True Lithuania

Culture of Lithuania: Introduction

The culture of Lithuania is standing on six pillars:

The ethnicity. The old Lithuanian nation was joined by multiple minorities over the centuries, and to many their ethnicity is the prime self-identification and the main source of cherished traditions.

The language. The archaic Lithuanian language may be what defines Lithuanian people. The minorities are equally protective of their languages however.

The religion. Predominantly Catholic for centuries Lithuania was always tolerant to other faiths, which provided many alternative traditions and old houses of worship to Lithuanian towns.

The holidays. From local to universal, from meaningful to forgotten, from straightforward to controversial: every week has festivities in Lithuania, each of them dating to a different historical period or group of people.

The architecture. Formed by ethnicities and religions, foreign influences and occupations, a multitude of architectural styles define the contemporary Lithuanian villages, towns and cites.

The arts, crafts and literature. Mostly created during periods that already seem exotic in a rapidly-changing Lithuania the art, crafts, and literature are still respected as something that best conveys the development of Lithuanian culture to the present-day people.

Furthermore, read about the massive Lithuanian diaspora that keeps the Lithuanian culture alive well beyond Lithuania.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Culture No Comments

Ethnicities in Lithuania: Introduction

The majority ethnicity in Lithuania is Lithuanians, who make up 85,08% of the population and are the country's original inhabitants.

Poles come second (6,65%), mostly concentrated in Southeast Lithuania, including Vilnius. Russians are third at 5,88% with their liveliest communities in cities.

Fourth largest ethnicity in Lithuania are the Belarusians (1,2%), the fifth are the Ukrainians (0,55%). Together with the other ethnicities of former Soviet Union these two are sometimes labeled Russophones and are also concentrated primarily in the cities.

Other traditional minorities in Lithuania are the Jews, Germans, Tatars, Latvians, Karaims and Gypsies, each of them dating to 14th-15th centuries but consisting of 0,1% or less population today.

Inter-ethnic relations are generally good in Lithuania. Unlike in many European nations, the Lithuania’s largest ethnic minorities enjoy public schools where the language of instruction is their native one rather than the official Lithuanian language. However, other points of language policy raised discussions recently, such as the legality of Polish street names in the Polish-dominated municipalities.

Inter-ethnic marriages used to be shunned by peers while under the Soviet occupation (as the offspring were then likely to assimilate into Russophone culture, threatening the long-term existence of Lithuanian nation) but are now generally a non-issue if both spouses belong to the traditional communities.

Like elsewhere in the Eastern Europe the concept of nation is more associated with ethnicity than citizenship, therefore using the term "Lithuanian" for ethnic minorities may be controversial (both among the minority in question and the rest of population). Conversations about one's ethnicity are generally welcome.

All the traditional communities (well over 99% of the population) are White. Races are thus seen as an external issue used to describe the global (rather than local) diversity.

Ethnic map of Lithuania. The minorities are largely concentrated in the east. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Culture, Ethnicities No Comments

Religion in Lithuania: An Introduction

In the globalized world of 21st century, few would be surprised by multi-religious cities. However, in Lithuania, the multi-religious atmosphere is centuries old. The 19th century Vilnius had temples of over 10 different religions, many of them non-Christian. Lithuania is a unique crossroad of the East and the West in that here you can see the centuries-old heritage of many different faiths.

Today most (some 85,9%) Lithuanians are Roman Catholic and the interwar Lithuania was a very religious society. However the long Soviet occupation (1940-1941 and 1944-1990) with its anti-religious policy brought in a flavor of sometimes radical atheism (6,8% irreligious). It also triggered a decline in religious services attendances and a more clandestine role of religion, which is still largely invisible in public places.

The interior of a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Šiauliai city (Samogitia region). Relatively plain interiors like this are common ir newly restored churches once damaged by the Soviets and wars.

Second largest faith is the Russian Orthodoxy, followed by 4,6%, mostly ethnic Russians. 0,9% of the population are Old Believers, whose Russian ancestors received refuge in Lithuania when they were persecuted in Russia for refusing to adhere to the Nikon’s religious reform. Lutherans, 4th largest religion (0,7%), enjoy a centuries-old stronghold in Klaipėda Region, while the Lithuanian center of the Reformed Christianity (0,2%) is the Biržai district in the northeast.

Four other faiths are considered traditional by the Lithuanian law, and they are:
*Sunni Islam, adhered by Tatars whose ancestors were brought as soldiers to these areas by Vytautas the Great.
*Judaism, the religion of the Jewish community, severely weakened by the Nazi Germany's Holocaust, Soviet atheism and the emigration to Israel.
*Karaism, an old offshoot of Judaism practiced mostly in Vilnius and Trakai.
*Uniate Christianity (Eastern Catholicism), a form of Christianity whose devotees recognize the Pope as an authority but follow the Eastern orthodox liturgy.

Each of these faiths is now followed by 0,1% or less population but their centuries-old communities are important for Lithuania’s history and culture.

Since independence, the number of adherents of new or foreign religious movements increased but they all put together remain under 1%. 0,5% belong to minor Christian faiths and 0,2% are neo-pagans.

Lithuania recognizes religious freedom. Traditional religious institutions are treated like any cultural institutions. The state could support them (but such support should be proportional to the number of their followers).

Map of Lithuanian religious communities. In most municipalities, 90%+ people are Roman Catholic. Significant religious minorities are concentrated in particular areas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Culture, Religions No Comments

Languages in Lithuania

The sole official language in Lithuania, as well as the language you will hear the most, is Lithuanian (native to some 85% of the population and spoken by 96%). With millennia-old history and struggles for its survival, Lithuanian language is very much a part of national identity.

Minority languages in Lithuania

The largest minority languages are Russian and Polish, spoken natively by 8,2% and 5,8% of the population respectively.

Russian native speakers live primarily in cities. They include not only ethnic Russians but also many Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews and other ethnicities common in the former Soviet Union, collectively referred to as Russophones. Some "Russophones" speak another language natively but still speak better Russian than Lithuanian or don't speak Lithuanian at all. Not speaking Lithuanian is common among the elder generation of Russophones. That's because during the Soviet occupation (1940-1990) knowledge of Lithuanian was not required and Russian was the lingua franca (unlike Latvia or Estonia, Lithuania gave its citizenship to every person who resided in Lithuania at the time of the collapse of the USSR, regardless of their knowledge of the official language).

