"Zapust" is most likely the most copiously and jolly celebrated festival in Lower Lusatia. Thousands of citizens of the villages around Cottbus celebrate this festival annually from the middle of January until the beginning of March. The background of this tradition is the rural working life.It was still celebrated by the youth in the 1950s as the final of the spinning room period. On this occasion the young men went for the maidens to invite them for "Zapust". In former days the Lower Sorbian shrovetide took a full week but today it takes just three days.
This historical older part of "Zapust" is originated in pre-Christian belief of fertility magic or defence magic. Elements of magic and cult such as masquerade, disguise, making noise, whipping the rod and dancing point to the defence against daemons and dangers.
The "camprowanje" staff was equipped with willow and birch rods. They touched adults and children with that "rod of life", symbolising the new coming vital power of the springtime.
Some of the oldest mummeries are the double person "the dead man carries the living one", the white horse rider, the stork as a symbol of the arising spring and the bear as a symbol of the leaving winter.
Nowadays these symbols have lost their importance and have rather disappeared. They have been replaced by up-to-date costumes or fantastic guises.
The youth of the village in their costumes are on their tour from one house to the next with music and noise in order to beg for eggs, bacon and money. Usually the tour is running on a Saturday, in some villages on a Sunday. As a gesture of thankyou, the housewife is asked for a dance and the husband is offered a "paleńc", a glass of schnapps. In most cases the collected gifts will be consumed one week later at the "Egg Meal".
"Zapustowy pśeśěg" - Festive Procession
The festive procession on Sunday is the highlight of "Zapust". Around noon the maidens and bachelors of the village meet in the tavern where the pairs for the procession are going to be assembled.
The maidens are wearing their festive costumes with the neckerchiefs of silken embroidery and white lace aprons. The costume is complete with the "lapa" which is an elaborately bound bonnet. Unfortunately, in some villages this bonnet is no longer in use.
Each lad receives from his maiden a small "Zapust" paper flower bouquet which is sticked onto his hat or his revers. After a dance the procession will be formed. While the procession is parading through the village, honoured citizens as for example the mayor, the pastor, the school director or heads of clubs and associations are visited. These persons also get a "Zapust" bouquet and the band plays a serenade to dance. In return they have to give a refreshment or pay into the cash box.
In the evening all people meet in the restaurant for the shrovetide dance. It is an old rule to dance copiously during the shrovetide in order to support flax ripeness. To make the flax longer you should jump high while dancing. For a maiden it would be effective to dance with a lad as tall as possible. In many villages the shrovetide ends with Men's Shrovetide.
The last dance evening is reserved for the married. The women are also dressed in their festive costumes. As a compensation, the youth of the village meets for the "Egg Meal".