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 dates 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 day. 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 for 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,...
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