Polish is spoken mostly by the ethnic Polish minority in the southeast Lithuania (including Vilnius). In some towns there Polish is actually the majority language.

While there are other minorities in Lithuania it is very rare to hear any other language than Lithuanian, Russian or Polish spoken in Lithuania by locals in their own conversations (rather than when talking to foreigners).

Minority languages are used extensively by the minorities in question and this is promoted by the government. For instance, there are many public schools where either Russian or Polish are used as the medium of instruction. However, any official government texts (e.g. laws or street names) are Lithuanian-only.

Christmas greetings projected under Vilnius castle tower alternates Lithuanian, English, Polish and Russian languages. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Foreign languages in Lithuania

Spoken by some 70% of the population, Russian is still the most popular second language in Lithuania, although this is declining. The Russian language was both mandatory and ubiquitous during the Soviet occupation (1940-1990), making virtually everybody in the older generations (i.e. those born ~1980 and before) fluent in it. Nowadays, however, many ethnic Lithuanians regard the Russian language as a "colonial leftover". Only some 40% of the kids learn it. Likewise, Russian public inscriptions have been gradually removed or replaced by English ones (although the Russian language may still be seen on an occasional old plaque or in unrenovated museums). On the other hand, private hotels and restaurants have Russian menus and employ Russian-speakers to cater for numerous Russian tourists. While to some ethnic Lithuanians any use of Russian is a reminder of the tragic history, some others enjoy Russian music and media, claiming that "culture and politics should not be mixed".

English is the most popular foreign language to learn today. It is spoken by 30% of total population and 80% of the youth. The older generations are unlikely to speak English, however, as very few schools taught it seriously under the Soviet occupation. Today English is the language Lithuanians expect foreigners to know, so it is widely used in modern museums, hotels, tourist signs and city/resort restaurant menus. As the "top language" of the "prestigious West", it also became fashionable for some key local trademarks and popular songs.

It is relatively rare for non-Poles to learn Polish as a foreign language. It is not taught as such in schools. However, non-Polish people from areas with strong Polish presence may have some knowledge of Polish acquired in day-to-day life, making 14% of Lithuania's citizens fluent in Polish. Polish signs for tourists are available in the areas most visited by the Polish tourists, namely the Vilnius region and the borderland. Polish-inhabited areas have Polish cultural events and media, although they are mostly aimed at the local Poles.

German (spoken by 8% of the population) held popularity as a 2nd foreign language (after Russian, instead of English) under the Soviet occupation as the Soviet Union had close ties to East Germany (but no close ties to any English-speaking country). Today German usually competes with Russian for the place of second foreign language in school (after English). In the formerly German-ruled Klaipėda region, restaurant menus and other information in German are more common due to catering for numerous German tourists there. In terms of cultural impact, German is far behind English, Russian and Polish, however: there is no local German media, few cultural events, few books for sale and so on.

Fifth and sixth foreign languages by the number of speakers in Lithuania are French and Spanish, but they are spoken only by some 2% and 1% of the population respectively.

2011 census results on the correlation between age and what foreign languages a person can speak. Native languages are excluded (therefore total numbers of Russian and Polish speakers are larger by 6%-8%). Diagram by Lithuanian department of statistics.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Culture, Languages 19 Comments

Lithuanian diaspora

Lithuanians are among the nations that have emigrated the most. Some 2-3 million people may have left Lithuania in the past two centuries, almost as many as there are inhabitants in Lithuania today. Due to intermarriages, some 6 million people worldwide may have at least a single great-great-grandparent from Lithuania by now.

This Lithuanian diaspora did not simply dissipate: it has built massive churches and club palaces, established century-lasting organizations and traditions, and, essentially, became "the other Lithuania" that had to be reckoned with, constantly replenished by new and new waves of emigration. Many of the key Lithuanian feats were achieved by the diaspora, such as publishing the first Lithuanian-language novel or encyclopedia.

Lithuania's sad history of occupations and persecutions is responsible for much of the emigration, but there were numerous waves and groups of emigrants that had different reasons, goals, and life after emigration. Whether you are a descendent of a Lithuanian emigrant or you seek to understand Lithuania and Lithuanians more these articles will help to learn all the whys and hows.

Numbers and locations of Lithuanian diaspora

Few estimations vary as wildly as those of Lithuanian diaspora numbers. That's because there is no clear definition of who is a Lithuanian and different countries use wildly different measures for statistics, including citizenship, birthplace, native language, ancestry, self-declared identity, etc.

Lithuanian diaspora is easiest to understand as a series of Migration Waves. The members of the same Migration Wave and their descendants have more in common with each other (even if living oceans apart) than they do have in common with the Lithuanians from other waves (even if they migrated to the same city). The Waves are described in the paragraph after this one.

The following liberal geographic estimates include people who are either ethnic Lithuanians, descendants of ethnic Lithuanians with exposure to Lithuanian culture, or Lithuanian citizens, irrespective of their language knowledge, place of birth or diaspora participation. They do not include non-Lithuanians who temporarily resided in Lithuania (e.g. during the Soviet occupation) and then emigrated. With limited data for some countries, some of the estimates still have a big margin of error.

A map of Lithuanian diaspora, each square Lithuanian flag representing 50 000 diaspora members and each smaller flag 10 000

A map of Lithuanian diaspora, each square Lithuanian flag representing 50 000 diaspora members and each smaller flag 10 000

Click on the country names on the table to learn more about Lithuanian heritage there.

