Lithuanian Christmas Traditions

Merry Christmas    Linksmų Kalėdų

Happy New Year      Naujųjų Metų

May you have a Merry Christmas and a Joy-filled New Year

Articles in this presentation include:

– Kaledos – Christmas Season in Lithuania
– Traditional Christmas Eve
– The First Day of Christmas
– Christmas Trees, Santa Claus, and Presents
– Lithuanian Christmas Decorations
– Christmas in the Capital


Christmas Tree in Vilnius, Lithuania

– Christmas Season in Lithuania
Lithuanian Christmas traditions combine old/ new and Christian/ pagan, and are similar to those in Latvia, Estonia, and Poland.
The old holiday celebration was actually the celebration of the winter solstice or Brumalia.
Parallels can be drawn today between hay on the Christmas table for the Christmas Eve feast and the hay in the manger where Jesus was born.
Christmas begins on 24 Dec, Christmas Eve and ends on the Feast of Epiphany on 6 Jan. Christmas Day is the 1st day and during the next 12 days the evenings are devoted to recreation and merriment.
Origins of Christmas: December 25th was first adopted by Liberius, Bishop of Rome, in 354. When Christianity came to Lithuania much later, Christmas became special. Lithuanian country Christmases reflect the rural lifestyle who lived on small family farms, grew their own crops, and raised their own livestock. Christmas reflects using what is available.
– Traditional Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve day all is made ready for the Christmas Eve dinner. A handful of fine hay is spread evenly on the table, Jesus’ birth and laying in a manger. A pure white tablecloth is placed over the hay, set with plates and decorated with candles and fir boughs. Many Christmas wafers, sometimes called God’s cakes (Dievo pyragai) are placed in the center of the table.
Supper on Christmas Eve is special and traditional. The whole family gathers together. 
Twelve different dishes are served on the table because Jesus had twelve apostles. All the dishes are strictly meatless: fish, herring, sližikai 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), bread and water, homemade cider or fruit juice.

Dinner is served as soon as the first star appears in the sky or when the father or grandfather announces it if cloudy. After a prayer is said, the father offers a wafer to the mother wishing her a Happy Christmas. “God grant that we are all together again next year.” She offers the father her wafer in return. The father then offers a wafer to every family member or guest at the table.

For a hot meal, dumplings are prepared, shaped into ears, with dried boletus inside and served with hot red beet roots broth and boletus broth. It is particularly tasty.

After the main dishes are eaten, the children and adults pause wait for the coming of Christmas Man (or Santa Claus).

Special sweet courses are then served: very sour thick cranberry kissel (jelly made with potato flour), mixed, stewed fruit compote, and a special Christmas Eve dish of with poppy seed milk, poppy seed milk with very small dumplings (lumps) sliþikai.

Adults then go to Midnight (which is still called Bernelių mišios) Shepherds’ Mass in sleighs with night bells on the horses, over fields covered with sparkling snow; streams, rivers and lakes under ice.

– The First Day of Christmas
The first day of Christmas was considered most sacred and, therefore, all unnecessary work is avoided. Only food prepared days in advance was eaten. Much of the morning was spent at home singing Christmas hymns and carols. As the day progressed neighbors would start to visit each other and exchange Christmas greetings. And finally, usually at the home of the most prosperous neighbor, the musicians would appear, signaling the end of the Advent season and the return of entertainment and all types of merrymaking.

– Christmas Trees, Santa Claus, and Presents
After World War I, the cutting of and decorating a small fir tree for Christmas was brought to Lithuania from Germany as well as Santa Claus, the Old Man of Christmas, and the giving of presents.
Santa Claus brought presents only for children, who were required to earn them by performing for everyone present. They had to perform whatever they were able: recite a poem, sing a song, do a dance, or play an instrument.

– Lithuanian Christmas Ornaments
Natural straw and white drinking straw ornaments are characteristic of Lithuanian tree ornaments as well weddings and other festive occasions. Making them and the different designs are discussed in a separate article.


Christmas in Vilnius

– Christmas in the Capital
In 2009 the 1st Vilnius Christmas Market took place in the historic center on Town Hall Square, very much like Christmas markets in europe and the US.