Russians and Ukrainians consider larks the heralds of spring. Families usher in the season by baking buns in the shape of larks, known as zhavoronki. Each pastry bird represents luck for the upcoming planting season, as well as one of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, Roman soldiers who died for Christianity. During the feast to honor the martyrs, Ukrainian children are given zhavoronki to toss into the air—a symbolic ritual meant to welcome warmer weather and will away the winter.
Christians living in Russia traditionally enjoy the sweet buns as a preamble to Maslenitsa, a week-long celebration leading up to the Lenten season, akin to other cultures’ Mardi Gras festivities. Translating to “butter week,” the annual event honors the changing of seasons through a mixture of pagan and Christian traditions. Though regional rituals vary across the nation, rich food is a must. With its butter-and-egg base, zhavoronki does the trick.