In many cases, Lithuanian traditional holidays that originated in Baltic paganism and got additional meaning with the advance of Christianity, are no less colorful than Easter eggs, Shrove Tuesday Carnival or the garlands of Midsummer Night. The Baltic, Christian and modern customs of worshipping the cycle of nature do not make a dissonance, but create a celebrated tradition that is unique to our country.
On the day marking the end of the Christmas season (January 6), the streets of Lithuanian cities fill up with parades carrying the effigies of the Three Kings (the Magi), Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, on their way to visit baby Jesus. Look around and you will find the initials of their names and the signs of the cross + K + M + B, signifying the blessing of God, on many front doors. On the day of Epiphany, it is customary to say goodbye to the main attribute of the holiday period – the Christmas tree.
On Tuesday, the last day before the period of contemplation and fasting (46 days to Easter), an archaic winter festival is celebrated – the merriest carnival of the Lithuanian calendar. During the Lithuanian Mardi Gras, people are supposed to eat a lot of fat food, be loud, noisy, cheeky and wild. Participants of the carnival wear impressive masks of the characters of this celebration, eat countless pancakes and other fat dishes, watch characters symbolizing spring and winter fight with each other, and eventually burn the effigy of Morė embodying the darkest time of the year. The most impressive Shrove Tuesday carnival is held at the Rumšiškės open-air museum.
On the day that marks the beginning of spring (one week to Easter), the streets of Lithuanian cities and towns burst into bloom! Lithuanians take branches of juniper or ornate Palm Sunday palms (Lith. verba) to church to be consecrated, believing that they will protect their home from evil and bad luck the whole year. Upon returning home from church, one has to gently whip members of the family with the consecrated palm who didn’t go to church, not as a punishment, but as a wish for good health. The tradition of making Palm Sunday palms from the dwarf spruce tree is centuries old in Lithuania, especially in Vilnius, so on this day, you can buy palms of different sizes next to churches – they make a wonderful souvenir from Lithuania!
Easter eggs are the main attribute of Lithuanian Easter. Colored eggs symbolizing life and rebirth, are the main Easter dish, and the main object of Easter traditions and games. Beating your relatives at the strongest-Easter-egg competition at the festive Easter breakfast table, is everyone’s dream! There are countless ways to color Easter eggs in Lithuania: from scratching and waxing techniques that require high proficiency to archaic coloring using onion skins.
The main holiday of the warm season in Lithuania celebrated on the shortest night of the year (June 24), is very romantic. During the Baltic traditional festival normally celebrated in the open air, for example, on the hill forts of Kernavė, Mount Rambynas or in Jonava, women make garlands from grass and flowers, huge bonfires are lit, people dance and sing, and when it gets dark, they set out to search for the mysterious blooming fern. This day is also the name day of one of the most popular man’s names in Lithuania – Jonas.
On the day of the crowning (July 6) of the only King of Lithuania, Mindaugas, you can witness a modern Lithuanian tradition. In all the towns and cities of the country, and in other countries, Lithuanians sing the national anthem at a certain agreed time. Not even a decade-old tradition, yet it is one of the most successful and beloved in the country.
The true spirit of this holiday is best felt in the Lithuanian village. Every church organizes celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15). The biggest celebrations take place in Pivašiūnai, in the Alytus region. Local people bring along flowers as well as wheat ears as a symbol of the new harvest. Assumption Day in Lithuania combines Christian and pagan Baltic traditions. On this day it is very important to be together in a community – this has been relevant since ancient times and still is relevant for modern Lithuanians.
When the days begin to shorten and the circle of nature comes towards the end, it is time to enjoy the new harvest, give thanks for it, and prepare for the dark period. During the autumn equinox, it is customary to organize markets selling products of the latest harvest. Another attraction of the festival – the burning of straw sculptures and various fire shows – probably the most impressive of them takes place on the Neris waterfront in Vilnius. September 22, the day when in 1236 in the battle of Saulė, the united forces of Baltic tribes defeated the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, was declared in 2000 by the Latvian and Lithuanian Parliaments as Baltic Unity Day.
If there is a time in the year when the absolute majority of Lithuanians are at home with their loved ones, this is definitely Christmas Eve (December 24). Families scattered in different cities and countries sit down together at the Christmas table, eat at least twelve traditional dishes, share the traditional Christmas wafer, and enjoy each other’s company. Christmas Eve is the most mysterious night of the year. It is believed that on this night, at midnight, animals can speak, water in the wells turns into wine, and prophecies and dreams come true.
Following the peaceful Christmas Eve and magical night, comes the joyous, happy and generous Christmas Day (December 25-26). Under the Christmas tree in every house, the big and little ones find Christmas gifts, noses are tickled by the scents of meat dishes and traditional cakes, and the doorbell announces the arrival of guests – it’s time to celebrate the most important festival of the year! The Christmas spirit permeates every home, the streets and squares, where many concerts, performances, events for the whole family take place. International tourism experts recommend Vilnius as one of the best cities to visit at Christmas time.