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Lithuanian traditions

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Lithuanian traditions

Public Holidays in lithuania

Independent Republic

Relief from oppression came only with the collapse of the Tsarist Russian Empire at the end of World War I. On February 16th, 1918, a group of leading Lithuanian intellectuals gathered to sign Lithuania’s declaration of independence. Over the following several years most of the world’s prominent nations recognized the country’s statehood and, in turn, Lithuania established diplomatic and economic relations with the world abroad. During Lithuania’s 22 years of independence in between the world wwars, Lithuania rapidly progressed in all spheres of her national life. But then disaster struck again in 1940.

Independence Regained

Lithuania was one of the first republics to break away from the Soviet Union at the time of its collapse in 1991, although a declaration of Lithuania’s independence had already been proclamed by parliament a year earlier on March 11th, 1990. It was around this time that the modern Lithuanian flag was first hoisted up the historical Gediminas Tower in Vilnius ssymbolizing the reinstatement of Lithuanian statehood. Iceland was the first country to de facto recognize Lithuania’s independence. But, that did not sway the Soviet Union’s determination to try and keep Lithuania within its borders. Exactly ten months later on January 113th, 1991, Soviet paratroopers led an assault on Vilnius in trying to occupy key buildings and successfully taking control of the local radio and television centres. In the process, the Soviet military killed 13 and injured hundreds of peaceful and unarmed demonstrators. The struggle eventually led to the international recognition of Lithuania’s sovereignty and the country’s admittance into the United Nations Organisation on September 17, 1991. The last Soviet soldier withdrew from Lithuania on August 31, 1993.

Today, Lithuania is an independent democratic republic. It has an elected President as the head of state and an elected parliament called the Seimas. Both the government and the Supreme Court are appointed. The division of power is guaranteed by the Constitution, which wwas adopted by national referendum in 1992


June 24th is a festival in marking the summer solstice. It was first recorded to have taken place in the 14th century. It was believed that on this the shortest night of the year plants and water acquired special powers for healing illnesses or the ability to increase the fertility of farmland. Customs associated with the feast have retained their popularity to this day. Bonfires are lit, wreaths are floated on water, and eevery year people search the forest for the legendary blooming flower of the fern. The festival ends with the rising of the sun the following morning.


How did the youth community function within the annual cycle? By Advent major works of the year had been finished. In eastern Lithuania, St.Andrew’s Day traditionally marked the beginning of Advent. On this day girls forecasted what was going to happen to them in future. In the greater part of Lithuania, dances and songs were forbidden during Advent. Almost in all Lithuania youths gathered on fixed days (on Saturday or Sunday, or sometimes on both days) to engage in games. In spite of Advent, young people played merry games. Sometimes such games had a shade of eroticism about them. Boys treated girls in a more free way than during youth parties. On workdays game parties were replaced by evening gatherings. Girls played the role of hostesses. Female neighbours span, did embroideries, and wove sashes. Boys sporadically made ropes or did some woodcarvings. Usually they just sat doing nothing or playing cards. Sometimes they annoyed girls to make them drop their handiwork and engage in games. After Advent evening games wwere quite often replaced by Saturday dances. In some places they were held even daily. The jolly mėsėdas (the period from Christmas till Shrove Tuesday during which special emphasis was laid on eating meat) started. Youth community assembled under one roof again. On Christmas Eve youths once more engaged in fortune telling, especially about weddings. Christmas was an important event in youth life in all Lithuania. Hired workers returned home, their service period being over. As part of youths married in autumn, the somewhat shattered youth community consolidated in the Tarpušventis period (from Christmas till Three Kings’ Day) to experience the time of its utmost activity. In many places, a custom of daily gatherings to have fun and enjoyment existed. Such merrymaking was common even on workdays. In some places, merry processions of costumed people through villages lasted all 12 days. In quite a big area of north-eastern Lithuania, a custom of “going Gypsy” existed. Boys not only fooled around playing Gypsies but also teased girls and poured water on assembled people. Somewhat rude attentions were shown to girls in Kapsai when asking šyvis to dance (šyvis means a person wearing a mask of a horse). This custom must have ccome from Germany. However the main purpose of such processions was to honour neighbours and to collect food for a subsequent party. The Three Kings’ procession crowned the last day of the Tarpušventis period.

During the mėsėdas the oldest and most active youths usually left youth community. The monotony of evening parties of that time was broken by farewell gatherings to honour friends and by wedding ceremonies themselves. Even in the interwar period they could be attended by uninvited quests in the greater part of Lithuania.

Shrove Tuesday, the last holiday of the mėsėdas period, stirred young people. It closed the wedding season. Village boys assembled to organise processions of costumed people. Such processions marched through the villages of almost a half of Lithuania. They were much noisier and less reserved than Christmas parades. Holiday parties were held in almost the whole country. As in other countries of West Europe, costumed people tried to buy senmergės (unmarried women), bergždininkės (female persons or animals without children), to check whether they were fat enough. They made them kiss the ground through their aprons, or poured “consecrated water” on them, or “smoked” them by means of a pot with live coals, or pricked

their hands with a nail or a needle hidden in the mask, etc. Unmarried girls, too young to belong to the abnormal category of spinsters, suffered. Such erotic, even obscene behaviour was impossible during other seasons (except flax breaking or St. John’s Day in some places). On the other hand, such behaviour was dictated by archaic beliefs that secured the interests of village community in former times (assurance of fertility). However with the loss of sacral meaning of the rite, tthe act degraded into the sphere of entertainment. Thus instead of teasing spinsters or bergždininkės, boys pestered girls whom they wished to court a little, often neglecting old bachelors completely.

