Lithuania

Geography. Climate

Lithuania lies at the edge of the East European Plain. Its landscape was shaped by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. Lithuania’s terrain is an alternation of moderate lowlands and highlands. The highest elevation is 297 meters above sea level, found in the eastern part of the republic and separated from the uplands of the western region of Zemaiciai by the very fertile plains of the southwestern and central regions. The landscape is punctuated by 2,833 lakes larger than one heectare and an additional 1,600 ponds smaller than one hectare. The majority of the lakes are found in the eastern part of the country. Lithuania also has 758 rivers longer than ten kilometers. The largest river is the Nemunas (total length 917 kilometers), which originates in Belarus. The other larger waterways are the Neris (510 kilometers), Venta (346 kilometers), and Sesupe (298 kilometers) rivers. However, only 600 kilometers of Lithuania’s rivers are navigable.
The country’s climate, which ranges between maritime and continental, is relatively mild. Average temperatures on thhe coast are 1.6°C in January and 17.8°C in July. In Vilnius the average temperatures are 2.1°C in January and 18.1°C in July. Average annual precipitation is 717 millimeters on the coast and 490 millimeters in the eastern part of the country. Th

he growing season lasts 202 days in the western part of the country and 169 days in the eastern part.
Once a heavily forested land, Lithuania’s territory today consists of only 28 percent woodlands–mainly pine, spruce, and birch forests. Ash and oak are very scarce. The forests are rich in mushrooms and berries.

Ecology

Lithuania is relatively clean country protected from industrial pollution from the East and West. The Dzukija forests, the environs of Neringa and Palanga are considered to be the cleanest places in the country. The cleanest river is Zeimena, and the cleanest lake is Dusia. A nuclear power plant is situated at the biggest Lithuanian lake of Druksiai in southern Lithuania.The plant has two reactors which after the Chernobyl disaster have received much moore attention from both local and foreign experts. The state radio makes daily announcements about the radioactive level in various Lithuanian regions. The level has never exceeded the limit. Water in the sea is usually clean.

History

The Lithuanians, united in the 12th century under the rule of Mindaugas, who became king in 1251. Through marriage, one of the later Lithuanian rulers became the king of Poland (Ladislaus II) in 1386, uniting the countries. In 1410, the Poles and Lithuanians defeated the powerful Teutonic Kn

nights at Dannenberg. From the 14th to the 16th century, Poland and Lithuania made up one of medieval Europe’s largest empires, stretching from the Black Sea almost to Moscow. The two countries formed a confederation for almost 200 years, and in 1569 they formally united. Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland in 1772, 1792, and 1795. As a consequence, Lithuania came under Russian rule after the last partition. Russia attempted to immerse Lithuania in Russian culture and language, but anti-Russian sentiment continued to grow. Following World War I and the collapse of Russia, Lithuania declared independence (1918), under German protection.
The republic was then annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. From June 1941 to 1944, it was occupied by German troops, with whom Lithuania served in World War II. Some 240,000 Jews were massacred in Lithuania during the Nazi years. In 1944, the Soviets again annexed Lithuania.
The Lithuanian independence movement reemerged in 1988. In 1990, Vytautas Landsbergis, the non-Communist head of the largest Lithuanian popular movement, was elected president. On the same day, the Supreme Council rejected Soviet rule and declared the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, the first Baltic republic to take this action. Confrontation with the Soviet Union ensued along with economic sanctions, but they were lifted after both sides agreed to a
face-saving compromise.
Lithuania’s independence was quickly recognized by major European and other nations, including the United States. The Soviet Union finally recognized the independence of the Baltic states on Sept. 6, 1991. UN admittance followed on Sept. 17, 1991. Successful implementation of structural and legislative reforms in Lithuania attracted greater direct foreign investments by the mid-1990s.
In late 2002, Lithuania was accepted for membership in the EU and NATO, and it joined both in 2004. In Jan. 2003 Rolandas Paksas defeated the incumbent, Valdas Adamkus, in the presidential election. It was a surprising upset, given that Adamkus had helped bring about his country’s entry into NATO and the European Union. In April 2004, President Paksas was removed from office after his conviction for dealings with Russian mobsters. It was Lithuania’s worst political crisis since independence from the Soviet Union. In July 2004, Valdas Adamkus was again elected president.
Population. Language

Lithuanian’s population is 3 848 000 of which 80 per cent are Lithuanians, 9 per cent Russians, 7 per cent Poles, and 4 per cent other nationalities. Thirty per cent of the populations live in five biggest cities-Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Siauliai and Panevezys. About 2 millions Lithuanians live abroad, mostly in the USA, Canada Brazil, The Argentine, Uruguay, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Poland and other countries.
The state language, Li

ithuanian, belongs to the Baltic family of the Indo-European language group. Owing to the fact of the population speaks Russia. An ever increasing number of people understand and speak English, German and other languages.

