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Symbols of Lithuania (Anthem, Flag, Coat of Arms)

Lithuanian coat of arms, known as the Vytis, depicts a mounted soldier with raised sword on a red field. Dating back to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania it is among the Europe's oldest emblems. Atypically its source is Grand duke's seal rather than a dynastic coat of arms.

As the Grand Duchy spanned far beyond modern Lithuania the Vytis inspired many other symbols. Between 1991 and 1994 it (in a slightly different form) served as the coat of arms of Belarus and it is also included in some municipal and regional coats of arms in Poland.

A flag with Vytis had also been used in the Grand Duchy but today it is designated "Historic flag" and is masted only in a few historically important places.

Modern Lithuanian flag is a 20th century creation. As the reestablished Lithuanian state (1918) was a republic a tricolor design was adopted. Since the French Revolution (1789) most European republics used similar flags.

Lithuanian coat of arms (left) and the tricolor flag (right).

Lithuanian anthem "Tautiška giesmė" (National hymn) has been created in 1898 by Vincas Kudirka, one of the heroes of Lithuanian National Revival (adopted in 1920). It is notable for having each verse to follow a different melody and therefore should never be shortened (trimming the anthem in some sports events triggers discontent). A peculiar tradition calls every Lithuanian to sing the anthem on July 6th.

Tautiška giesmė
by Vincas Kudirka

Lietuva, Tėvyne mūsų,
Tu didvyrių žeme,
Iš praeities Tavo sūnūs
Te stiprybę semia.

Tegul Tavo vaikai eina
Vien takais dorybės,
Tegul dirba Tavo naudai
Ir žmonių gėrybei.

Tegul saulė Lietuvoj
Tamsumas prašalina,
Ir šviesa, ir tiesa
Mūs žingsnius telydi.

Tegul meilė Lietuvos
Dega mūsų širdyse,
Vardan tos Lietuvos
Vienybė težydi!

National hymn
English translation ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuania, our homeland,
Land of great heroes!
May your sons draw their strength
From the past.

May your children follow
Only paths of virtue,
May them work for your benefit
And the good of human beings.

May the sun over Lithuania
Spread the darknesses away
May both light and truth
Guide our steps.

May the love of Lithuania
Burn in our hearts.
In the name of this Lithuania
Let unity blossom.

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Before World War 2 and the subsequent Soviet genocide there were actually two Lithuanias. Current Catholic Lithuania-proper had sister Lithuania Minor which had been ruled by German states throughout most of its post-medieval history. Lithuania Minor had its own symbols which predated modern Lithuanian ones: a tricolor flag dating to 1660 and an anthem by Georg Sauerwein "Lietuvininkais mes esam gimę" ("Lietuvininks we are born" 1879).

Other symbols strongly associated with Lithuania are the Columns of Gediminas (or Pillars of Gediminas) and the Cross of Vytis (a.k.a. Cross of Jogaila), both named after medieval Lithuanian rulers. They are repeatedly used in many other symbols. For instance Cross of Vytis forms a part of Lithuanian Coat of Arms and the air force ensign whereas the Pillars of Gediminas were used for the trademark of Eurobasket 2011 event held in Lithuania and political party symbols.

In Dzūkija where there is a strong presence of Polish speakers ethnic Lithunians traditionally erect crosses of Vytis instead of traditional crosses in churchyards and roadsides to signify their ethnicity.

Cross of Vytis and Pillars of Gediminas in their typical forms (left) and their modern uses: a churchyard cross of Vytis in Dzūkija and the Pillars of Gediminas as architectural elements in Kaunas (on the Officer's club and a bridge). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Other things and practices held as "national" by significant parts of society (none of these - except for language - are enshrined in law so its purely traditional):

National bird: White stork (ciconia ciconia)
National tree: Oak
National flower: Rue
National language: Lithuanian
National religion: Roman Catholicism
National sport: Basketball
National meal: Cepelinai (a.k.a. Didžkukuliai)
National alcoholic beverage: Beer
National "mineral" (jewelry): Amber
National saints: St. Casimir and St. George

Bird/tree/flower are based on their prevalence in folklore. Sport/religion/language are the most popular ones, followed by the majority of population. Meal/beverage/mineral are based on popular opinion. Saints are recognized by the Catholic crurch.

A band in national clothes performs folk music. Lithuanian folk costume consist of plain white elements and colourful patterns (stripes, tiles, etc.) and cover all the body except for palms and head. Women wear skirts and men wear trousers. Currently the national clothes are used only in folk art performances, historical reenatctments and (by some people) during national holidays. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Nearly every Lithuanian city and town has its own coat of arms, used officialy by the local institutions (e.g. on policemen uniforms). Largely banned by Russian Imperial (1795-1915) and then Soviet (1940-1990) overlords this local heraldry has been readopted in the 1990s. Only the most historic towns had what to reinstate, launching a an arms-creation spree for every town and many villages. Only conservative arms could be approved however with no post-1800 inventions depicted. Therefore, for example, trains are represented by rectangular horses on the coat of arms (adopted 1996) of railway hub town Kaišiadorys. The arms of administrative unit capital usually serves the entire administrative unit, but with hundreds official arms available only the main city ones are well known Lithuania-wide.

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