Aggression displayed by male youths during Shrovetide activated youth community powers only temporarily. Shrove Tuesday’s festivities marked the beginning of the monotonous Lenten fast. Dances and merrymaking during this time was forbidden. Fast coupled with the end of weddings and evening parties, and the loss of a certain number of yyouth community members made youth life stagnant. At that period youth community activities were the weakest. The passive and monotonous Lent period linked Shrovetide and Easter together. Easter consolidated male youths again. However this was observed in the eastern part oof Lithuania rather than in the western one. Masks and special costumes would vanish. Girls would be treated quite differently.

The youthful character of village youth community manifested itself as early as on Palm Sunday. In the second quarter of the 19th century several males, juniper twigs in their hands, walked through villages hitting girls with them. This custom existed in Suvalkija and in the western part of Aukštaitija. Its purpose was to make girls promise to give them margučiai (dyed eggs) on Easter. Real Easter festivities started on Easter Eve. At night the so-called Easter Jews (correspondingly costumed people) literally romped about the church. Not only young girls but also elderly women suffered from them.

On the night of tthe first day of Easter boys assembled to perform the ritual of lalavimas (walking through the villages singing and playing music). Only young males could participate in it. Usually they stopped to wish each family a good year, harvest and health. If there were marriageable girls in the family, they performed a special song, the so-called lalinka for them (around Gervėčiai it was called zaklėtunga). Boys wished the girls to become married and to get a good husband. Sometimes even aa costumed matchmaker participated in the procession. The singers were rewarded for the bringing honour to the girls. Most often they were given dyed Easter eggs and other food or drinks. Easter lalavimas is a specific youth custom. It is seldom observed in Europe. As can be seen, girls, teased, disregarded and labelled spinsters or barren beings during Shrove Tuesday, would again receive honours as potential brides on Easter. Girls’ salutation is possibly related to the transference of certain social roles. Other customs support this hypothesis.

On the third day of Easter girls became more active. In the central part of Lithuania they acquired a right to pour water on boys (boys poured water on girls on the preceding day). May festival was held on the third day of Easter in the central part of Lithuania. During the festival the most beautiful girl was selected. She in her turn chose three boys she liked best. She danced and exchanged gifts with them. Later they addressed each other as brothers and sister. In some places girls exchanged visits treating guests to a cake.

Special sacral functions were reserved for girls also in spring invitation customs. Such customs existed in the 19th ccentury. Around April, girls had a chance to get into the focus of attention of village community by means of performing a sacral function of inviting spring. The beginning of spring being declared, a party was organised. This custom existed longer in regions inhabited by Slavs. Social activity of girls manifested itself also in St. George’s Day customs. In the areas surrounding Gervėčiai musicians were hired not by boys but by girls. That evening girls invited boys to dance. Spring invitation practices were possibly related with the customs that existed in the north-eastern part of Lithuania till the interwar period. Fourteen days after St. George’s Day girls celebrated the so-called Terpjurginės (period between St. George’s Days according to the Gregorian and the Julian Calendar) holiday. Around Švenčionys, Tverečius and Adutiškis girls and sometimes women gathered together. To welcome spring, they climbed on fences or hills and sang.

The priority of girls’ social activity is evidenced also by Whitsunday festivities, the last major holiday held to mark the end of spring. On that day both male and female youths gathered together for ritual merrymaking, that is for sambariai, kupolės and parugės. Participants of such feasts had to bring their share: each ggirl would bring some cheese, sausage, a couple of eggs, while each boy – a bottle of whiskey or beer.

Exceptional character of girls’ status can be seen in the gathering called Kupolės. Around Tverečius in the 3rd quarter of the 19th century, witnessed that girls were more active than boys, though village community tolerated a more free behaviour of youths during village community festivities. It was the girls who made wreathes for boys or gave them flowers as presents. Boys gave flowers to girls as a sign of gratitude, or as a present to their beloved ones, while girls often gave wreathes to any boy who attracted their attention. At the end of the 19th century girls organised separate girls’ gatherings in the area around Kupiškis. During the gatherings they wove wreathes, decorated themselves with flowers and engaged in fortune telling. In the north-eastern part of Lithuania girls performed one more public function. While shepherds celebrated Whitsunday holidays girls looked after the cattle. In the morning girls drove cattle into the pasture. Boys would come to help them. In such a way non-intensive labour would turn into entertainment. Sometimes youths played at wedding beside a rye field. A bridegroom

was selected from the most gallant boys, and a bride – from the most dashing girls. (Sometimes the selected bridegroom would choose the bride). The entire wedding ritual was replicated. In this way the management structures of youth community were formed.

Church festivals held in spring increased the vernal activity of girls. They also strengthened their chances to demonstrate physical and social maturity. Girls had a chance to show themselves during parish youth parties and to go without any restrictions tto parties held in other villages. Girls were not allowed to go to the parties held outside the boundaries of their native village. In the interwar period such chances were significantly widened by gegužinės, an innovation of the end of the 19th century. Gegužinė means a public youth party in the open. It was symbolised by a field with birch-trees planted or driven into the ground alongside. Young people from several villages or even a parish participated in this festivity. TThe first gegužinė was usually held on Whitsunday.

Though in spring girls’ initiative obviously prevailed in village community life, the male part of youth community formed at the same time. This is evidenced by the fact that in spring boys’ iinitiation rites were usually performed. In Žemaitija where the rites had disappeared the hierarchical structure of the male part of youth community would start taking its shape as early as at the time of manuring, the first bee of the year. Men would try their force engaging in fighting, lifting each other, etc. Helpers who participated in the collective manuring for the first time or boys who had come from other villages would be noticed on that occasion. Parties that followed after collective work offered a chance to enjoy ...

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