Christmas in Lithuania

December 6th 2023 in Events
Christmas in Lithuania

Christmas in Lithuania

It is usually freezing during Christmas time in Lithuania, with snow and ice on the ground. Christmas Eve, known as Kūčios, is considered a more important day than Christmas Day. Families have a big Christmas Eve meal together during the evening of Christmas Eve, also called Kūčios. This day is also the last day of Advent, making it memorable and significant.

However, before the meal can be eaten, many preparations must occur. The entire house is cleaned, bedding is changed, and everyone washes and wears clean clothes to prepare for the meal. In the past, many Lithuanians would go to the bathhouse to be cleaned before the meal. Some people believed being clean helped protect them from evil or diseases during the coming year. During Christmas Eve, working men would put away their tools and clean the cattle pens, farmyard, etc.

Many people fast during the day, and the Kūčios meal should not contain any meat.

Straw is a traditional decoration usually spread on the tabletop and then covered with a clean, white tablecloth. The table is then decorated with candles and small branches or twigs from a fir tree. The straw is a reminder of the baby Jesus lying in a manger. According to superstition, if you pull a piece of straw from under the tablecloth and it's long, you will have a long life. But if it's short, you will have a short life. And if it's thick, it means a prosperous and happy life!

An extra place is often set for a family member who can't come to the meal or if a family member has died during the past year. Sometimes, a candle is lit to remember family members who have passed away. Some people believe that deceased family members join the family around the table. People alone on Christmas Eve are also invited to the meal.

At the centre of the table is a plate of Christmas wafers, with one wafer for each person at the meal. In some parts of Lithuania, the wafers have the scene of the birth of Jesus on them. The meal starts when the first stars can be seen in the night sky. If it's cloudy, the 'head of the house' decides when the meal will start! The wafers are offered to everyone at the table, and Christmas greetings are exchanged. Sometimes, an apple is also cut into as many pieces as there are people at the meal, and it is shared. This remembers the apple eaten in the Garden of Eden.

The Kūčios meal usually has 12 dishes, one for each of Jesus's followers. None of the dishes contain meat, and some don't have milk or eggs. Traditional and popular dishes include fish (often herring), kūčiukai (small sweet pastries) normally soaked in poppy milk, kisielius (a drink made from cranberries), dried fruit soup, beet soup (often with mushroom-filled dumplings in it), vegetable salad, mushrooms, boiled or baked potatoes, sauerkraut, a kind of wheat porridge with honey, and bread. Typically, water or homemade cider is drunk with the meal. Sweet dishes, including kissel (a fruit soup/jelly thickened with potato flour) and stewed fruit compote, are often eaten.

After the meal (or possibly between the primary and sweet courses), there might be a visit from 'The Old Man of Christmas' (Santa Claus) with presents! People will also exchange presents between themselves. When the presents have been exchanged, children often go to bed, and the adults might go out to Midnight Mass (Bernelių mišios - Shepherds's Mass).

Popular Christmas Tree decorations in Lithuania are ones made from white paper straws. They are often in the shapes of stars, snowflakes, and other geometric shapes. Nativity Cribs are also popular in Lithuania, with huge scenes often being put outside churches.

The Christmas season lasts until the 6th of January - Epiphany. In Lithuanian, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Linksmų Kalėdų'.