THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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CHRISTMAS IN LITHUANIA
It‘s the most wonderful
time of the year...
Twelve different dishes are served on the table because Jesus had twelve apostles. All the dishes are strictly meatless: fish, herring, slizikai with poppy seed milk, kisielius (cranberry pudding), a dried fruit soup or compote, a salad of winter and dried vegetables, mushrooms, boiled or baked potatoes, sauerkraut (cooked, of course, without meat) and bread. Gero apetito! Skanaus!
Photo from: http://www.thebluegrassspecial.com
Text: Saulene Valskyte
Christmas is probably the most important celebration in the whole Christian world, but Lithuanian Christmas traditions are outstanding, even in this context. Lithuania has a very rich history and the many historical events have influenced our traditions – starting with hints of paganism, followed up by remains from the Soviet occupation, and finishing up with an intervention of the modern world. In this article I will tell you a little bit about our Christmas traditions – how they should be and what are still very much are also today. Gero apetito! Skanaus! Linksmu Kalėdų!
First of all I have to point out that in Lithuania Christmas Eve (Kūčios) supper is the most important part, normally celebrated at home with family and close relatives. Also lonely people are invited to the Christmas eve supper, because nobody should be alone at Christmas. Another important thing to say is that during Soviet occupation not everyone celebrated Christmas. For example my mother didn't celebrate as a child, because my grandma was afraid that if children said something at school they might get in to trouble and since my grandma, being a doctor, was already watched by authorities (everyone could be tracked by the authorities for all kinds of reasons, especially medical staff as they were working with what was considered criminals against the nation, and had possibilities to help them) she didn't want to risk.
Preparation for Christmas starts at the beginning of Advent. According to the folk calendar Advent is the peace, spiritual purification time, in this time farm work is completed. Advent begins with St. Andrew's day, lasts four weeks and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent means not only peace, but also a mysterious, mystical time, when the spirits of the spirit-world is trying to interfere in people's lives. The elders believed that this dark time the spirits are creeping around, trying to cause harm to people and their jobs, winter crops, livestock etc. Therefore, various prohibitions were abundant. That included household works, nutrition and entertainment. There were certain works forbidden at this time: deforestation, sheep shearing and other noisy activities. It was forbidden to dance, sing and party, also to stay up late in the evenings. People couldn't eat meat and fat food (with an exception for children and sick people). From all that there are only a few things left these days – some of people don't party as much and there are some that don't eat meat, but not during all Advent, usually just the last week before Christmas. One more tradition is to make Advent wreaths – a wreath with four candles (one candle per Advent week), it usually stands in the window and every week there is one more candle burning.
At the day of Christmas Eve all noisy works were strictly forbidden, because that would bring thunderstorms the upcoming summer. People washed themselves according to rituals. Then they were preparing the table for the supper. In Lithuania Christmas eve day is a national celebration, so no one has to work (shouldn't work, but all supermarkets and shops are usually open, just close a bit earlier).
Preparing a Christmas Eve table was very important. Now not so many people do it by the rules, but the right kind of preparation makes the Christmas Eve supper more special and fun. First of all there should be some straw put under the white tablecloth (after supper straws are used for some magic when each person draw a straw without looking, the length of a straw symbolizes length of the person’s life).
There is always one empty place at the table, for the spirits of dead relatives. Also, some food must be left in that plate for the following night. The Christmas Eve table is decorated with candles, that also are used for some magic after the supper. Pouring wax is another Christmas Eve ritual, the rules are: take a candle from table (the ones that were burning all night long) and pour the wax from them in to the water bowl without moving your hand around (the hand has to remain steady while pouring the wax). After the wax has become hard take it from the bowl and turn it, and you will see a strangely shaped figure. Hand that figure over to the oldest member of the family, who then will explain for you what he/she sees in it and what is waiting for you in the future.
The Christmas Eve supper should be eaten when the evening star rises, always including twelve dishes. Everyone has to try each dish.
Plotkelė – Christmas wafers.
There is also a special white pastry that people can get in the church. Lithuanians call it "plotkelė" (Christmas wafer). There should be one for each member of the family. In the very beginning of the Kūčios supper starts everybody prays and then breaks plotkelė and tell what they wish for each others. The lotkelė is also known as kalėdaitis, paplotėlis, plokštainėlis or Dievo pyragai depending on the region of Lithuania a family is from.
Meat is forbidden until Christmas Day morning, the meatless supper is probably the one tradition that everyone in Lithuania still follows.
Some Christmas Eve games to play after the supper:
This is game for single girls. Put your hand in to the bowl of Kučiukai and grab as many as you can, then put them on the table. If the number is even you will find a guy, if not you will remain single the coming year.
Pick up firewoods
It's very similar to Draw Kūčiukai. Go to the place where you are keeping the fire wood and take as many logs as you can. Than count them, if the number is even you won't be single next year if not you will remain single.
Glass of water
Before going to sleep eat as much herring or just fish as you can, and put a glass of water next to your bed. In your dream, a guy will hand you that water and he will became yours husband one day.
Throw a shoe
This is a game for those who still lives with their parents. Stand in the room so that your back would be facing the door and throw a shoe over your head or shoulder. Then look which way shoe has landed. If the shoe is facing the doors this year you will be leaving home, if it's facing into the room you will stay at your parents.
As I mentioned earlier, the Christmas Eve supper includes twelve dishes. There are some dishes that are "musts" and some optional. "Must" dishes on Christmas Eve table are Kūčiukai (It's very simple Christmas eve pastry with poppy seeds, it's not very sweet, but very delicious. It's made by mixing 0.5 kg of flour, a bit less than 200 ml of milk (water), 50 grams of oil, a pinch of salt, 20-30 g of yeast, a quarter cup of poppy,100 grams of sugar. Raise a dough a bit and form little kūčiukai, then bake it).
Another very traditional dish is cranberry pap. Pap can be served as a dessert or a drink, depending on the consistency of the pap (it's a berry drink or dessert made from water, berry juice, sugar and starch).
Because meat is strictly forbidden there are a lot of fish dishes on the table. Most popular are herring dishes. Herring with carrots, or red beets, are most common. Also all kinds of mushrooms are used for Christmas food.
Typical herring dish.
Now for a lot of people Christmas is associated with mandarins. This came from the times of Soviet occupation. There were mandarins appearing in shops all around Lithuania during Christmas time, so people were spending hours standing in huge lines outside the groceries, to get some fresh fruits in the middle of the winter. Of course because of communistic regime there were set certain amounts per person to buy, so fruits in wintertime were especially valued. Even now, and even for the younger generatio,n the smell of mandarins reminds us about Christmas.
Christmas is the time to celebrate and spend magical time with our families, and although we live in the modern world and have less and less time for ourselves, let’s stop for a minute, for Christmas, for ourselves, for our families and let’s make this celebration special, remembering our heritage, who we really are and what makes us special. Have a merry and very Lithuanian Christmas!
Linksmu Kalėdų from Saulene!
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