Country Number of Lithuanians Comments
United States 650 000 Mostly First wave (pre-1915) and Second wave (~1940s). Mostly New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
United Kingdom 200 000 Mostly Third wave (post 1990-). Mostly cities.
Brazil 60 000 Mostly interwar migrants (1920s). Mostly Sao Paulo.
Germany 55 000 Mostly Third wave (post-1990)
Norway 50 000 Third wave only (post-2004)
Canada 47 000 Mostly Second wave (~1940s). Mostly Ontario and Montreal.
Argentina 45 000 Mostly interwar migrants (1920s). Mostly Buenos Aires, Beriso, Rosario
Ireland 40 000 Third wave only (post-1990)
Russia 32 000 Mostly Exiles (1940-1953), Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990)
Latvia 30 000 Mostly indigenous communities (near the Lithuanian border), Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990)
Belarus 30 000 Mostly indigenous communities near Lithuanian border, Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990).
Spain 30 000 Third wave only (post-1990)
Denmark 20 000 Third wave only (post-2004)
Sweden 16 000 Third wave only (post-2004)
Poland 15 000 Mostly indigenous communities near the Lithuanian border
Australia 13 000 Mostly Second wave (~1940s). Mostly Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Geelong, Perth.
Uruguay 10 000 Mostly interwar migrants (1920s). Mostly Montevideo.
Kazakhstan 7 000 Mostly Exiles (1940-1953) and Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990). Mostly Karaganda.
Ukraine 7 000 Soviet era migrants (1945-1990) and Third wave
The Netherlands 7 000 Third wave only (post-2004)

The Lithuanian emigration waves

Lithuania's emigration waves were so different from each other that they are the most important groupings of Lithuanian emigrants.

Destinations, periods, ethnicities, professions greatly depend(ed) on the wave with which the person has left Lithuania.

*Indigenous Lithuanians abroad. This part of the Lithuanian diaspora has never emigrated: they live in the same Lithuanian areas and villages their families lived for centuries and millenniums. However, 20th-century politics meant that these villages were not included in the Republic of Lithuania, being awarded to Russia, Poland, Belarus, or Latvia instead.

*First wave (1865-1915). A.k.a. "Grynoriai" ("Free air men"). At the time Lithuania was ruled by the Russian Empire which enacted discriminatory policies, was economically backward and left Lithuania undeveloped on purpose. Avoiding discrimination and seeking economic opportunities Lithuanians (mostly peasants) thus emigrated in larger numbers than ever before with some 700 000 leaving, most of them to the USA where they would work in the industry and mines. They established entire "colonies" abroad that included Lithuanian churches, club palaces, businesses. Lithuanian language and culture lingered for over a century in some of them, and the heritage still remains in many more.

*Interwar Lithuania emigration (1915-1939). While 1918 Lithuanian independence quenched the anti-Lithuanian discrimination back home and kick-started the economy, Lithuania still had a lot to catch up. Some Lithuanians (~100 000) did not wait and emigrated instead: as the USA was by then effectively closed to immigration, most have chosen South America or Canada, creating smaller versions of "First wave" Lithuanian "colonies" there. This minor wave of emigration was cut short by the 1929 Great Depression that ravaged the western economy more than that of Lithuania. Furthermore, during this period many of the pre-1915 Russian Imperial settlers emigrated to their own countries.

*The Exiles (1940-1953). Considered to be the most tragic part of recent Lithuanian history, they were a part of genocide. Soviets expelled some 350 000 to Russia's most inhospitable lands. Many of them died due to forced labor, malnutrition, and cold, leaving little trace behind them. A smaller number was also expelled to concentration camps by Nazi Germany in the 1941-1944 period.

*Second wave (~1944). A.k.a. "DPs", "Displaced persons", "WW2 refugees", "Soviet Genocide refugees". As Soviet armies invaded in 1944, many Lithuanians knew they were targets of Soviet Genocide and so their lives, mostly westwards. After several years spent in refugee camps, they would spread across key Western nations (mainly the USA, Canada, and Australia). Numbering at 70 000, the Second Wave was smaller in numbers than the First Wave, it left as big a mark on Lithuanian history because many second-wavers were patriots who would have never left Lithuania in other circumstances, so they worked hard to recreate a piece of Lithuania in their new homelands, keeping the Lithuanian language and culture alive and vehemently campaigning for Lithuania's freedom. Many of them were also intellectuals, launching the Lithuanian-styled arts, architecture, and sciences abroad.

Lithuanians DPs in a ship which moves them from refugee camps in Germany to a new world (left image). They later established cohesive communities, such as the one centered around this new (1950s) Nativity BVM church in Marquette Park, Chicago (right image).

*Emigration from Soviet Lithuania (1945-1990). Emigration from the Soviet Union was nearly banned, making the number of emigrants low despite some of the most horrible living conditions in Lithuanian history. Non-ethnic-Lithuanians, however, were often allowed to emigrate to their titular homelands and some 250 000 of them did (most of Lithuania's Jews emigrated to Israel, many Poles to Poland and Germans to Germany). There were also movie-scenario-like stories of escapes and infiltrations. Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union was allowed (sometimes even encouraged) for all ethnicities, however, few Lithuanians wanted it.

*Modern emigration or the Third wave (1990-). The current and largest wave of Lithuanian emigration. As European Union membership allowed free and uncontrolled emigration to Western Europe, almost a million Lithuanians (over a quarter of the total population) used up the opportunity to leave their Soviet-ravaged homeland for larger salaries of the West. Most of them settled in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Spain, and Germany. Furthermore, many of the Soviet settlers departed for their historic homelands.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Culture, Diaspora No Comments

Lithuanian DPs / Second wave of emigration (~1940s)

As Soviets came to reconquer Lithuania in the 1940s, hundreds of thousands have left everything fleeing westwards, knowing that staying behind would have meant certain death. They became known as the DPs, or Displaced persons.

While far from the largest group of Lithuanian emigrants, the DPs arguably achieved the most. Feeling more like refugees or even exiles rather than emigrants, they created pieces of Lithuania in every country where they emigrated to - in the form of ethnic-styled Lithuanian churches, schools, club buildings, and memorials. Being mostly intellectuals, they created new styles of Lithuanian arts and architecture and developed Lithuanian science at the time Lithuania itself was deeply behind the Iron Curtain. At the same time, they campaigned vigorously for the Western world to support Lithuania.

While some waves of Lithuanian emigration have a somewhat negative image, a DP is often seen as that stereotypical "ideal emigrant" who managed to love and support Lithuania from abroad.

Lithuanian Youth center facade with Vytis and the memorial to those who died for Lithuanian freedom in front

DP-built Lithuanian Youth center facade in Chicago with Vytis and the memorial to those who died for Lithuanian freedom in front

Why did the DPs leave Lithuania ~1940s?

In 1940, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union started its genocide, which eventually led to murdering and expelling hundreds of thousands. In 1941, Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania, its regime being more lenient, at least for non-Jews.