Religion

Traditionally, Lithuania has been a Roman Catholic country. Although severely affected by Soviet repression, the Roman Catholic Church remains the dominant and the most influential denomination. However, Lithuania in the past has had two small but active Protestant denominations, the Evangelical Reformed (Calvinist) and the Evangelical Lutheran. In addition, Orthodox Christianity as well as Judaism have roots at least as old as those of Roman Catholicism. In 1991 a Western poll found that 69 percent of respondents in Lithuania identified themselves as Roman Catholics (in 1939 the percentage was 85), 4 percent identified themselves as Orthodox, and 1 percent professed Evangelical Christian beliefs. New in this self-identification was a large category–25 percent–who did not profess any religion.

Education
Secondary education lasts for 12 years. Education is compulsory to children till they reach 16. Lithuania has 6 universities and 5 other higher education institutions. The University of Vilnius established in 1579.

National holidays

January 1 – New Year.
February 16 – Independence Day / 1918/.
April 8 – Easter.
First Sunday in May – Mother’s Day.
July 6 – State Day.
November 1 – All Souls Day.
December 24 – Christmas Eve.
December 25-26 – Christmas

New Year

In certain regions of Lithuanian New Year’s Eve was known as “the little Christmas Eve”. Foods similar to those of Christmas Eve were prepared, except that the dishes could contain meat and straw was not placed under the tablecloth. People stayed up on New Year’s Eve at least until midnight to greet the new year. If an individual sleeps through such an important moments his entire year will go badly – he’ll be groggy and lazy.
The main concern on New Year’s Eve and Day is to learn the future: what kind of year will it be, what will it bring, how will life go. Consequently, certain prognostications were performed on New Year’s Eve and the following day.
The vital question for a young girl was whether she would marry, next year, would she find a beau, who will be her beloved or husband? Young men were also preoccupied with forming a family: would a girl fall in love with him, would he get a good, pretty, industrious and rich wife? The older folk wished to know: would the year be good, prosperous and safe, would the harvest be bountiful, would the livestock thrives would there be storms, heavy gales and thunderstorms? The old people yearned to know: would they live one more year on this earth,would they be healthy, strong and wealthy? Even if the divinations on New Year’s Eve and Day were unable to solve all these problems of life, they at least afforded an opportunity to pass a pleasant holiday evening, spend time with family, neighbors and friends.
On New Year’s Eve many of the auguries and forecasts done on Christmas Eve were repeated. The weather and other events of New Year’s Eve and Day could also foretell the following year’s weather. For examples, if it snows on New Year’s Day, the weather will be bad all year. If the day is clear, the harvest will be good; if the trees are covered with frost, the year win be good, but If there is a thick fog, people will die, epidemics and disease will rage. Death was also predicted in the following manner: if it snows on New Year’s during the day, many young people will die that year, if it snows that night, old people will die. If it is very cold on New Year’s Day, Easter will be warm. If many birds gather in the yard on New Year’s Day and they chirp causing a rackets the hosehold will have many guests all year long – the year will be happy.

Independence Day

On a congress in Vilnius, from 18 to 23 September 1917, a National Counsel ‘Lietuvos Taryba’ was chosen. This counsel consisted of 20 members with Antanas Smetona as chairman. In Vilnius on 18 February 1918 the Taryba proclaimed the independence of Lithuania. The day of this proclamation, 16 February 1918, was considered as Independence-Day. With the day of armistice (11 November) the first Ministry Voldemaras enters upon one’s duties.
On 16 November 1918, with the first postal regulations, the electrical engineer Benediktas Tamosevicius was appointed in the Ministry of Communication to manage the Post-, Telegraph- and Telephone-communications. This we can see thus as the beginning of the independent Lithuanian Post.

