lithuania festivals

Ancient Lithuanian celebrations, work customs and ceremonies often corresponded with the most significant days of the year: solstices, equinoxes and others. Many of these traditions dated back to pagan times. Lithuania was an agricultural nation, therefore it is not surprising that farming and husbandry left their mark on calendar celebrations.
After Lithuania was converted to Christianity, the church began determining when holidays would occur. However elements of ancient pagan beliefs still existed alongside Christian ones in many holiday rituals. Often the daates of Christian holidays coincided with older pagan ones as agricultural cycles never changed. Holiday and work customs were not uniform throughout Lithuania. For example, Shrove Tuesday was most popular in Žemaitija, whereas rye cutting customs were observed mainly in Dzūkija, and St. John’s day celebrations were mostly found in northern Lithuania.

Christmas Eve (December 24 TH)
Christmas Eve in Lithuania was an occasion full of mysticism and secrecy. It was far richer more meaningful in terms of custom and ritual than Christmas daay. More so than other holidays, Christmas Eve’s rituals still retained many pre – Christmas elements. It was thought that on Christmas Eve spirits returned to their homes. Because of this, no one went very far from home on the 24th fo

or fear of meeting hostile spirits.
At sunset, a ceremonial dinner was served. Before sitting down to Christmas Eve dinner everyone had to make sure that they were clean, without angry thoughts, at peace with their neighbors and without any debts. The table was covered with hay and usually set with twelve meatless dishes, among them kūčiukai (small, hard biscuits with poppies), oatmeal, cranberry pudding and so forth. Places were set at the table for recently deceased family members. Having eaten, the seated people pulled hay stalks from under the tablecloth to forecast their fortunes. A long stem meant a long life, whereas a short one meant that person might not live until next Christmas. After dinner, the table was noot cleared off so that the souls of dead family members could gather around it during the night.

Christmas (December 25 Th)
In contrast to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day in Lithuania was always a public celebration involving entire communities. The high point of the festivities occurred when costumed revelers visited all of the farmsteads wishing everyone a good harvest. These visitors were always showered with gifts. The main figure in this group was Kalėdų senis (Father Christmas), a man dressed in an inside-out fu

ur coat and flaxen beard with a bag and a stick. Father Christmas scattered grains from his bag onto each household’s krikštasuolis (the corner of honor behind the table) and gave nuts to the children and young people.

New Year’s Day (January 1st)
New Year’s Day was a part of the Christmas holiday cycle. Many of its traditions were similar to those of Christmas Eve.

Three Kings’ Day (January 6th)
On the of January 6 Th, the letters KMB were written over the door of each household. These letters honored the three kings who came to greet the newly-born Jesus. On this day, costumed kings with retinues visited all of the farmsteads. Their clothes were seldom actually regal; they consisted of long furs, hats woven from thick sheaves of straw decorated with berry branches and so forth. The kings visited each house to greet its inhabitants with the news of Christ’s birth, to herald the new year and to wish them a good harvest. In order to guarantee that the king’s blessing would be fulfilled, farmers showered them with gifts.

Shrove Tuesday
(Seven weeks before Easter)
Shrove Tuesday signaled the weakening of winter and the end of feasting and merriment during the time period between the Ad

dvent and Lenten fasts. Driving behind horses, sledding down a hill on a distaff board, doing the wash or dragging a chopping block on a rope on this day ensured a good flax harvest that year. Being sated during Shrove Tuesday meant being sated throughout the whole year. Thus, people tried to eat as often as possible on this day, even twelve times if they could.
In Žemaitija the most important part of this holiday was the merry procession of costumed people through villages. Many of their costumes were obvious caricature: Shrove Tuesday Jews, beggars, angels, devils, death, traveling healers called Hungarians, zoomorphic masked characters (goats, cranes, and others) and Morė’s escorts. Morė was an effigy dressed in women’s clothes affixed to a wagon wheel which turned as it was dragged on the ground. After everyone had fooled around enough, Morė was dragged outside of the village and burned.

The week preceding Easter (Grand or Souls’ Week) was a time for abstinence and cleansing. Ceremonial Easter foods began with margučiai (dyed eggs) which were believed to possess magical powers. For the first time since the beginning of the Lenten fast, people were allowed to eat their fill of fatty foods. Easter ev

vening and night, unmarried young men walked through the villages and played music. This ritual was called lalavimas. The young men stopped to wish each family a good year, harvest and health and to sing special songs for unmarried girls. The singers were rewarded for their music, most often with colorful Easter eggs.

St. John’s Day (June 24 TH)
In ancient times, this day was an occasion to pay homage to water, fire and plants. It was also a time to cleanse one’s soul as well as to celebrate the summer solstice. However, over time, this holiday lost most of its sacral meaning and only its various festive elements remained. Traditionally, people gathered in beautiful spots such as hilltops or by rivers to feast and honor men named John. A large bonfire and wheel hub on a post were set afire. It was thought that the wider the area that was illuminated by the fire, the better the harvest would be. Young people gathered grasses with which they predicted their futures. Girls also wore wreaths and later set them afloat on rivers and lakes to find out if they would marry or not in the following year. Unmarried young men and women sang, danced and jumped over the remains of the bonfire until daybreak. St. John’s Day dew was thought to have many magical healing properties. The dew was also used by village sorceresses for malevolent purpose-for preventing cows from giving milk.

Žolinė (Meadow grass celebration, August 15 TH)
This holiday coincided with the coming of autumn. People gathered grass from their fields and gardens and brought it to churches to be blessed. Rye, wheat and oat ears were tucked into these grass bundles. In the spring, these ears were crushed and sprinkled on the seed to be planted. Other bundles of blessed grasses were used as medicine, as protection from lightning strikes and to be sewn into coffin pillows. Families always tried to gather together on this day to ensure the coming year would be a productive one.

All Saints’ Day and Vėlinės (November 1 St – 2 Nd)
Since ancient times, Lithuanians believed that after death, the soul separated from the body and continued existing among the living. Vėlinės was an occasion to remember the deceased by decorating their graves with flowers, plants and burning candles. This was thought to bring their spirits nearer and to form bond between the living and the dead.

Advent was a four week fast before Christmas. During this time, people tried not to work in the evenings, especially after midnight, as evil spirits were thought to be about then. In Dzūkija, quit youth gatherings were common during Advent. Specific holiday songs and games graced these evenings.

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