In 1944, however, Soviet armies approached once again, and, knowing that the Soviet Genocide would return and they would be likely targets, the DPs fled westwards as refugees, hoping to return after the war. Most of them belonged to the groups that were the prime targets of the Soviet Genocide: the religious, the intellectuals, the landowners, the businessmen, those of German or Lutheran ancestry, etc. Having barely survived the first Soviet occupation in 1940-1941, they knew what to expect.

En-route they were also joined by those who had been deported by Nazi Germany to its concentration or labor camps in 1941-1945 and survived the persecutions there. Now free from the clutches of the defeated German Reich, they knew better not to return to Soviet Lithuania where similar or worse fate would have awaited.

All of them desperately tried to reach the parts of Germany occupied by western powers as they knew that the Soviets or Soviet allies would return them to occupied Lithuania or even executed on spot.

Special case: Jewish Holocaust refugees. While the terms "Second Wave" and "DPs" terms are generally reserved for that short and massive wave of 1944 emigration of tens of thousand people desperately trying to flee the advancing Soviet soldiers, for Lithuania's Jews, Nazi German occupation (1941-1944) and its genocide (Holocaust) was more dangerous than the Soviet one. Thus they began fleeing earlier to avoid the Holocaust, sometimes with the help of righteous-among-nations.

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. In most of Lithuania, the Soviet Genocide was not equally dangerous to everyone as certain groups were targetted more than others. In Klaipėda Region, however, everybody was a target for Genocide as this region comprised of Germans and Lithuanian Lutherans, both groups despised by the Soviets. As such, more people have fled the Klaipėda Region ~1944 than the rest of Lithuania put together, and when the Soviets invaded Klaipėda city they found merely ~20 local citizens remaining. Still, Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor emigrants are often not counted to the Second Wave tally due to their cultural differences and the fact this part of Lithuanian history tended to be obscured during the Soviet occupation.

A column of German and Lutheran Lithuanian refugees who attempted to flee the Klaipėda region was overran by Soviet tanks. Such wanton killings (as well as torture and rapes) of the despised Germans and groups perceived to be similar to Germans, e.g. Lutheran Lithuanians, at the hands of conquering Russians were extremely common in the mid-to-late 1940s Europe.

How many people fled Lithuania ~1940s?

Some 60 000 - 80 000 have successfully fled Lithuania-proper in 1944 to be considered the Second-Wave-proper. Additionally, some 30 000 have tried to flee but returned or were forced to return as, for example, the frontline has outpaced them.

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. Additionally, some 170 000 fled the Klaipėda Region, roughly equally divided between ethnic Germans and Lithuanians. Additionally, some 500 000 fled the parts of Lithuania Minor outside the Republic of Lithuania, among them up to several hundred thousands of Lithuanian origins.

Special case: Jewish Holocaust refugees. The exact numbers who managed to flee are unclear but it may be in tens of thousands. Chiyune Sugihara, the consul of Japan in Kaunas, alone saved 6000 Jews by giving them Japanese visas (although some of these Jews were not from Lithuania). These are not included in the Second Wave numbers above.

Where did the DPs fled Lithuania to ~1944

The frantic goal of the Lithuanian refugees was to go anywhere where there were no Soviet troops. Typically they left Lithuania shortly before the Soviet arrival into their Lithuanian homes, and then had to remain on a constant move westwards as Soviets were conquering new and new territories behind them, rendering them unsafe and threatening their lives once again. By December 1944, some half of Poland fell, then in 1945 the remainder of Poland and also East Germany: before each new Soviet conquest, DPs who were taking refuge there had to flee further west. The majority of DPs thus ended up in the zones of Germany that were to be occupied by the Western powers (~65 000), while a minority found their safety in Denmark (~3000), Austria, Norway (~700), Italy (~400), all of which also had never been reached by the Soviet armies.

In these countries, the western powers have established Displaced Person camps. These provided Lithuanians (and other peoples of Eastern Europe with similar fate) modest housing "not any worse than that of locals". Initially, the idea of the great powers was that Lithuanians and others would be relocated back to their homelands after the war ends. Increasingly, however, it became evident that the Soviet Union will continue the occupation of Lithuania and genocide there. Thus, while the Soviet Union demanded the western governments to give up the Lithuanian refugees, the governments of the countries Lithuanians went to did not comply. However, they understood that so many Lithuanians would have nothing to do in war-torn Germany and Western Europe without foreign support, so a permanent solution was needed. Therefore, a plan was devised in 1947-1948 to resettle the Lithuanian refugees to various distant and comparatively rich lands.

Bamberng Lithuanian DP camp in Germany (with Lithuanian coat of arms)

Bamberg Lithuanian DP camp in Germany (with Lithuanian coat of arms). Typically, surviving German buildings would be temporary taken by the US/British/French occupational regime in order to house the DPs

The largest number (~29 000) went to the USA, mainly the cities of Northeast and Mid-West (New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia). However, the USA accepted only those Lithuanians who had American citizens guaranteeing for them. Therefore, this option was surely available only for those who had relatives among First Wave Lithuanian migrants. In some cases, though, Lithuanian parishes and clubs in the USA provided such guarantees to the people they didn't know in order to bring as many DPs into the safe USA as possible.

DPs who failed to get guarantees for the US migration would take up the offers by Canadian and Australian governments to get residence permits in exchange for several years of work for their governments in some far-away towns. Some 7700 went to Canada and 5000 went to Australia.

Yet others, following the roads of Lithuanian Interwar Migration, went to South America. Some went to their recently emigrated relatives in Brazil (700) and Argentina (800), while others established entirely new Lithuanian communities in Venezuela (2000) and Colombia (550). Due to worsening economic conditions there, many would have tried to use Latin America as a "trampoline" to eventually move into the USA.

Furthermore, some 12 000 have remained in Western Europe. Only West Germany (~7500), Great Britain (~3000), and France (~550) received large enough communities to be influential.

Special case: Jewish Holocaust refugees. Some Jews also managed to go to Palestine, although immigration there was limited by the British mandate then in power. More of the Jews, therefore, emigrated to the USA.

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. Germany considered people of Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor to be its citizens and thus organized a bit more orderly evacuation to Germany-proper. It was still very dangerous, though, as the Soviets would attack and kill fleeing refugees. Unlike most of the regular DPs, the Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor residents who succeeded to reach Germany-proper would typically stay there after 1948 as well, aided by their knowledge of German language and culture in starting new lives.

