Holidays and Annual Celebrations in Lithuania | True Lithuania
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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).

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Christian Holidays in Lithuania

The Lithuanian year is framed by the Christian holidays. The pinnacle of the year is Christmas, commemorating the birth of Jesus. Somewhat commercialized akin to the west, with Christmas shopping having augmented Christmas prayers for many, the holiday still has its deeper, traditional meaning. More uniquely to Lithuania the Christmas Eve (Kūčios, December 24th) is even more celebrated than the Christmas itself and it is also a day off the work. That evening whole family reunites to eat a special vegetarian (fish permitted) supper that must include at least 12 meals, and every participant should taste each meal. A prayer is said before that supper. The first meal is always the flatbread wafers (Lithuanian: Kalėdaitis). They are identical in the recipe to the Holy Communion and inscribed with Christian imagery. Everyone starts with a separate wafer but is expected to break it down and give every other participant its piece. Only after all the pieces are consumed the other meals may be tasted.

A modest Kūčios table for 4 people. Kalėdaičiai are at separate plates. Bread dishes are on another table (not shown). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Just like elsewhere the children receive their presents during Christmas. The Santa Claus, known in Lithuanian as Kalėdų senelis (The Christmas grandfather), visits at night between 24th and 25th and leaves the presents under the Christmas tree of the home. Grown ups exchange the presents on Christmas Eve with their family and on another specified date with their friends and co-workers.

During the First day of Christmas (December 25th) family meets for a dinner while the Second day of Christmas (December 26th) is also a public holiday.

A Nativity scene in Vilnius. Such scenes, with manequines representing key Biblical figures of the time of Jesus birth, are erected in the main squares of many cities and towns and stand during the entire Christmas period. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Christmas is spanned by a month-long Christmas period, gradually gaining momentum since late November. At that time every municipality sets up decorated Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and electric decorations, while people follow suit in their homes. Lithuanian Christmas trees are, invariably, spruces (even the local name is "Christmas spruce") but man-made "trees" became popular since the 2000s.

The Christmas period ends in a less popular Epiphany holiday (January 6th) which commemorates the three kings (magi) who visited baby Jesus. King effigies parade city streets and some people write their traditional initials ("+K+M+B") in chalk on their front doors (Kasparas, Merkelis, Baltazaras). At this date, most of the Christmas trees and installations are hastily removed.

Vilnius TV Tower is annually decorated as the World's tallest Christmas tree (326,4 m tall with an observation deck at 160 m). The main cities of Lithuania tend to be especially inventive in man-made Christmas tree design. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Outside Christmas period the most popular Christian festival is Easter (commemorating Jesus resurrection). Its secular traditions are associated with pushing Easter eggs to see which one will go furthest. Easter Grandmother (Velykų bobutė) is more or less a female version of Santa Claus albeit not as popular. Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are both public holidays.

Another popular religious holiday is the Day of the Souls (Vėlinės) on November the 2nd and All Saints Day, November 1st. Less flashy than its Mexican counterpart this day involves visiting the graves of one's relatives and lighting candles there (and additional candles on the uncared graves). A visit to any cemetery is spectacular that evening, with most graves alight with candles. Traditionally it was believed that souls come to visit the earth at this day and a special meal used to be left for them. Like every religious holiday, Vėlinės used to be persecuted by the Soviets who especially tried to forbid people from lighting candles on the graves of non-Soviet historical figures.

People bring enough Vėlinės candles to spread them among the graves of their relatives, famous people they admire and some random old graves that no longer have anyone to visit them. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Halloween is not a part of Lithuanian tradition, however, it became more popular as more migrants became returning to Lithuania from the UK and Ireland ~2010s. The concentration of Halloween is not that much on the trick-or-treating, however, but rather on the instagrammable scary costumes and props. It is not a "mass holiday" like in the USA but rather a holiday celebrated in particular locations that create Halloween-themed exhibits. Nevertheless, the introduiction of Halloween is extremely controversial, as many Lithuanians feel that this festival not only lacks any rooting in Lithuanian traditons but also clashes directly with the sober mood of Vėlinės.

