True Lithuania

Festivals and Celebrations in Lithuanian Seaside

In summer the spotlight of all Lithuanian life moves to the Seaside. Klaipėda, Palanga, and the Curonian spit become the stages for many major events, celebrations and gigs.

Many summer weekends have a weekend-long annual celebration going on somewhere in the Seaside, with tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) inland dwellers attending and participating. Many events are sea-related (dedicated to shipping, fishing) but there are also modern musical festivals. Seeking to become a year-round resort Palanga has successfully established some festival weekends outside season.

Sea festival regatta in Klaipėda, one of many sea-related events. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A drawback is that many of these annual events lack a specified date meaning that every year they move in time a little. There are approximate dates however and you may Google up the exact weekend the year you visit. Moreover, pre-booking a hotel may be essential in some celebration weekends.

List of annual celebrations and events

These are just the more famous events. Additionally, every resort has a "Season opening" (May) and a "Season closure" (September) weekend. There are also many non-annual fests at the main venues or right on the beach. Among the more interesting venues is the Klaipėda Musical Ferry that offers concerts while sailing in the Lagoon.

Name Date Location Event
Palanga smelt holiday Mid-February weekend Palanga Entire Basanavičiaus high street is turned into a large open-air restaurant for smelts in this culinary/fishing holiday. If you prefer catching a smelt yourself, you may do so at the Sea Bridge where there are angling contests. Or you may swim in the cold sea yourself with a group of “health fanatics”.

The smelt holiday brings shards of summer lifestyle into deep winter with Palanga resort getting crowded, its visitors eating outdoors and some swimming in the sea. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Ship parade and regatta Third Saturday of May Klaipėda The start of summer is marked by a parade of ships in the Curonian Lagoon and a massive firework. A regatta takes place the same day.
Benai, plaukiam į Nidą Final weekend of May Nida (Curonian Spit) The oldest summertime seaside musical festival in Lithuania (est. 1994) offers open-air concerts of different musical styles.
Lagoon region fisherman’s holiday (Pamario krašto žvejo šventė) Mid-July weekend Juodkrantė (Curonian Spit) Fishermen from all over the lagoon meet up in Juodkrantė showing off their livelihood/art to thousands of tourists and letting them taste traditional fish recipes. Now they may be a minority but before the 20th century, everybody in Juodkrantė used fishing for subsistence.
Thomas Mann festival Third week of July Nida (Curonian Spit) The Curonian Spit was ruled by Germany prior to World War 1 and even after becoming Lithuanian it used to be favored by German artists and writers. Thomas Mann spent a couple of summers there and the art festival named after him includes concerts and fairs held all over Nida.
1000 km race Late July weekend Palanga Lithuania’s prime road race attracts many international teams. There are few limitations: old stock cars, Lamborghinis, buggies, and formulas all drive the same circuit. Trackside events include concerts a line-up of racecars in central Palanga prior to the race. The circuit is established by secluding a part of a highway.
Nida Jazz marathon Final weekend of July Nida (Curonian Spit) A festival that brings international jazz to atmospheric spaces of Nida (old Lutheran church to a pier).
Sea Festival Late July-Early August (one weekend) Klaipėda The main festival of Klaipėda with its roots in 1934 when it was started to promote Lithuania as a naval country. Currently, it attracts hundreds of thousand people from all over Lithuania. There are concerts, parades, fireworks and other events typically located near the sea or the lagoon, while some key ceremonies are directly related to the sea.
Palanga Table (Palangos stalas) Late September weekend Palanga A long table spans across Basanavičiaus street full of various meals. A great emphasis is put on healthy foods in this culinary festival.
Autumn equinox September 20th-22nd Juodkrantė (Curonian Spit) In this ceremony hay sculptures (crafted by artists that Spring) are set on fire in Juodkrantė Bay, symbolizing the defeat of Pagan gods.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Interesting site – lots of good information. It’s the lack of information on the Jewish presence in Memel and the inhuman actions of Germans and Lithuanians during the war that this observer finds troubling.

    • While Klaipėda / Memel had / has numerous minorities, among them Jews, it should be noted that Jewish presence in this city was never major. According to 1925 census there were just 1,47% Jewish citizens in Klaipėda/Memel. The scope of the article doesn’t permit listing every historic and current minority (Anglicans, Old Believers, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Mormons, Baptists, etc.). Only the groups that happened to play decisive role in the history of the city – namely Germans, Lithuanians and Russians – are thus more thoroughly explained.

