LITHUANIAN CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS: (2024)


CHRISTMAS EVE and CHRISTMAS
[ a.k.a. Kûèios ir Kalëdos ]

Ancient historical sources confirm the main moments of the winter holiday,the return of the sun, which are found in the 20thcentury Lithuanian beliefs and traditions.
Supper on Christmas Eve " Kûèios", the oldestLithuanian feast, celebrated according to the sun's calendar. It is a nightholiday, whose festivities begin in the evening. This is not only the mostarchaic, but the best preserved of holidays. Intimate family celebration,in closed micro social environment, protected " Kûèios" frommany 20th century modern innovations. The pagan spirit of Lithuanian "Kûèios"did not confront with Christian humanistic philosophy.
"Kûèios" is the ritual supper. The entireDecember 24th day , Christmas eve is called "Kûèios". LinguistK.Buga believes that Lithuanian ancestors borrowed the word "Kûèios",way back in the 12th century through Slavs from the Greeks. This showsup in words with the same meaning – Russian " kutja", White Russian " kucia",Greek " kukkia".
"Kûèia" is a special dish assigned to thesouls of dead ancestors. It is made of stewed wheat, peas, beans, sweetenedwith honey or eaten with poppy seed milk. In the region of Merkinë,"Kûèia" was a special loaf of bread, called the "Kûèialoaf ", it was carried three times around the house by the master of thehouse, dressed in holiday clothes. He then knocked on the door, when askedwho's knocking, he would answer, " God together with "Kûèia"asks to be in your house". Upon entering, the master placed the bread onthe table. In the region of Kaiðiadorys, the master of the house carrieda basket filled with "Kûèia" supper foods three times aroundthe house. In other regions, the Christmas wafers were carried in the samemanner.
The ritual supper is not eaten until the evening starappears in the sky. Until then, the bathhouse is heated, people bathe anddress up in festive clothes. The floor was strewn with juniper by the mistressand the master placed handfuls of hay on the table, covered it with a whitelinen tablecloth. In many regions, a basket filled with hay, sheaves ofgrain and a horse's collar was placed under the table. Foods were placedon the table and as many tablespoons as there were eaters. If the numberof family members was an odd number, a beggar or a lone neighbor was invited.If during that year there had been a death in the family, an upside downspoon was set in that place. This being a family feast, not only live butalso dead members participate in it. The eldest family member went outsideto invite the souls of the ancestors, the cold, the wind and bees to eattogether.
The tradition of feeding the souls of the dead, remainin the 20th century in many parts of Lithuania. In the region of Ukmergë,a glass of beer or kvass was set in the place where the dead member usedto sit. Around Kupiðkis after the meal the table was cleaned away andset afresh with meat dishes, so that the souls of the dead would eat well.In Eastern Prussia a goose was placed on the table in honor of the soulsof the dead. In other regions food remains were placed on windowsills orin vestibules. This food was for the souls who did not die at home.
Most often the "Kûèia" table was not clearedaway, for it was believed that when the family is asleep the souls of thedead come in to eat.
Christmas biscuits [ a.k.a. kûèiukai ],are among ritual foods together with barley porridge, both eaten with poppyseed milk. A must dish is oat pudding, which was given to the souls ofthe dead, wind and cold. Spells were cast in order to prepare a good oatpudding. In Suvalkija, while preparing the oat pudding, coatless and barefootchildren ran around the house reciting:
" pud, pud, pudding
Mathew will ride home
On a dapple grey horse
With a long snivel ".
Ancient "Kûèia" supper dishes are beet soupwith mushrooms, and fish. Twelve different dishes were prepared, this traditionstill continues. All dishes are meatless, with no fat, eggs and dairy products.Today's "Kûèia" supper is begun with the passing around ofthe Christmas wafer together with wishes for each member.
Lithuanian "Kûèia" traditions have muchroom for concern about upcoming grain harvest. At the end of the meal itis tradition to pull a piece of hay from under the tablecloth. If one pullsthe longest piece, the linen will grow best. Near Punsk, on Christmas Evenight, three piles of grain, rye, barley and oats were set on the floorand a hen was let in. if the hen first picked rye, it meant a good yearfor bread, if oats, their crop will be abundant and if barley, there willbe tasty pancakes. Some people covered the garden with pots to assure growthof large vegetables.
Trying to increase fruit tree production, the fruit treeswere wrapped with straw on Christmas Eve. In some regions cooked peas weresprinkled in the orchard to increase the fruit crops.
On Christmas Eve a greater attention was given to animals,their health, fertility and assure cattle breeding success:

  1. hay from the supper was later fed to the animals
  2. If one sewed on Christmas Eve, sheep will bear motley lambs
  3. To assure that animals do not scatter in the summer, theentire family must eat Kûèia, the Christmas Eve supper, together
  4. To keep the animal herd together in summer, tie up the cutleryafter supper with the whip, broom and shepherd
  5. No need to lock barn doors on this night, place a cross oranother sign on the doors so that charmings are ineffective.
  6. Those who sprinkle a mixture of wheat and peas in the barn,will have good animals
  7. After supper the mistress of the house should take all milkpots outside and place all around the farmstead so that next year the cowswould give much milk.
  8. After supper the mistress of the house takes the butter churnand walks around the fields churning it, so that there will be an abundanceof butter.
  9. No spinning should be done on this day because it will causecalf abortions and animals will slobber.
  10. After milking the cow should be poured with milk three timesso that the witches do not drain the cow on the feast day of Saint John.
  11. On this day stroke the cows, so that they will be fat andhave no pustules.
  12. Several Christmas wafers are saved and fed to cows, to keepmilk from spoiling.
  13. If you want your horses to be good looking, steal manurefrom your neighbor and feed it to your horses.
  14. So that no one bewitches the horses, the master of the housefeeds them ears of rye.
  15. Sheep should be sheared on this day so that new born lambshave curly fleece.
  16. To keep wolves from carrying away animals, mention wolveswhile eating.
  17. Carry a sieve around the fields to prevent the killing ofcolts by wolves.
  18. Wash windows, door handles and all the corners of the house,give this wash water to drink to the animals. This will keep evil eyesaway from the animals.


Christmas Eve charmings and magic was done to betterbeekeeping. The beekeeper would take honey and bees to his poor neighbors.So that bees would not swarm on Christmas Eve night, the beekeeper tookthe first harvest grain sheaf around the orchard. Also placed a Christmaswafer into beehives. All throughout Lithuania until this day there is beliefthat at midnight on Christmas Eve day animals speak. Exactly at midnight,animals rise, kneel on front legs and pray in human voices. Their spokenwords are not heard by everyone. The animal voices are heard by those whoare poverty stricken and who are spending the night in the barn. The animalsspeak most often about their owner's funeral.
On Christmas Eve, just like during other calendar feasts,much attention is paid to wedding themes.
There are several rare marriage charms:
1 – The windows are covered after supper, a rooster andhen are pulled out from under the stove, their tails are tied together.If the rooster pulls the hen to the door, there will be a wedding and ifhe pulls the hen back under the stove, there will be no wedding.
2 – Three items are placed on the doorsill, a ring, apiece of chalk and a piece of bread. A hen is brought out. If the hen picksup the ring, the girl will marry. If the hen picks up the piece of chalk,the girl will die. The girl will live poorly if the hen picks up the bread.
3 – A pot of water is brought to a boil, then two piecesof coal are dropped into the water. If the coals come together, there willbe a wedding.
4 – Every girl in the room lights a candle. All the candlesare placed on the table's edge and blown out. The girl whose candle isnot blown out, will remain unmarried.
5 – A ring is dropped into a half filled glass of water.The number of ripples shows the number of years before her wedding.
6 – At midnight girls place two sacred candles and betweenthem a glass filled with water, birch ashes and drop a wedding band inside.Looking through the glass they either see their chosen male or a coffin.
7 – Three whole herring, without bread should be eatenbefore going to bed. A towel should be placed on two wooden rods, set overa bowl filled with water. They must dream of their future male while sleeping.
8 – Quietly tie up even knots, putting into each onemoney, a piece of coal, a lump of earth, a piece of clay from the stove,grain or seeds, a small rag. All these knotted pieces are placed in a tub,next to the girl's bed, so that they can be touched without leaving thebed. The meanings of the different knots are: ring – wedding, money – richess,coal – fire, earth- death, rag – children, seeds, grain – good harvest.
9 – That night, two needles are dropped into a platefilled with water. If the needles come together, there will be a wedding.

The mirror, invented in the third millenium before Christ,reached Lithuania in the 13th century. Its mysteriousness is linked withthe world of the dead, it became part of Christmas Eve enchantings, guessingthe future, especially that of marriage. Young men and women, wishing tofind out who will be their mate, when casting lots take two candles, atowel and a mirror to an uninhabited house. The candles are lit and placednear the mirror. Wiping moisture from the mirror with the towel, they wouldsee their future mate. Worthy of attention in magic rituals' executionis total nudity. After supper, the girl should climb up into the attic,undress and walk three times around the chimney, then in total darknessshe will see the young man she will marry. It is said that one should runto the bathhouse, undress and stand totally naked on the doorstep, bendto look into the stove's opening – there she'll see her future husband.Total belief belongs to magic spiritual rituals, when the girl takes herhair and burns them while speaking the name of her supposed male. If thatman lives near by, then he comes around the same night. If he lives fartheraway, he comes in the morning, and asks who was calling him. The futuremate can be seen after collecting crumbs from all Christmas Eve supperfoods and burning them in the entry way in a fire lit with remaining Adventsplinters. A man's facial features can be seen in the rising smoke.

