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US ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm, British ambassador Paul Brummell, Belgian head of mission Thomas Baekelandt and Hungarian ambassador Zákonyi Botond joined the revellers at the traditional Lenten start carnival in Sansimion - Harghita County, making merry, dancing, tasting traditional foods - the hallmark kurtoskalac included - all accompanied by a shot of palinka.

The diplomats and their wives answered the invite of County Council head Borboly Csaba, and joined the over 1,000 festival-goers, traditional ensembles and Sansimion locals in the celebration.

The guests watched with excitement the performance of folk ensembles from 13 localities of the county, who did their acts and played their antics wearing masks, ridiculing human sins and follies in up-to-date satire.

Right after the start of the Lenten ball, ambassadors Brummell and Baekelandt were attracted to a kurtoskalacs pastry stand and, encouraged by County Council head Borboly Csaba, they tried their hand at preparing this highly popular traditional chimney cakes, diligently rolling out the dough and cutting it into strips no wider than two centimeters. They did very well until they had to spin the strips around the oil-besprinkled wooden pin. This turned out to be a bit more complicated.

However, the two diplomats loved the experience and had a lot of fun as their wives looked on amused.

This was a was very beautiful experience, but I don't think I am an expert, so yes, it's difficult and the lady who makes kurtoskalacs is really talented. I like it very much. And this event here, it's very nice, interesting, with good food, said British ambassador Paul Brummell.

Next the guests went to the street where a folklore group accompanied by traditional Szekler music did a humorous act, symbolically burying the winter and evil spirits.

Immediately after the act, women dressed in traditional garb invited the four ambassadors to dance and they truly delivered, showing their footwork skills.

The guests were also served with ball-specific dishes like boiled potatoes, cheese, bread with a spread of lard and onion, hot doughnus, cakes, mulled wine, hot tea and palinka.

I am very, very happy that I returned to Harghita, especially on this special day of celebration. (...) This is a traditional carnival, although I am not a Catholic myself, I have spent a lot of time in Catholic areas in Ireland, Germany, in Trinidad, the Caribbean, where carnivals are customary, and I am happy to experience this version of the carnival in Harghita, said US ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm.

          UK ambassador Paul Brummell too voiced his delight at the experience and the traditional area-specific foods.

          It's a pleasure for me to be here in Sansimion to attend a very special feast that is related to the local Hungarian community here, in Harghita County, the Farsang celebration, the burying of the Farsang [ritual straw dummy] and I understand it is a kind of farewell bidding to winter and waiting for the summer. It's very beautiful, very special costumes and I think it will be a very exciting day. (...) I tried the potato, a Sansimion sort, it was very good, I also tasted the palinka and it was great too, the British Ambassador in Bucharest said.

         President of the Harghita County Council Borboly Csaba said that he invited the four diplomats to show them the positive and beautiful side of the county and even announced this was "a politics-free day", devoted all to traditions and good spirits.

          I believe that if everyone saw the positive sides of these counties, we would be much more interesting and we could have a more civilized dialogue and we could tap into our friendly nature, as we take pride in welcoming guests. That's why I said today is 'No politics' day, just beautiful, good things, culture, tradition, good spirits, and I hope this message reaches far, Borboly said.

          A noisy parade of traditional ensembles from 13 Harghita localities roamed the Sansimion streets ridiculing human vices like greed, debauchery, bad habits that should be dropped upon entering Lent.

         And because the winter and the evil spirits must be chased away with deafening noises, young people in each folklore group saw to this with whipcracking, drum beating or rattling the lids of kitchen pots. Others dressed as 'demons' were teasing the watchers with long wooden scissors.

We came to make merry as we bury the winter, because usually in the Ciuc area winter is harsh, with a lot of snow, and people are eagerly waiting for spring to come. It is a very beautiful custom, we bury the winter, but also meat dishes with fat, because we enter Easter fast. It's a day when everyone may loosen the reins, say whatever they please, as they are dressed up in masks, said Sancraieni local Gal Maria.

Karda Robert, the mayor of Sandominic - that will host the ball in 2019 - said that after they let themselves go on this day and indulge their senses, it's advisable for people to withdraw into reflection, to prepare for the great Easter holiday.

          Ferencz Angela, the director of the Harghita County Cultural Center, the institution that organized the event, explained that this rich in significance celebration dates back to the Middle Ages.

           "This custom is full of various symbols and meanings that have their source in the previous centuries, including ridiculing human sins and asking for forgiveness. It is a joyous celebration as we inherited this culture of joy and laughter from the Middle Ages. A lot of historical documents from all over Europe bear testimony to this, people enjoying dancing and eating aplenty as a symbol of abundance. We want nature to return to us this bountiful cornucopia, this would be a basic symbol of this custom," Ferencz Angela said

After the revellers roamed the streets and munched traditional dishes at crossroads, straw dummies symbolizing winter, human sins and evil spirits were set afire.

The first county-wide celebration of Lent carnival in Harghita was 26 years ago in Miercurea-Ciuc. The number of participating folk ensembles has since increased and the carnival is hosted each year by a different group and their home community. AGERPRES (RO - author: Gina Stefan, editor: Marius Fratila; EN - author/editor: Simona Klodnischi)

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