On March 22, we celebrate Zhavoronki. This holiday isn’t that widely known in urban areas these days, but some might recall it from their childhood – for example, my grandmother always celebrated it by baking bird-shaped buns. Why? Because Zhavoronki (Жаворонки) stands for larks!

This tradition, just like Maslenitsa or Koliada, dates back to pagan times but was at some point reinvented by the Christian church. On this day, early Slavic peoples celebrated the end of winter and the coming of the long-awaited spring. It took place on the day of the spring equinox, which has always been an important day for pagans. They believed that larks are the first birds to return from warmer lands where they’d spent the winter. Therefore, they symbolize that spring is finally here. To greet it, they baked bird-shaped buns and sang special verses. This little song was recorded in 1903, but still probably conveys the same ideas:

Жаворонки, прилетите,
Студёну зиму унесите,
Тёплу весну принесите:
Зима нам надоела,
Весь хлеб у нас поела!

Larks, fly back,
Take away this cold winter,
Bring us a warm spring,
We’re tired of winter –
It has eaten all of our bread!

Christians, on the other hand, don’t celebrate equinoxes, so they gave this tradition a new meaning and now Zhavoronki is associated with 40 Martyrs of Sebaste that were killed for their faith. That’s where another name of this holiday, Soroki, comes from – not from soroka (сорока – magpie) but from sorok (сорок – forty). The tradition of baking bird-shaped buns remains but symbolizes the souls of these martyrs. However, I’d say that in the minds of most people it’s still associated with spring.

In case you would like to bake these buns yourself, check out this video with thorough instruction (English subtitles are available):

For more suggestions on Russian foods to try this spring, check out this article.