How did the Lithuanian DP refugees live after emigrating ~1944?

In some 1944-1948, most still hoped to return to Lithuania once the war ended, believing that independence would be returned to Lithuania. They spent their years in refugee camps re-establishing improvised Lithuanian schools, parishes, and even university there to continue their studies, activities, and relationships as much as possible. This was easier there than any time later, as Lithuanians would typically live in their own camps or sections, next to each other.

Lithuanian festival in a DP camp in Germany

Lithuanian festival in a DP camp in Germany

Then, they were spread among various countries ~1948 (see above). Not speaking the languages there nor having recognized diplomas, most were underemployed despite being intellectuals. Regarding themselves to be exiles rather than emigrants, they spent a very large share of their lives participating in Lithuanian activities and promoting the support for occupied Lithuania.

They have established the “Global Lithuanian Community” which was essentially a state without territory and every DP Lithuanian was its citizen (some of the first wave emigrant and Interwar emigrants joined the Global Lithuanian Community as well).

The Global Lithuanian Community had not only its leaders and parliament, but also its own school system, the Lithuanian Saturday schools that were created for the next generation of DPs born abroad so they would learn Lithuanian language, culture, and love for Lithuania. Very few of the DPs have married non-Lithuanians, meaning their families were entirely Lithuanian. Many would speak Lithuanian-only to their kids and the kids would learn the other languages only in school.

Where it was possible, DPs joined the Lithuanian parishes established by first wave Lithuanian emigrants, revitalizing them and providing patriotic priests and faithful Lithuanian-speaking nuns. Where such parishes did not exist, they created their own. Where this was mostly impossible (Australia), they created Lithuanian clubs. While during the first wave emigration era, religion and ethnicity seemed to be equally important, for the DP community, ethnicity often seemed more important than faith, and they often rebuilt Lithuanian churches in a more ethnic style to become also shrines for the lost homeland of Lithuania.

Dayton Lithuanian church during a mass

A modest Amarican-architect-designed 1923 Dayton Lithuanian church was refurbished into a a modern Lithuanian style by a famous Lithuanian DP designer V. K. Jonynas, adding these stained glass windows in the form of traditional Lithuanian chapel posts, among many other Lithuanian symbols

Initially, DPs who went on some invitations lived in the same towns and districts where the inviters lived. Some of these proved to offer few jobs, so there was a drift to the main cities. Furthermore, after the immigration of the DPs, the USA was ravaged by racial riots (1960s), leading to white flight from many traditionally Lithuanian districts. DPs felt unfairly targetted: themselves being refugees and having had worse experiences in their lives than most African-Americans, they were still treated as "privileged whites" by Civil Rights activists. Nevertheless, most DPs were forced-by-crime to abandon their districts and move to suburbs or other cities. As such, some of the key architectural achievements of the DPs became abandoned or no longer used for the Lithuanian cause. Still, many of their creations survive even if no longer in Lithuanian use; in the countries and cities where racial riots did not take place or did not reach Lithuanian areas (e.g. Canada), more has survived in operation.

Throughout their lives, most DPs considered themselves Lithuanians first and foremost. Even if they eventually naturalized in their new homelands (far from everybody did), they did not really begin considering themselves Americans, Australians, or Canadians. They considered themselves exiles rather than emigrants and such a unique situation led to strongly anti-integration behavior. It was not uncommon, for example, to punish children for speaking English beyond when it was necessary. Some refused to learn the language of the new homeland and even though many did, they still preferred to use the Lithuanian language in as many spheres of life as possible. Not only they would publish Lithuanian books or newspapers and vehemently defend Lithuanian masses in churches, they even published the first world's first Lithuanian language encyclopedia, thus expanding the Lithuanian language into a domain it didn't tap even while Lithuania was free.

A fragment of the Lithuanian soldier stained-glass window in Hamilton Lithuanian church extension

A fragment of the Lithuanian soldier stained-glass window in Hamilton Lithuanian church built by the DPs. For most DPs, every part of their life was permeated by patriotism and consciousness for Lithuania: so, while soldiers have nothing to do with religion, they have to do lots with Lithuania and if the church is Lithuanian, then the image belongs there too

Organizations of Lithuanian scientists and doctors, Lithuanian boy scouts, and even a Lithuanian-American opera were established by the second wavers in order to have all the necessary vestiges of the independent country. In order to help Lithuanians meet there were events such as Lithuanian National Olympiads (competitions of Lithuanian sports clubs from all the nations) or Lithuanian Song Festivals where all the parish choirs would come. Lithuanian social scientists would even research Lithuanian folk culture among Lithuanian emigrants, continuing the researches to begin in independent Lithuania. They would collect the Lithuanian documents of the Americans and those saved from Lithuania into Lithuanian-American archives, they would build museums and galleries for the Lithuanian art.

DP generation had many world-class artists but most of them too stayed with that "Lithuanian nation without territory". Writers and poets wrote in Lithuanian, architects saw Lithuanian clubs and churches abroad as their magnum opuses, and painters who depicted symbolic scenes of Lithuanian past glories and current tragedies rarely attempted to show off their works beyond the Lithuanian community. On the one hand, that gave the Lithuanian diaspora an artistic heritage that is worthy of an entirely independent nation. On the other hand, that meant most artists somewhat faded into obscurity as their works did not get attention outside of the contemporary Lithuanian diaspora. Back in Soviet Lithuania, their works were banned/forgotten and only after the 1990s fully appreciated there. The process of their discovery by non-Lithuanian Americans, Australians, etc. is just beginning. Only in the 2010s, for example, was the most famous Lithuanian diaspora novel translated into English (existentialist "White Shroud" by New York Lithuanian Antanas Škėma about his experience of underemployed DP in New York society; originally published in the USA in Lithuanian language in 1958). Still, some artists managed to successfully combine Lithuanian heritage with other works (Jonas Mekas) or ditched the heritage altogether (George Maciunas), albeit the latter was heavily controversial among the Lithuanian diaspora.