      That said, Jews plaid a bigger role in histories of some other cities of Lithuania, such as Vilnius. And that is indeed mentioned in the respective articles on those cities.

      Moreover, your claim about supposed Nazi German and Lithuanian cooperation in Klaipėda/Memel is wrong. In fact, it was vice-versa: Klaipėda/Memel was the scene of the biggest Lithuania vs. Nazi Germany historical standoff. Nazi Germany saw the city as an “inalienable” part of Third Reich (rather than just an occupied territory) where no ethnic minorities, including Lithuanians, had any place. While the region was part of Lithuania, they applied heavy pressure on Lithuania to “return” the region and funded German Nazi terrorist organizations in Klaipėda/Memel. In response, Lithuanians organized Europe’s first anti-nazi trial (against the local German nazis). Due to these disputes, Lithuanian sportsmen were even banned from Berlin Olympics. After their success in Sudettenland, Germans pressed an ultimatum to get the city back in 1939 (like in Sudettenland, other countries did nothing to stop Hitler despite France’s and UK’s international obligations to protect Klaipėda as an autonomous part of Lithuania). Afterwards Nazi Germany has expelled many non-Germanized Lithuanians, reducing the minority even further. Signs of Lithuanian culture in Klaipėda region were also removed (streetnames, placenames, etc.) and institutions disbanded. Afterwards, Lithuanian presence in the city was very limited altogether.

  2. Thanks for your comments instead of deleting the previous post. I’m sure you’re not whitewashing the Lithuanian collaboration with the Germans which is well known and documented. Even today some Lithuanians would prefer selective amnesia – forgetting collaboration and focusing more on, say, Stalin’s actions against the Lithuanian people.

    • Actually, many Central Eastern Europeans think vice-versa: that Jews, by focusing primarilly on their own tragedy, are not giving due attention to the Soviet genocides where tens of millions of people have perished (and also whitewash Jewish communists and collaborators with the Soviet regime ).

      However, after speaking on the issue to people of different ethnic groups, I believe that probably Eastern European ethnicities and Jews have in fact much in common – all their different perceptions of history being a result of similar-yet-different tragedies that befell these nations in mid-20th century (rather than of some malignant will to „hide“ something).

      Here I go way off topic, but I try to help understand the background on why different emphasis is put on different WW2 era Eastern European historical events by different nations:

      1.Subjectivelly, every person is more shaken by the loss of the people he knows, e.g. relatives. People all over the world organize funerals, build tombstones for their family members (but not to strangers). Equally, every ethnicity seems to remember primarilly the tragedies it suffered (and build memorials for them), because those are the experiences of parents, grandparents, experiences they could read about in the survivor memoirs in their own language and such. So, Holocaust has a special place for Jews, Holodomor for the Ukrainians and so on.

      2.In Western Europe, WW2 was fought between a totalitarian empire and free democratic nations, there was a „right“ side and a „wrong“ side. However, elsewhere WW2 cannot be judged on the same terms. In Eastern Europe, both Axis and Allies were represented by totalitarian empires responsible for genocides. Some ethnicities have suffered far more under Nazi Germany (especially Jews), some suffered equally, most suffered far more under the Soviet Union (among them Lithuanians). As such, different ethnicities tend to view differently on which of the regimes was „worse“ (see point 1). Attempting to see the Eastern European theater of WW2 through Western theater eyes of „moral Allies“ vs. „immoral Axis“ tend to heavily infuriate those nations who suffered far more under the Soviet Union, since any such interpretations would either be ignorant at best (continuing the Cold War era historiography trend when objective Eastern European historians were prevented by their communist overlords from speaking out), or automatically regard Soviet regime‘s victims to be less important than Nazi Germany‘s victims.

      3.I hope that no one who is serious is denying any historically proven facts. It‘s more the question of emphasis (see points 4, 5, 6 and 7).

      4.To anybody of the „victim ethnicity“ (in a particular genocide) everything about the particular perpetrators seems important. For example, a Jewish WW2 era memoirs would often include information on the ethnicities of Eastern European collaborators with Nazi German regime (among them Lithuanians). Lithuanian memoirs of the same era, on the other hand, would often mention how their authors suffered from Jews collaborating with the Soviet Russian regime (in 1940-1941). However, if looking from a „neutral standpoint“, this collaboration is not necessarily important (especially if it follows general trends). Collaboration of a minority of every ethnic group is typically a part of any war or war crime. It happened in all the wars in Lithuania, and it happened in WW2 nearly everywhere (including in e.g. France, famed for its Resistance). Collaborators merely follow decisions from elsewhere though – to a writer of a concise history its those decisions that matters. That‘s why in typical history books you won‘t find analysis of the ethnic composition of e.g. Spanish or Portuguese conquistadors that destroyed American civilizations: it will be just be said that Spanish and Portuguese Empires did that, though there were definitely many non-Iberians who have enlisted as well.