Further the executive staff consisted of J. Ducinkas, appointed 20 November 1918, Adolfas Sruoga, appointed 29 November, and J. Augunas, appointed 19 December.
The German authorities co-operated not really: even an office was not available within the Main Post office of Vilnius. However there were rooms empty and one decided to ‘sqatt’ in a room. The former room of the postmaster of Vilnius seemed well suitable for it and on 9 December L. Ducinkas broke open the door, which led to the inner courtyard. He repaired the broken glass panels and connected the room with the electricity.
The Germans protested indeed, but did not carry into effect their menaces and in this room the Lithuanian Post began her activities. After negotiations the Lithuanians could take over for 150.000 Auksinai surplus materials from the Germans.
Also the Poles worked against so much as possible and hired even somebody to remove posters.

On 24 December 1918 the occupation-authorities ordered that the Lithuanians could take over the post-offices direct. At the same time also they came to an arrangement for the post-transport along the railways of the Germans: a compartment of each of four trains was destined for this. A board with ‘Lietuvos Paљtas’ was been hung -something provisional- on the window.

Easter

In Lithuania the Easter morning procession was usually conducted around the church. It was very solemn: church flags were held high, girls strewed flowers, the choir and all the people sang, alternating with a brass band, and the church bells pealed loudly. Three turns were made while singing the Lithuanians’ favorite Easter Hymn Linksma diena mums prašvito (A Happy Day Has Dawned for Us). After the services, a blessing was made over the Easter food which was arranged in baskets decorated with greens and placed on the altar-rails.
At the conclusion of the liturgy in church, the people hurried home. In fact, all large and small roads, every path was the scene of races: whoever arrived home first would be successful all year and would complete all work on time. Even persons walking tried to pass those ahead and reach home first. It is not surprising that accidents happened during such races. Perhaps that is why it was said that a woman met on the road brings disaster (someone had to be blamed!).
At home, Easter breakfast was eaten. The meal began when the homemaker peeled a blest Easter egg, cut it and gave a piece to every member of the family. This was done so that peace and love would always reign within the family and everyone would live in harmony. Afterward, a variety of other dishes was consumed: meat, sausages, cakes. On Easter it was necessary to eat well and to satiety, to “recover from Lent” because of the fast all through Lent. If the area had poor families with no Easter food, their neighbors shared what they had and brought the disadvantaged families everything they need to be satisfied and happy.

Christmas Eve. Christmas

Almost everyone in Lithuania has a Christmas tree in their home which is decorated with electric lights and ornaments purchased in the store. There are some people who still follow the old traditions and use hand crafted ornaments to decorate the tree. It is done especially if the family has little children who like to make ornaments from paper or something else in order to put them on the branches of the tree.
Christmas music includes “Linksmu sventu Kaledu” (We Wish You A Merry Christmas) and “Tyli naktis” (Silent Night). One Lithuanian folk song for Christmas is “Kaledu ryta” which means “On the Morning of Christmas.”
After Lithuania became independent from Russia in 1990 people started celebrating Christmas again and giving gifts to children for Christmas. Previously, gifts were given for the New Year. During the first period after gaining independence, Lithuanian children wanted to get gifts twice – for Christmas and then for New Year as it were before. Fortunately, parents were smart and they chose just one occasion – Christmas Eve. The gift-bringer is called Kaledu senis or “Father Christmas.” When gifts were brought for New Year the same character was called Senis Saltis what would mean Father Frost.
Kucios or Christmas Eve is a more important day in Lithuania than Christmas Day. In the evening on Christmas Eve families gathers together and have a big dinner with 12 special dishes. It’s necessary to have 12 dishes because they represent the 12 months of the year. All dishes must be without fat, milk, butter and meat, because it’s the last day of fasting. Usually people make dishes with fish (especially herring), grains, green peas, and mushrooms. It is necessary to have some jelly. The main dish for Kucios is kuciukai – little cookies made from paste with yeast. They are eaten with milk made from poppy seeds.
On Christmas day, it is an old Lithuanian tradition to eat some meat and some cakes. You can eat whatever you want because the fasting is over.
Christmas Eve legends and traditions claim that the water in wells becomes wine at midnight and animals can talk. It’s very dangerous to hear what they are saying because, according to superstition, you will die within the year. If you are able to taste the water when it changes to wine, it is said that you will be lucky throughout the year. Many of the legends and mysterious tales come from the days when Lithuania was a pagan country.
It’s very popular to exchange Christmas cards with relatives, friends and co-workers. Before it was popular to send the cards for New Year, now people are sending one combined card for both festivals – Christmas and New Year.

References
1. www.references.all refer.com
2. www. lituanus. Org
3. “Let’s get talking 1”Kaunas,2000

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