A Lithuanian-inspired art inside the Melbourne Lithuanian Club. The paintings on right and left are both based on the Lithuanian tricolor flag (yellow-green-red). The middle picture shows a memorial for Lithuanians murdered and exiled by the Soviet Lithuanian regime. Images by ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Campaigning for Lithuanian freedom was an important activity for the DP diaspora and while, as the time passed, it became more and more clear the new homelands of the DPs would not send their forces to liberate Lithuania, it was still important to lobby them so they would not recognize the occupation of Lithuania, to remind all the non-Lithuanians about the plight of the Lithuanians so they would support the Lithuanian cause should the opportunity for freedom arise. It was also important to remind their own children and grandchildren of Lithuania and its plight so they would not abandon the struggle in order to simply enjoy their free Western lives. Such campaigns involved lobbying, media interviews, and construction of monuments commemorating the Soviet genocide victims or those who died for Lithuanian freedom.

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at the Kennebunk Lithuanian monastery park

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at Kennebunk Lithuanian park

All in all, a typical DP would often spend most of his free time with other Lithuanians, essentially continuing Lithuania as a "country without territory", its citizens spread across four continents but still having nearly as many relationships with each other as with the outside world despite the fact those were pre-internet days.

Anti-integration attitudes led to some friction between the Second Wave (DPs) and the First Wave of Lithuanian emigrants. To the Second Wavers, the First Wavers were too integrated, forgetful of their Lithuanian ethnicity and history, perhaps due to their lack of education. To the First Wavers, the Second Wavers's (DP's) complete unwillingness to integrate seemed stubborn, while their views towards First Wavers as lesser-educated felt elitist and insulting. The different visions could in part be explained by the fact that the First Wavers were not forced to emigrate in the same way as the DPs were, and so they tended to accept integration more.

A sign rented by Dayton Lithuanians encouraging Americans not to forget

A sign rented by Dayton Lithuanians encouraging Americans not to forget

For the DPs, though, such integration seemed to be not simply a weakness, it was dangerous. There was always a chance that the Soviets would continue their genocide in Lithuania, that they would murder or exile all Lithuanians and settle Lithuania with Russians. The Lithuanian language and traditions would then disappear in Lithuania itself. In the minds of the DPs it was, therefore, up to the Lithuanians of the "free world" to make sure that, even if that happens, the Lithuanian nation, traditions, and language do not die out. Every child who did not learn Lithuanian, every closed Lithuanian club was making this goal harder.

And then there was a fact that some of the First Wavers became leftists or communists while in America. While the ranks of such communists grew scarcer as the Soviet crimes became better known in the West, the mere fact that there were First wave Lithuanians in America who essentially welcomed the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (which the Second wavers ran for their lives from, which has murdered so many of their friends and relatives) tarnished the reputation of the entire wave deepening the stereotype of a "stupid First Waver" among the DPs.

The DP generation (Second Wave) always dreamed of returning to Lithuania though that dream was growing more and more distant with every year of the Soviet occupation. They campaigned as much as they could to encourage the West to support Lithuania but this support never went beyond diplomatic declarations. When Lithuania did eventually become independent in 1990, most of the DPs were too old or too rooted to actually return. However, some key activists did, becoming influential figures in Lithuanian politics (e.g. president Valdas Adamkus) and the creation of the first western-styled businesses. Others would support reborn Lithuania through charity.

The real "Golden Years" for many Lithuanian DPs instead passed in various American beachside resorts, often selected for their similarity to fabled Lithuania's prime resort of Palanga, the golden dunes of which were etched into the nostalgic collective memory of the DP generation. Such resorts would initially serve as summer retreats for wives and kids in the 1960s when most Western women still did not work, and then would be transformed into permanent residences after retiring age. Resorts such as Beverly Shores (Indiana), Wasaga Beach (Ontario) or St. Pete Beach (Florida) became elderly Lithuanian DP communities. While these people were past their prime age of building massive churches or club palaces, they still managed to create a piece of Lithuania there in a more modest sense through utilitarian Lithuanian clubs or small memorials.

After their deaths, many Lithuanian-Americans opt to be buried under traditional large Lithuanian gravestones, often inscribed with patriotic symbols and quotes pledging allegiance to Lithuania. This was especially common while Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and the key Lithuanian cemeteries of Chicago and Toronto are treasure troves of this unique form of patriotic art.

Many graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left grave says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996 after Lithuanian independence was restored. The inscription on the other side of the same grave adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Many Lithuanian DP graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996, after independence. The inscription on the right adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Special case: Jews The DPs who fled the Soviet Genocide and the Lithuanian Jews who fled the Holocaust were bitterly divided and never cooperated. That's because two very different collective memories of World War 2 existed among these communities. Most Lithuanians would remember suffering at the hands of Soviets, often aided by Jewish collaborators. Most Jews, on the other hand, would remember suffering at the hands of Nazi Germany, often aided by Lithuanian collaborators. Both the Lithuanian thought of "Liberation from the Soviets in 1941" and the Jewish thought of "Liberation from Nazi Germany in 1944" seemed radical and hateful to the other community (as what was "liberation" to one community meant genocide to the other). The ethnic Lithuanian and Jewish emigre communities remained separate as Lithuania's Jewish refugees integrated into wider Jewish communities while Lithuanians cooperated more closely with Latvian and Estonian diasporas with whom they shared their fate and the "main enemy". In reality, both collaborations existed, although their memory was blown out of proportion by cognitive bias (as a single collaborator armed by an occupational regime may inflict great damage to hundreds of families, all of which would remember that). Sometimes the Soviet Union sought to use this division for its own favor by trying to wrongfully accuse various key Lithuanian DPs of having been collaborators, expecting that this could induce the Jewish diaspora to attack them and make them lose their credibility as freedom fighters; the fact that some Jews would "take the bait" divided the communities further. The authorities of Western governments (e.g. OSI of the USA) carefully investigated such accusations and founded them to be unfounded in all major cases (although there were a few Lithuanian Nazi collaborators among regular emigrants who were then tried).

Telshe Yeshiva students

Telshe Yeshiva students in Cleveland. This yeshiva sees itself as a continuation of Telšiai yeshiva that was closed by the Soviet regime in 1940 but was reestablished in the USA by some of its rabbis who emigrated. While located not far from Cleveland's Lithuanian club, the two institutions maintain few ties

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. Many of these refugees were ethnic Germans or spoke German at near-native levels. Many of them integrated into German society together with other German deportees from the east, though there were exceptions.

How did the DP children and grandchildren live?