Christians began celebrating Christ's birth on December25th , according to the civilian Roman calendar. Ethnographers maintainthat Christmas is an ancestral holiday. It is sun and nature Gods' birthday.Lithuanian Christmas rites have much in common with the rites of otherIndo European nations.
On Christmas morning, the Christmas Eve supper tablewas cleared away and checked to see if souls of the dead left any signsof having been at the table.
Pork or wild boar meats were ancient traditional Christmasfoods. Later written sources mention ritual pork meat dishes eaten duringspring festivals and the start of agrarian labors. Tradition of slaughteringpigs before Christmas was widespread throughout Lithuania. Pig's head,decorated with greenery, was the main Christmas dish. In Samogitia thetraditional ritual food is hodgepodge with pig's tail sticking out of theserving dish. This was prepared by that member of the family who stayedhome to look after the property while other members attended midnight mass.
At the beginning of 19th century, authors J.Pabrëþaand S.Daukantas wrote that on Christmas day groups of men, singing ancienthymns and beating wooden folk instruments, dragged about a yule log [ a.k.a.blukas ] from house to house, while greeting the owners and wishing thema Happy New Year. These men were graciously treated to Christmas goodies.Then the yule log was dragged out of the village and set on fire.
Christmas merry making usually began on the second dayof Christmas or on the eve of the first day of Christmas and continueduntil Epiphany, the feast of the Three Kings. Youth groups called almscollectors, darlings, gypsies or by other names, walked through villagesunder the pretext of wishing good harvests while greeting all homeowners.They received gifts for their greetings. Each group's leader had the dutyto request permission to enter homes only when invited. P.Dundulienë
Writes that in the region of Tauragë, the youthgroup was made of twelve young men, dressed in red trousers, wearing jacketsback to front, with hats, bells and whips in hands. Before entering housesthey would chase evil spirits in the villages and behaved uproariously.When an invitation was given to enter the house, they sang and wished goodharvest. In the Highlands, the youth group was collected by Santa Claus,saying to each of them, " I will lead the lambs". Each youth clung to Santa'scoat and soon a flock of lambs was collected. Santa was a popular Christmaswanderer, dressed in an inside out fur coat, humpbacked, carrying a crookedcane and a bag to hold gifts. Santa knocked on doors with his cane. Whenasked who is knocking, he would answer, "this is Santa, I came from theother land, where there are hills of flour, rivers of honey, lakes of beer,rains in candy, snows in bagels. I carry a bag filled with luck, harvestand other goodies. Please open the door and don't chase me away to theother land". Once inside the house, Santa gave nuts to the children, sangand danced with them. In the region of Vilnius, on the first day of Christmas,children walked near windows bleating like lambs. The owner of the house,under whose windows they bleated knew immediately that the coming yearwould be very lucky and was generous in gift giving to those children.
In seacoast villages, Santa was replaced by a night watchmanwho walked near every house, singing Christmas hymns and wishing successto everyone. He was awarded delicious foods for all his doings.
In the region of Šilalë young people visited toexpress Christmas greetings to each other. They sang beautifully and onceinside were invited to eat potato sausages, potato cakes, drink beer andsing and dance.
On the second day of Christmas, the feast of St.Stephen,the first Catholic martyr, oats were taken to church to be blessed. Itwas also the last day of work for the hired hands, who were paid in grain,especially oats. They would donate part of their grain to church so thatGod would bless them and their earnings. In some regions at the beginningof this century, the mistress of the house greeted new hired hands withblessed oats, while the master of the house sprinkled their heads withblessed oats, with the wish that everything would be well.
At the end of 19th century, in villages throughout Lithuania,Christmas celebrations lasted three and four days under the pretext thatice would not destroy the grain fields. During the time between Christmasand Epiphany certain works were allowed while others were not. Almost nowork was done after sunset and on holiday evenings: no spinning and nogrinding. Only feather tearing could be done.
These traditions continued until Christian times. Itwas written in the Jesuit Chronicles, " these pagans still celebrate twelveday evenings after Christmas, they do no work but continue their holy rest.They use that rest to ask God for health for their sheep. They believethat without rest the new born lambs will have no head or legs. It is almostimpossible to change their behavior and beliefs".

LITHUANIAN CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS: (2024)
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