THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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By Vin Karnila, Associate Editor
Thinking about Lithuanian Easter traditions transforms me back in time to when I was a young boy growing up in the Boston area of Massachusetts, USA. Being the son of a Scottish mother and Lithuanian father I had the great fortune of experiencing the wonderful traditions of not only the Lithuanian people but that of the Highland Scott‘s as well.
While along with the Lithuanian Christmas traditions we practiced many of the Scottish customs for Christmas and New Year as well but Easter is seemed was a time for the traditions of our Lithuanian ancestors. These were the traditions the Karnila family took with them from our ancestral home in Lithuania, the village of Guronys.
While occasionally we would visit members of my mother’s family on Easter, most often on Easter we would go to the home of my father’s sister, Ana (Karnilytė) Savanovich. This I think was by no small coincidence since months before Easter my brother and I would plead to our parents that it was an absolute requirement that we celebrate Easter at Aunt Ana’s house – as you read on you will understand why!!!
When we arrived at Ana’s house my brother and I were greeted with a basket of decorated Easter Eggs and sweets. This was of course, in true Lithuanian tradition, AFTER we had we had completely passed through the door and were standing inside the house and had also gone through all the kisses, hugs and pinches on the cheeks (from Ana) and handshakes from her husband John. As my brother and I started to go to work on the sweets and admire the eggs next came another big treat. Ana would come out with a tray of freshly baked, still warm cookies baked by you guessed it – the Velykos Kiškis!!! Now I guess the story behind the cookies got changed a bit on its trip across the Atlantic Ocean but it seems that the Easter Bunny / A.K.A. Velykos Kiškis baked these cookies just this morning and brought them to Ana‘s home knowing that me and my brother would be there.
After enjoying ourselves on the sweets and cookies next came the what was probably one of the biggest events of the day – EASTER DINNER!!! I grew up enjoying Lithuanian traditional food but at Easter this was something completely different. Easter Dinner was the jack pot, the mother load, the meal to end all meals, the trip to the mountain top. Never at any one time were there so many Lithuanian dishes on the table at any one time. Remember on Chirstmas Eve there is no meat. For Easter there was every kind of meat you could think of. Roast pork, roast ham, roast chicken, roast anything you could possibly roast and maybe a few things you wouldn‘t want to roast. In addition blynai, dumplings, kugelis, salads of every variety you could imagine and of course mushrooms used in almost every dish. The table cloth was always white and always was adorned with some greenery. Now of course before we partook in this wonderful feast an egg was cut and a piece was given to everyone seated so that as we all ate of this egg we joined as a family and bonded our love and dedication to each other. I must mention that the cutting of the egg became an art form if we had the pleasure of being joined by uncles Kaziemiras (Charles) and Jonas (John) and aunts Marytė (Mary) and Alicija (Alice) and their families. To cut one egg into about thirty equal pieces is truly an endeavor. After the meal came an incredible assortment of cakes, pies and sweets. Oh, did I mention that to wash this all down Ana had made some homemade gira?
After stuffing ourselves to the max came some activities to work off all the food. It seems that the Velykų Senelė/Easter Grandmother had stopped by earlier that morning and left some beautifully decorated eggs for me and my brother. The problem was that she had hidden them outside and our task was to find them. As a very young child this was a little confusing because I thought it was the Easter Bunny’s responsibility to deliver all the eggs to everyone. So I kind of sorted things out and came to the conclusion that yes in fact delivering the eggs was the Easter Bunny’s job however the eggs used in the egg hunt was the responsibility of Velykų Senelė. As I got older we then understood that this was another wonderful tradition of our people. I can say one thing about Ana and John, when it came to hiding eggs they displayed some incredible imagination not to mention athletic ability. You would not believe what we had to go through to get some of these eggs!!! To be honest, I don’t know who had more fun, the children finding the eggs or Ana and John watching us.
After finding all the eggs or let me put it this way, after finding all the eggs we could find (I think after fifty years there are still some unfound eggs sitting around there somewhere) we went back inside. All the children counted up the eggs they had found and the one with the most received some sweets as their prize for being the best egg hunter.
What came next was to me the most special event of the day. Of everything we did this is what I most fondly remember of our Easter traditions. For every child Ana had made a specially decorated egg. She would go around and present each child with this incredible work of art. All the children had the same reaction. We would just sit there with our mouths agape and admire this wonderful creation. As you can imagine, it is difficult for young children to appreciate hand crafted beauty, especially little boys, but these eggs where so magnificent it truly got our attention. We would hold the egg in our hands and just stare at it in wonderful admiration. In addition to the eggs beauty we also were appreciating the love that aunt Ana had put in to making this egg for us but most of all, as we sat there admiring the beautiful Easter egg we, even as little children knew we were holding the tradition of the Lithuanian people and of Lithuania in our hands. I so vividly remember holding these special eggs in my small hands and saying to myself – This is Lithuania and I am Lithuanian.
I would please ask you to understand that what I wrote of is not about me and not about the Karnila family. What I wrote about was a Lithuanian family, Lithuanian traditions and Lithuania. For every people, their traditions and customs are not only an important part of their past but also an important part of their future. This is so true of Lithuania. The preservation of beautiful ancient traditions has been one of the things that helped the Lithuanian people remain strong and preserve their identity as a people and a nation through so many adverse situations. Unfortunately, every year some of these traditions tend to slip away one by one. While we still practice some of these traditions many have become just a memory.
I wrote this as an invitation to all our readers to write to us telling us about the beautiful Lithuanian Easter traditions that you remember from years gone by and also tell us of the traditions you, your family, friends and neighbors still practice to this day. It is our hope that in sharing these traditions with all our readers you will be reminded of some wonderful tradition from the past and this Easter and for many Easters to come you will again include these traditions in your Easter celebrations. We would also like to remind you that there are many people of Lithuanian nationality living around the world that are desperately trying to find out more about their heritage and about the culture and traditions of their Lithuanian ancestors. By sharing your traditions with all our readers it is very possible that a person, intensely proud of their Lithuanian ancestry, somewhere in the world this Easter will for the first time in their lives be able make some Lithuanian Easter traditions a part of their family’s celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
So dear readers, we invite you to please send to us some of the Lithuanian Easter traditions that are or were an important part of your family so that we can share them with Lithuanians around the world.
Vin / Vincas Karnila
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