January 13: Independence Commemoration This date commemorates those killed or wounded by Soviet troops on January 13, 1991 with wreaths appearing on the pavement where partisans were killed. Lithuanians visit their graves, which are in one spot at the principal cemetery at Antakalnis, vilnius where most national heroes are buried. Usually there is a special Mass in the Cathedral of Vilnius and prayers are said for the dead and the bishop talks about the event in his sermon, and the ongoing relevance that it has, especially for young people.February 16: Independence Day  At the beginning of World War I in 1914, Russia troops stationed in Lithuania invaded the German territory of East Prussia. The invasion failed, and German troops ultimately occupied Lithuania. During the time of German occupation Lithuanian patriots struggled to organise themselves and to convince the Germans to grant independence to Lithuania. In September 1917 the Germans set up a Vertrauensrat, a representative council for dialogue between the German government and the people of Lithuania. At a meeting in Vilnius on 16 February 1918 members of the Council (Lietuvos Taryba) decided to declare independence. The opening words of the declaration were: The Council of Lithuania, during its meeting of 16 February 1918, unanimously decided to address Russia, Germany and other nations with the following declaration: The Council of Lithuania, as the only representative of the Lithuanian people, basing itself on the recognised principle of self-determination, and the decision of the Lithuanian Conference in Vilnius on 18-23 September 1917, proclaims restoration of an independent Lithuanian nation based on democratic foundations, with its capital in Vilnius. Furthermore, this nation is to be freed from any unions with other nations which had previously existed.March 11: Independence Day  Under Gorbachev_s perestroika reforms, an election for the “Supreme Soviet” [Auksciausioji Taryba] was held in February of 1990. For the first time since Lithuania_s annexation by the USSR, candidates other than Communists were allowed. Under the guidance of Dr. Vytas Landsbergis, the “Sajudis” movement nominated candidates and subsequently won a majority in parliament. On March 10, Vytas Landsbergis was elected “Speaker” or “President” of the parliament. The following day, March 11, 1990, the parliament proclaimed a severing of ties with the USSR and a restoration of the Republic of Lithuania as it existed prior to the Soviet invasion and annexation of June-July 1940.March:Uzgavenes: SHROVETIDE Shrovetide,or Uzgavenes, is celebrated in March on _Shrove_ Tuesday, the last day before the 40-day fast traditional for Catholics. Uzgaveti means “to eat well and heartily.” Shrovetide is full of humour, jokes, superstitions, fortune-telling,and feasting to celebrate the end of winter. It is a merry carnival, a masquerade full of pranks, with a drama performed outdoors to say goodbye to winter and welcome to spring. At dusk, men don humorous, satirical, or animal costumes. Some dress as evil spirits or demons with pitchforks. They go from house to house, deriding housewives or workers lagging behind in their chores. Many people dress up as traditional characters. Some become _Kanapinis the Hemp Man, because during Lent hemp oil is used; a thief looking for something to steal, the pretending beggar; or characters rarely seen in the village, the doctor and the soldier. Men disguise themselves as women, women disguise themselves as men. _More a symbol of the clash between winter and spring, is wheeled about in a cart. In one hand she holds a flail, in the other a broom. She cannot make up her mind whether she should continue to flail last year_s harvest or start sweeping the yard and doing the spring cleaning. March/April: Velykos: Easter The spring equinox begins the many springtime celebrations. Christianity incorporated Lithuanian equinox traditions into Easter, and replaced the ancient Lithuanian name with the slavic work “Velykos”, ie. Easter. “Pavasario Lyge” meaning Spring Equinox, remains the only non-Christian name for the holiday. The verba, usually made of juniper, birch and willow twigs interwoven with coloured papers and flowers, symbolised the forces of life, the birth of new life and rebirth of nature. It also improves health. Before or on the Easter morning everyone tries to rise as early as possible in order to catch the other family members sleeping, and whip them awake. This insures good health. The person whipped gives the person whipping a multicoloured and decorated egg called a margutis (plural is marguciai). The traditional Easter foods include eggs, marguciai, cheeses, farmer_s cheese, cakes, ham, and oat sprouts. The meal starts with the exchange and hitting of marguciai. June 24:Rasa/Jonines: MIDSUMMER DAY: M is for Magic, Merrymaking, Midsummer_s Eve; that is the night of June 23 preceding Jonines (St. John_s Day – June 24). The longest night of the year, it is a festival of enchantment, wonderment and myth-making – a time when lovers go seek out that fantastic fern-blossom which only flowers on this special night. Celebrations revolve around nature_s most powerful forces. Young (and not so young) women adorn their heads with wreaths of flowers and leaves while the men opt for the more macho oak leaf. Everyone – children, grannies, lovers and mothers – light bonfires and sing and dance and play games around the frolicking flames. Anyone who who leaps over the burning fire will be blessed with luck. High up, on the highest hill, a flaming wheel of birch bark is lit and rolled down the hill. Anyone who leaps back and forth over the burning ball will indeed be blessed with good luck too. Women be warned! This is the night when you could find out who your lucky man is! Float your crown of flowers down the river and see how far it travels. The further it floats the sooner you will tie the knot. And remember, the hunk you wed will appear from the direction in which you see your first Midsummer_s Eve bonfire. November 2: Velines: Lithuanian Feast for the Dead Velines is in remembrance of the dead, the Veles. A “vele” is the shade of either the family or the village ancestors. Because families would live in the same house/village for centuries, Lithuanians came to believe that the veles acted as guardians for the family and for the village. Velines is the ancient Lithuanian holiday to commemorate the dead. Traditionally, the holiday was a month long, culminating the first week of November. Today, under Christian influence, it has been reduced to one day – November 2nd. Although Lithuania is now a Catholic nation, people there still celebrate Velines by visiting the graves of the recently dead and those of family members. Until this century, the food from the Velines meal would be placed on the graves of the dead, to feed the veles. The festival began with the ritual cleansing of the participants, in a sauna. Men would go first and then the women and children. This would be alternated with swimming in a lake or river, several times. While in the sauna, the people would beat themselves with birch tree branches, to stimulate circulation. During the last visit to the sauna, the participants would wash with soap. The sauna would then be left ready for the veles. The ritual continues with remembrances of grandparents, parents and those newly dead. Those without family and beggars were traditionally invited to a family_s ritual. It was believed that the beggars had a close communion with the veles. December 24-25: Kucios/Kaledos: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Kucios/Kaledos were separate days of ritual, and marked the end of the year, when the world returns to darkness. But it also heralds the rebirth of nature and the return of the sun. It is also a time when all past wrongs must be forgiven and put behind us, as the year ends. The days are now in celebration of the Birth of Christ, yet some “early” elements remain. At the centre of the ritual meal is the Kucia, which is a mixed grain dish, and bread. There are 13 ritual dishes which echo the 13 lunar months, all meatless. Now, it is done with 12 dishes, in remembrance of the 12 apostles. Unleavened bread (plotkeles) are broken before the meal begins, with the eldest person at the table beginning the bread breaking. After dinner, while everyone remains at the table, the children and young people pull straws of hay out from underneath the tablecloth. A long straw represents a long and prosperous life. The adults too would tell their own fortunes in a variety of ways. Kaledos celebrated the birth of the sun, Saule, in ancient times, and Christ in modern times.