The children of the DP generation who grew up in foreign countries were still often very patriotic and considered themselves to be Lithuanians or only Lithuanians. This was instilled in them by the families and Lithuanian Saturday schools. Through Lithuanian summer camps, Lithuanian sports clubs, Lithuanian scouting, and choirs their Lithuanian parents enlisted them to they often lived in "Lithuanian bubbles" created for them.

Hill of Corsses of Dainava

Lithuanian camp Dainava in Michigan, USA and its Hill of Crosses representing the one in Šiauliai, Lithuania. The largest in the Americas, this 91 ha camp is like a calm and pretty Lithuanian park that comes alive in summers when Lithuanian children and parents from all over the USA descend on here to communicate in Lithuanian and/or about Lithuania, encouraged by various programs. Creating such camps was among the main achievements of the DP generation

Still, such a bubble did not cover all the spheres of life. While some of the children were spoken to only in Lithuanian by their parents and grandparents, they quickly picked up the local languages from their peers and generally fared much better in the job market than their parent generation did.

As the DP children grew up and left their parents' homes, they made a choice. Some of them continued their parents' way of being Lithuanians first and foremost, and essentially inherited the Lithuanian parishes, clubs, and other organizations. They would campaign for Lithuanian freedom together with the friends they made back in the Lithuanian schools and camps, speaking Lithuanian among themselves in yet another "bubble".

Others, though, slowly distanced themselves from the Lithuanian life. Even in the teenage years, they may have felt that Lithuanian schools or camps are an uninteresting waste of time. Further on, they would limit their Lithuanian activities to some annual holidays (e.g. Kūčios) together with their parents.

Typically Lithuanians who married other Lithuanians, as well as the ones who had made many Lithuanian friends and lived in cities and districts with many other Lithuanians were more likely to stay within the community. On the contrary, a mixed marriage was often the end of that branch of Lithuanity.

Even more Lithuanians drifted away with the grandsons/granddaughters generation as, by the time it grew up ~1980, Lithuanians no longer lived tightly in the same districts, while some of the final parish schools were replaced by English-speaking public schools. To many Lithuanian children of the era, the only area to make Lithuanian friends and pick up Lithuanian history were the two-week summer camps or Saturday schools.

Still, well into the 1990s-2000s nearly all the DP organizations, schools, and parishes remained viable led by the second generation of leaders. Ironically, the event that arguably hit the most was Lithuanian independence. With Lithuania independent, Lithuanians lost a unifying cause to rally. Those stories of discrimination, persecution, and Soviet Genocide that inspired the Lithuanian-American youth of the 1970s or 1980s to fight against the injustice suddenly felt no longer as important, as the persecutions have ceased. It was no longer *that* crucial to save the Lithuanian language or traditions in the USA, Canada, or Australia, as with the Soviets out, they would be saved in Lithuania itself. It was no longer logical to research Lithuanian traditions or history from the documents available in the "free world" when all the Lithuanian archives became accessible and Lithuania's universities were free. The institutions such as the Lithuanian Opera of Chicago had much less symbolic value when their professional counterparts in Lithuania itself were liberated from the Soviet clutches. Furthermore, some of the most Lithuanian-minded activists of the DP children generation actually moved to Lithuania, "decapitating" some diaspora institutions.

By 2000s-2010s, therefore, some DP organizations folded and some parishes were closed down, while others rely on the aging DP-children generation with few DP-grandchildren or DP-great-grandchildren seriously joining their ranks. The key worldwide or America-wide institutions still survive strongly, somewhat replenished by the post-independence Lithuanian emigrants. With greater mobility, the younger Lithuanian-American DP descendents interested in their heritage would typically drift towards such major institutions rather than smaller-though-closer ones. In many cases, the rule of thumb is that if there were many hundreds or several thousands of DP Lithuanians in some location back ~1950, the Lithuanian life still survives, while if there were only low hundreds or less it likely no longer does.

Cleveland Lithuanian club interior

Cleveland Lithuanian club interior with lots of Lithuanian memorabilia. While built by DPs, Cleveland club is one of the most active Lithuanian clubs in America

Some of the grandchildren of the DP would visit Lithuania and restore Lithuanian citizenship and some went back to their roots and learned the language, however, more often than not, there was no longer a large number of Lithuanians in a single place that would allow the language to thrive in America. While the global diaspora events continued, in many cases they were moved to Lithuania, allowing the diaspora to combine the goal of meeting up with the goal of visiting their historic homeland.

What heritage thas the Second Wave Lithuanian emigrants (DPs)left?

Second Wave architects have created a unique Modern Lithuanian style for the Lithuanian churches and club buildings of the time. Even numerous older Lithuanian churches were rebuilt in this style.

Interior of the church

Interior of 1950s Our Lady of Gate of Dawn church in Montreal is full of sombre Lithuanian spirit. A copy of three croses, by then a Soviet-demolished symbiol of Vilnius, is behind the altar, the church is named after the sacred painting in Vilnius, etc.

Many memorials were constructed to commemorate the famous Lithuanians and Lithuanians lost in Soviet atrocities in order to remind people of their new homelands about the plight of Lithuanians.

Many works of fiction and visual arts were created by them.

The Second Wavers (DPs) also created institutions such as Lithuanian archives and museums.

Lithuanian Youth center, housing numerous museums, archives, and memorials

Lithuanian Youth center in Chicago, housing numerous museums, archives, and memorials

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Culture, Diaspora 6 Comments

Architecture in Lithuania: Introduction

For centuries Lithuania was known as a land of endless lush forests, interrupted only by rivers. As such, the traditional architecture in Lithuania is wooden. In most smaller towns, almost every building that had been constructed before the 20th century is built of wood. Wooden churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) are common in villages, there are even wooden mosques and synagogues. Some of the wooden buildings are very elaborate and with intricate details.

In the downtowns of the main cities, however, the brick started to displace the wood as early as in the 14th century. Romanesque architecture was the first international style to reach Lithuania but few examples of it survive. Some of the most famous architectural gems date to the Gothic period (such as the Saint Anne’s Church in Vilnius) and subsequent Renaissance. This period was followed by the Baroque that is the best represented in the church architecture of Vilnius. Only a few cities have brick pre-19th-century districts, however: Vilnius, Kaunas, and Kėdainiai are the best-known examples.