      5.For an ethnicity that suffers 20%-60% of its total worldwide numbers in casualties in merely a single decade or so, much else that happened in that era naturally feels less important than their own tragedy. This is true for many nations of the area, including Lithuanians, Jews, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Kalmyks, etc.

      6.Very often the totalitarian regimes (Soviet Union and Nazi Germany) have used collaboration of the minority of some ethnicity with the opposite regime for their own propaganda purposes and even promoting genocide of the said ethnicity. Nazi Germany did use collaboration of a part of Jews with the Soviet authorities as a pretext to persecute all Jews in Lithuania. Likewise, Soviets would use collaboration of some people of various ethnicities (Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingushetians, etc.) a pretext to deport them *all* to Siberia, often with casualty rates above 50% (despite the fact that often there were far more people of those ethnicities serving the Red Army than collaborating). As such, all the ethnic groups in question are naturally extremely wary of any major emphasis on collaboration, predicting that a denial / justification of the genocide and tribulations they suffered will follow. This may be alarmist at times, but there are real dangers: it should be noted that, for example, Russia in the current Ukrainian war has also in a sense “played the WW2 / fascist card” to “justify” its own modern-day invasion (however, the Ukrainian Jewry generally stood on the pro-Ukrainian side despite such allegiatiations).

      7.It is often feared by people of ethnicities in question that an “undue emphasis” on the collaboration of some locals with Nazi Germany (which existed all across the occupied territories) would paint an image that these countries were actually pro-Nazi or pro-German, which is far from truth. Most independent nations of Eastern Europe were trying to defend themselves from invading powers – just like those in Western Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, etc.) did. However, in Eastern Europe there were two rather than one such powers and defense required careful considerations and sacrifices, knowing that actions against one regime may help the other which, depending on situation and nation, may have been „for the worse“ (only a few were successful in defending their freedom in the end such as Finland which had to fight first the Soviet Union, then the Nazi Germany in order to achieve that). Whatever collaboration happened, it was, as always, a matter of personal decisions of particular people (a very small percentage of total population) while under occupation to join the cause of occupational force (often for opportunist rather than ideological reasons). What I have written in previous post was mainly to accentuate the fact that Nazi Germany and Lithuania had especially strained relations and Nazi ideas were never popular among ethnic Lithuanians (and the same is true to most Eastern European nations). While under Nazi German occupation, many Lithuanians actively sought to disrupt Nazi German activities, both through “grassroots” personal actions (e.g. hiding Jews, becoming recognized as “righteous among nations”) to “major” political ones (such as disbanding local regiments after learning of Nazi plan to turn them into a Lithuanian SS division). The same happened all over Eastern Europe, although some actions were more successful in some places than the others.

      8.It is important to note that during WW2 in every Eastern European country there were many times more anti-occupational activists than collaborators (as you probably know, Lithuania is second only to the Netherlands in the number of the “righteous among nations” per 100 000 population). However, collaborators are often remembered better by victim ethnicities: that’s because a single collaborator, supported by the reigning totalitarian regime, could have easily persecuted hundreds of people, maimed them openly (the survivors would then all remember this in their memoirs and testimonies). On the other hand, it was often a tremendous secret effort for each anti-occupational activist to save even a single life throughout the years of raging genocide. Yet such effort, however massive, would be remembered by just the saved few (and even that only if the effort was not cut short by the occupational force). While such biases comes naturally due to the specified reasons, they are often (mostly incorrectly) regarded as purposeful slandering / defamation / hatred propaganda by the “blamed nations”.

  3. A quick follow-up to your helpful comment about the 1925 census. Was there a town called Gorsa in the vicinity of Memel? If so, was it part of the Memel district in the census?

    • I have not heard of „Gorsa“, nor does the Google search for „Gorsa Memel“ or „Gorsa Klaipėda“ turns up anything, and I also haven‘t seen it on the old maps I have checked.

      It should be note that above statistics are for Klaipėda city rather than district (apskritis). Those were two different administrative units. Their statistics in 1925 were the following:

      Klaipėda city (urban) – 35845 people, 1,47% Jews.
      Klaipėda district (mostly rural) – 30409 people, 0,12% Jews.


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