At Christmas, in Lithuania, it is very cold, usually with snow and ice on the ground.
Christmas Eve (Kūčios) is a day more important than Christmas Day. Kūčios is also the name of the great Christmas Eve meal that families have together during the Christmas Eve night. Kūčios is also the last day of Advent, so it is important and special.
But before food can be eaten, many preparations must be made. The whole house is cleaned, the bedding is changed and everyone is washed and put on clean clothes ready for the meal. Many Lithuanians used to go to the bathhouse to be cleaned before lunch. Some people thought that being clean helped them to protect themselves from illness or illness during the next year. During Christmas Eve, the men of work kept their tools and cleaned the cattle pens and the farms, etc.
Many people fast (they do not eat anything) during the day. Kūčios food must not contain any meat either.
The straw is a traditional decoration. It is usually spread on the table and then covered with a clean white tablecloth. The table is decorated with candles and small branches or twigs of a fir tree. The straw reminds people of the baby Jesus lying in a manger. A superstition says that if you throw a piece of straw from under the tablecloth and it is long, you will have a long life; but if it is short you will have a short life; And a thick straw means a rich and happy life!
Often an additional place is established: for a family member who can not come to the meal or if a family member has died during the past year. Sometimes a candle is lit to remind family members that they died. Some people believe that dead relatives come and join the family around the table. People who are going to be alone on Christmas Eve are also invited to eat.
In the center of the table there is a plate of Christmas wafers, a wafer for each person in the food. In some parts of Lithuania, the wafers have the scene of Jesus’ birth in them.
The meal begins when the first stars can be seen in the night sky. If it’s cloudy, the ‘head of the house’ decides when the food will start! Wafers are offered to each person at the table and Christmas greetings are exchanged. Sometimes, an apple is also cut into so many people in the food and shared. This recalls the apple consumed in the Garden of Eden.
The Kūčios meal usually has 12 dishes, one for each of Jesus’ followers. None of the dishes contain meat (and some people do not have milk or eggs).
Traditional and popular dishes include fish (often herring), kūčiukai (small sweet pastes) usually soaked in poppy milk, kisielius (a drink made from blueberries), dried fruit soup, beet soup (often with stuffed meatballs). mushrooms), vegetable salad, mushrooms, boiled or baked potatoes, sauerkraut, a kind of wheat porridge with honey and bread. Normally you drink water or homemade cider with food.
The sweet dishes are also usually consumed, such as the kissel (a fruit soup / jelly thickened with potato flour) and a stewed fruit compote.
After the meal (or possibly between main dishes and sweets) there may be a visit from “The Old Man of Christmas” (Santa Claus) with gifts. People will also exchange gifts among themselves.
When gifts are exchanged, children often go to bed and adults can go to Midnight Mass (Bernelių mišios, which means shepherds’ mass).
The popular decorations for Christmas trees in Lithuania are made of white paper straw. They often have star shapes, snowflakes and other geometric shapes. You can find more information about straw decorations and see some pictures on them on this site (go to another site).
The cradles of the Nativity are also popular in Lithuania with very large scenes that are often placed outside of the churches.
The Christmas season lasts until January 6 – Epiphany. In Lithuanian, Feliz / Feliz Navidad is ‘Linksmų Kalėdų’.