Saint Casimir Baroque church in Vilnius. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the late 18th century, the Neo-Classical architecture came to Lithuania, emulating the Roman Empire style. In the mid 19th century, it was displaced by historicism that copied various earlier styles and sometimes a combination of thereof. This period gave many large buildings to the cities (apartments and public buildings) while many smaller towns received their neo-gothic church spires that now dominate the Lithuanian landscape (Roman Catholic faith became free to practice and expand in the Russian-controlled Lithuania only after 1904). Neo-Romanesque, Neo-Renaissance, and eclectic historicism styles were less common for these churches.

Another major part of architectural heritage of pre-20th century Lithuania are the manors in the countryside as well as in the cities and towns (where they are typically surrounded by well-crafted parks) that used to be owned by the noble families like counts Tiškevičiai or dukes Oginskiai. Their architecture follows the popular styles of the period, with the manors of poorer families built of wood. In the case of many towns, the manors were not only their part but actually their heart, because the towns were considered to be a property of the local nobles.

Meticulously repaired palace of the Plungė manor (Plungė, Samogitia). It was built in 1879 by the duke Oginskiai family in historicist style. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

After the World War 1, Kaunas became the temporary capital of Lithuania, therefore, it expanded rapidly and received many fine art deco buildings. However, the main period of urbanization came under the Soviet occupation (in 1939 70% of Lithuanian people lived in villages; in 1989 70% of Lithuanian people lived in cities). Initially this meant construction of buildings in a style known as Soviet historicism, but as early as 1954 all “unnecessary architectural details” were cancelled and every new building had to be built in a blunt functionalism style, making all the new districts that surrounded every city very faceless and hard to distinguish from any other city in the Soviet Union (in a popular Russian comedy “After bath” a drunk man goes to Saint Petersburg instead of Moscow and does not realize this because of similar district names, street names and buildings). In the villages, many old wooden houses were replaced by similar looking prefab “Alytus homes”. Shops, schools, and hospitals also used to be built by similar designs all across the Union.

Pienocentras HQ in Kaunas (1934) is an example of interwar architecture that combined sharp corners and curved lines. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The post-independence (1990) era brought glass-covered buildings and skyscrapers to the major cities, especially Vilnius and Klaipėda, but the expansion in smaller towns and villages remained more modest. Around the major cities, new suburbs of private homes appeared out of nowhere. The first such houses after the restoration of the private property used to be big, with castle-like features as the families built them for generations to come (unfortunately, changing fortunes or too large wishes meant that some of these buildings are still incomplete). In the 2000s such “manors of the 20th century” gave way to smaller western-style detached homes.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Architecture, Culture No Comments

Holidays in Lithuania: Introduction

15 annual public holidays puts Lithuania in the top ten of countries that have the most public holidays. Coupled with 28 days of mandatory paid annual leave Lithuanians indeed have time to celebrate. While the centuries-old traditions were hit by various occupations and cultural persecutions of the 19th-20th centuries, many have survived, some others are reintroduced or started anew.

Types of Lithuanian festivals

Being a Christian country Lithuania has traditional Roman Catholic holidays as its most widely celebrated annual events. This includes Easter, Christmas and, more uniquely, Christmas Eve. The Day of the Dead lacks the flash of its Mexican version but is nevertheless celebrated in a unique way as the Day of the Souls. The Christian holidays are typically family events and as such are celebrated by religious and non-religious alike.

In Christmas period, the city square where the main Christmas tree stands becomes the focal point for outdoor activities. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Being Europe's area where paganism remained strong for the longest time, some of the traditional Lithuanian holidays, while primarily Christian, have surviving pagan influences. There have been attempts to reinstate some pagan or paganism-inspired events that have already died out. Saint John's Eve (Joninės or Rasos) is among such holidays.

Lithuania has little traditions in celebrating its national (patriotic) holidays, of which it has many. Sombre official events take place, but the days are not observed by the majority of the population. New celebration ideas, sometimes readily accepted, sometimes meeting opposition, arose in the recent years and they include parades and mass singing of the national anthem by Lithuanian communities worldwide.

Lithuania also has an array of holidays celebrated by specific groups: students and teachers, lovers, women, workers, Russians. Some of these festivals are universally popular, others are derided by many for their Soviet origins (or, less commonly, ignored by some for being "unnecessary new imports from the West").

Lithuanian flags must be waving at every building during the February 16th, March 11th and July 6th patriotic holidays. During the other holidays (religious, ethnic, group), the flags are optional. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian cities established their own annual events - generally, the larger is the city, the more there are local events. Minor towns have their own holidays coinciding with the days of the saint to whom the local church is dedicated. While religious in nature those days include secular events such as a market, a concert, reunions of families descended from the area and so on.

Each Lithuanian person and family also has personal celebrations of lifetime events. This includes weddings, birthdays, funerals and childhood/teenager "initiation rites" originating in both Christian and secular educational traditions.

Public holidays in Lithuania

The public holidays in Lithuania are:
January 1st - New Year (also the National flag day)
February 16th - Day of State Restoration
March 11th - Day of Independence Restoration
Date set by the Roman Catholic tradition - Velykos (Easter Sunday)
Date set by the Roman Catholic tradition - Velykos (Easter Monday)
May 1st - Labour day
First Sunday of May - Mother's day
First Sunday of June - Father's day
June 24th - Joninės / Rasos (St. John's day)
July 6th - State day (Day of King Mindaugas coronation)
August 15th - Žolinė / Virgin Mary Assumption day
November 1st - All Saints day
December 24th - Kūčios (Christmas Eve)
December 25th - Kalėdos (First day of Christmas)
December 26th - Kalėdos (Second day of Christmas)

Traditional holidays that are not public holidays but are nevertheless eagerly celebrated include Užgavėnės (Carnival). Usually, the main public celebrations of such events are done in the weekend.

Many traditional ethnic Lithuanian holidays, such as Joninės (pictured) and Užgavėnės, puts an emphasis on clothing. Folk costumes are prefered, appended by holiday-specific items (wreaths for Joninės, masks for Užgavėnės). While few people actually dress this way today, they still are visible during the particular days. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Most shops and restaurants are open during the holidays although there may be some alterations during the major celebrations (Easter, Christmas and New Year).

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Culture, Holidays / Celebrations 1 Comment