Sirni Zagovezni, or Shrove Sunday, is one of the most loved holidays coming at the end of the winter. It is always celebrated on Sunday seven weeks before Easter, marking the beginning of the Great Lent, the longest period of fasting throughout the year. In its way, the festival also serves to mark the beginning of spring.
In old days, one of the most typical features of Sirni Zagovezni was the building of large bonfires in the hills surrounding towns and villages; either one communal bonfire, or each of the individual ones for the different neighborhoods. The fires would be built in higher areas, for it was believed that no hailstorm would strike the places lit up by them.
Young and old would gather around the bonfire where they apologize to each other, forgive and forget the small wrongs and old quarrels in the name of friendliness and understanding. Usually the younger ask the older for forgiveness and are also asked to forgive on the part of their parents, relatives, friends or just the people they live or work with. The young men would jump over the fire “for health”. It was believed that the one who jumped farthest would be the first to get married in the forthcoming autumn.
In some parts of the country the young men would fling burning wooden arrows with special devices made for the purpose. This was done from the surrounding hilltops, for the arrows had to fall exactly in the yards they were directed at.
The training for this would start on January 18, the Day of St Athanasius (Father of Orthodoxy). Each arrow was dedicated to someone, be it father, mother, or sweetheart. It would be mostly to young ladies who waited in the yards with pots full of water at hand, for the arrows were a sign of love. The girl who collected the largest number of arrows was considered to be the most beautiful and desirable young lady in the village.