, just so you can drop by and be entertained.
Come freezing weather, snow, sleet or hurricane, there are some craftsmen you can count on to turn up at every Kaziukas fair. I know that I'll see the jeweller Svajunas Udrys somewhere, I'll stop by to say hello to a couple of women selling felted accessories, and I'll find a ceramicist, Lina, who's making her fifth visit to Vilnius' Kaziukas fair. Every year she travels from her hometown of Siauliai, around 250 kilometres away, just to show and sell her works at the fair. Five years ago pottery was just a hobby for Lina, but after participating in the Kaziukas fair, she took the plunge and became a full-time ceramicist.
"I started with only a couple of works, displaying them on an ironing board at the Kaziukas fair," Lina remembers. The hobby turned into a business, and from then on she's devoted every year to standing in the cold at the fair. "If sales are going well, there's no time to freeze," she notes, "and it also helps to have friends in Vilnius who can stop by with a bowl of warm soup or a thermos of tea."
But why trek all the way to Vilnius if there's Kaziukas fair in Siauliai? Lina assures me that Vilnius is the center of the festival, and far more festival-goers can be found in the streets of the Lithuanian capital on this special weekend. Commercially, this is where it makes sense to be. "It seems that our people are better off financially; they are buying more than in the previous years," she said.
But the Kaziukas fair is not only a place to sell. It's a place to find new contacts, build relationships with the Vilnius galleries and, of course, to have fun meeting all the craftsmen and exchanging ideas.
So take some extra coin, jump into some warm clothes, and off you go to the Kaziukas fair, be it the one in Vilnius' Old Town, or in any other Lithuanian city.