Labas! With Christmas soon approaching (only 2 more weeks!), I am definitely in the Christmas mood. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I am finally able to play all of the Christmas music I want without being judged, which I am taking full advantage of! 🙂 Also, this weekend we have a Christmas program that LCC puts on, the Klaipeda tree-lighting ceremony, and Christmas markets opening downtown, so you could say the Christmas season has begun in Lithuania.
I recently interviewed our study abroad coordinator, Viktorija, about different Lithuanian Christmas traditions. Here’s what she said!
In Lithuania, the main day of celebration is Christmas Eve (Kūčios). Everyone in the household prepares the house and the food, cleaning and cooking. Each family member helps prepare 12 different dishes, which are mainly made from different types of herring, potatoes, beets, and other vegetables. Traditionally, you are not supposed to cook anything with meat or from animals except for fish, so even products that use animal by-products (mayonnaise/eggs for example) are not used. Herring (Silkė) is commonly cooked in different sauces, and they also include a dish of bite-sized hard biscuits (kūčiukai) that are soaked in poppy seed milk.
Before eating, hay is laid on the table, and then a white tablecloth over it, symbolizing Jesus’ birth in a stable. An empty plate is set out in remembrance of a deceased family members who won’t be joining this Christmas Eve. When beginning the meal, the host of the family (usually the father) blesses the food and each family member breaks off a piece of a wafer blessed by a priest, similar to the wafers used in Catholic communion (kalėdaitis).
It is expected that everyone tries every one of the 12 dishes-if they don’t it brings bad luck. After the meal, each person in the family reaches under the tablecloth, grabs a piece of hay, and pulls it out. According to legend, the person with the longest strand will live the longest life and the person with the shortest strand will live the shortest life.
Another tradition is that all of the unmarried girls will stand in the doorway and throw a shoe over their shoulder. If the shoe lands with its toe facing the door, then that girl is said to be the next one to get married.
Pagan legends say that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals will start speaking to one another. Thus, it is tradition to go and listen for the animals, if the family lives on a farm. For religious families, they go to midnight mass, also called Shepherd’s Mass.
Santa Claus is a tradition still celebrated in many families, and is very similar to the American tradition (comes down the chimney, leaves presents under the tree). Viktorija says many families cut down their own tree a couple of days before Christmas and decorate with beautiful old Soviet ornaments.
To me, one of the most striking things about Lithuanian Christmas is how the aspects of their culture–old folklore, tradition, religion, family–come together in one night, a night of sharing, celebration, and remembrance. This to me is a beautiful representation of Lithuania and the culture they share.
Linksmų Kalėdų! (Merry Christmas!)