True Lithuania

Holidays and Celebrations in Vilnius

As Lithuania's capital Vilnius is the heart of most national celebrations (at least their official events). It also hosts so many local events that even if you come during some random weekend there is likely something to be going on.

Vilnius Cathedral is the heart of many Christian celebrations while secular ones take place in the Old Town and New Town (especially the Gedimino Avenue, Rotušės Square, Katedros Square and Pilies Street).

Here are described the celebrations and events which are unique to Vilnius and may interest foreigners:

Flag raising is a daily event at Daukanto square in front of President's office. Three flags are lowered and raised by a group of soldiers dressed in medieval armor.

A band of soldiers with medieval Columns of Gediminas symbols ready for a flag change. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Winter celebrations and events

Name Date Type Event
Christmas period December 25th to January 6th Religious mass holiday Period between Christmas and the Epiphany is uniquely marked in Vilnius by transforming its 326 m tall TV tower into the world's tallest Christmas tree. Conceived for celebrating the new millennium in 2000 this became a yearly event.
January 13th January 12th-13th Commemorative ceremony Commemoration of the sad events of January 1991 (Vilnius massacre) when Russian troops invaded the city leading to the deaths of 14 civilians (hundreds were injured). Prior to this, hundreds of thousands of armless people had guarded key locations in a non-violent struggle for freedom. Some spent months away from home and passed days at bonfires. Hence bonfires are now lit yearly at the locations guarded so eagerly in those days (Vilnius TV Tower, Radio and Television headquarters, Parliament).

Spring celebrations and events

Name Date Type Event
Kaziuko mugė (St. Casimir Fair) Weekend before March 4th Fair The traditional local holiday of Vilnius. A major fair takes place the weekend before in multiple central streets, selling traditional candies, artwork, and crafts (among other things). Its beginnings likely lie in 1636 when the remains of Lithuania's patron saint Casimir were brought to be interred in Vilnius Cathedral. Like most traditional Lithuanian celebrations the fair was banned by the Soviets but nevertheless used to take place in marketplaces.

Verbos (bouquets of dried flowers and leafs) are among the traditional items sold in the Kaziukas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Name Date Type Event
Independence day parade March 11th Parade A patriotic parade in downtown Vilnius with flags and chants to commemorate the most recent rebirth of Lithuania (which triggered the final phase of the Soviet collapse)
Kino pavasaris (Cinema Spring) 2 weeks in March Film festival The largest cinema festival in Lithuania. Aimed at non-Hollywood movies it has its movies presented in original language with Lithuanian subtitles (some non-English films also have English subtitles). The prize is awarded for the best new Eastern European movie and this region is best represented.
Spring equinox March 20th Ceremony Pagan-inspired show of fire near the Cathedral square (a 2000s tradition).
Užupis Republic Independence day April 1st Ceremony Commemoration of the 1998 April fools day when Užupis neighborhood (part of Old Town) "declared" its independence to effectively become a micronation. This district of artists with its own constitution and president celebrates its freedom with parades, flag raising ceremony and temporary customs control at the "frontiers".
FiDi 1st Saturday of April Ceremony The most famous traditional student ceremony in Lithuania. Celebrated by Vilnius university physics students since 1969 the day starts at their faculty in Saulėtekis with a demonstration of inventions. The pinnacle of FiDi is its parade when dinosaur-on-wheels (basilisk-inspired symbol of FiDi) leads the predominantly male future scientists to a largely female Faculty of Linguistics in Old Town.

FiDi Dinas Zauras (Dino Saur) begins its journey across the city at Faculty of Physics. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Name Date Type Event
Lithuanian Basketball League final series Around April Proffesional sports Since 1998 the right to contest the champion rings of Lithuania's major league is always won by "Lietuvos Rytas" of Vilnius and "Žalgiris" of Kaunas teams (pouring fuel into the eternal Vilnius vs. Kaunas rivalry). "Lietuvos rytas" home games are held in Siemens arena and it takes 4 victories to triumph.
Sakura blossom Late April to Mid-May Natural event A sakura (Japanese cherry) garden planted near Vilnius municipality proved to be popular with many people enjoying picnics there when they blossom.
Pentecost at the Vilnius Calvary 7th week after Easter Christian festival A major Christian procession which follows the recreated Christ's final passage in a 7 km long pristine route. [Video]
Europe Day 1st or 2nd weekend of May European cuisines fair Gedimino Avenue is turned into a giant open air restaurant where stalls offer to taste cuisines of various European countries.
Day of Street Music Some Saturday in late May Amateur and professional music A mass event where all professional and amateur musicians are encouraged to perform publically. Entire Old Town and parts of New Town becomes a big festival zone that day. Day of Street Music was conceived in Vilnius in 2007 by popular singer Andrius Mamontovas but has since reached other cities and countries.

A punk band performs at Vokiečių street pedestrian area during the Day of Street Music. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Skamba skamba kankliai Final week of May Folk music A week-long festival of folk music. Its concerts are held in public places of the Old Town

Summer celebrations and events

Name Date Type Event
Market of plants End of June Folk medicine fair A folk medicine fair also known as the "Market of witches". The recently reinitiated tradition dates to the 19th century.
Tebūnie naktis (Let the night prevail) June or July Art festival A single evening so crammed with cultural, art and other events (largely free of charge) that great numbers of Vilnius inhabitants and guests sacrifice their precious sleep and make the Old Town look as some crowded Asian metropolis. Everything takes place between dusk and some 2AM.
Cristopher festival July-August Musical festival A two-month long slow-paced collection of classical music concerts in Vilnius downtown.
St. Baltrameaus fair Final weekend of August Arts and crafts demonstration A reconstruction of Renaissance-period arts and crafts. Various craftsmen establish their stalls in Vilnius Old Town where their work may be freely watched (and bought).
Velomarathon Final weekend of August Amateur sports Attracts some 10 thousand cyclists who ride on a pre-defined track across the streets of Vilnius.

Autumn celebrations and events

Name Date Type Event
Sostinės dienos (Capital days) First weekend of September Culture The largest cultural event in Lithuania. Its program annually includes some 1000 local and foreign performers of various arts. The events are free of charge.
Vilnius marathon A Sunday in September Amateur sports Lithuania's largest 42 km massive street run joined by young and old alike. There are shorter distances for those who prefer it.
Autumn equinox September 20th-22nd Ceremony Marked by a pagan-inspired show of fire and water at Neris river near Cathedral square (a 2000s tradition).

Fire performance near Cathedral during the equinox. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Sirenos theater festival Late September - early October Theater Offers the best Lithuanian plays of that year coupled with visiting foreign theaters.
Vilnius Jazz A weekend in October Music festival One of the most important jazz festivals in the Eastern Europe.
Tai - aš Third week of October Music festival A sung poetry musical festival (a genre somewhat peculiar to Lithuania). It has no counterparts in Eastern Europe but with the importance of lyrics over music in the genre, the mostly Lithuanian songs may be hard to understand for foreigners.
Festival of Our Lady of Mercy of the Gates of Dawn November 11th-20th Christian festival Celebrates the Virgin Mary and the miraculous painting visible for all who pass the historic Gates of Dawn. Many Lithuanian diaspora churches have been dedicated to Our Lady of Gate of Dawn as this is a potent symbol of both Vilnius and Lithuania.
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