Moreober, Lithuanians already have a very similar-to-Halloween holiday named Užgavėnės. Užgavėnės, coinciding with the carnival (46 days prior to Easter), involves people dressing up in self-made scary masks, dancing in public with strangers and children going door-to-door asking for candies or pancakes. The twin pinnacles of this holiday are the burning of Morė (an effigy of winter) and the fight between Lašininis and Kanapinis. Lašininis, who represents meat-eaters, is always defeated by the vegetarian Kanapinis, marking the beginning of Lent. Public (main street) celebrations typically take place the weekend before and the largest festivities are held in Rumšiškės museum.

A band of persirengėliai (the costumed) performs in Gedimino Avenue of Vilnius during Užgavėnės. Typically folk songs of low quality are purposefully performed. Persirengėliai dress up as mythological creatures, animals or different people (e.g. different ethnicity, social class, job, gender). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Pentecost (7th weekend after Easter) is considered to be the 3rd most important Christian holiday (after Christmas and Easter) as it celebrates the Holy Spirit. However, its popularity is now largely limited to villages where there are traditions related to farm animals.

Lent and Advent, traditional Christian periods of non-celebration and fasting that precede Easter and Christmas respectively, are less observed today, but some people, especially the elderly and rural dwellers, still observe them vigorously.

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Pagan-Rooted Holidays of Lithuania

The late Christianisation of Lithuania failed to completely eradicate traces of paganism. Some holidays still have two alternative names - one Christian and one Pagan. These are the Joninės/Rasos (Saint John's Eve, coinciding with the year's longest day in June 23rd) and Virgin Assumption Day/Žolinė (August 15th).

The traditions for Joninės (Rasos) include bonfire burning, wreath making and a search for mythological blooming fern in a forest. In the pagan religion this "search" had a deeper meaning, but now it is used as a euphemism for spending the night with one's girlfriend or boyfriend away from the others. Joninės was made a day off the work by an impressive publicity stunt of TV3 channel which included massive lobbying campaign "Freedom for Joninės!". The campaign was also supported by Utenos alus beer factory as Joninės is now associated with increased consumption of alcoholic beverages. "Rasos" is the name often used for the festival that denotes its Pagan origins, whereas "Joninės" is the Christian name (after St. John).

Dancing around a bonfire with wreaths on the heads during a traditional mass-celebration of Rasos in Kernavė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Žolinė is less popular than Joninės. Traditionally it was a holiday of the harvest completion. In the Christian tradition plants and flowers are used in church rituals.

Video of Joninės (Rasos) celebration with English subtitles.

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National (Patriotic) Holidays of Lithuania

Lithuania has as many as three state holidays. July 6th, the State Day, commemorates the coronation of the country's first and only king Mindaugas in 1253 (the true date of the event is based on a modern calculation, however). February 16th, the State Restoration Day, reminds of the declaration of Lithuania's independence in 1918 and is typically considered the most important. March 11th, the Independence Restoration Day, recalls the year 1990, when the first post-WW2 democratically elected Lithuanian parliament declared the end to the 46-year-old second Soviet occupation, triggering the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In addition to these glorious dates, every single of them non-working, several sad dates are observed. These are the June 14th (Day of Grief and Hope), when in 1941 the Soviet genocide commenced by exiling tens of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia in cattle carriages, later joined by several times that number, many of whom died en route or after arrival. Occupation and Genocide day on June 15th recalls the year 1940, the year when Soviets occupied Lithuania for the first time, later followed by Nazi German occupation and another Soviet occupation. January 13th, 1991 was the day when the Soviet troops unsuccessfully attempted to squash the Lithuanian freedom aspirations by force (14 armless civilians died, hundreds were injured). It is now celebrated as the Day of Freedom Defenders. Black Ribbon and Baltic Way day remind the August 23rd of 1939 when Soviets and Nazi Germany partitioned Europe by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and August 23rd of 1989 when Baltic peoples have demonstrated an unmatched solidarity in creating a live chain from Vilnius, Lithuania to Tallinn, Estonia in condemnation of the 1939 pact. Flags are downed by one-third or coupled with a black banner during these days.

January then (Parliament, 1991, left) and now (Lithuanian TV HQ, 2012, right). Commemorative bonfires are now lit every January 12th evening at the locations where tens of thousands armless people once tackled cold this way while courageously waiting for Russian troops to come (some spent months without returning home). ©Alfredas Girdziušas (left), ©Augustinas Žemaitis (right).

January 1st is the National Flag day, marked by the choreographed replacement of the "country's most important flag" on the Gediminas Hill castle tower in Vilnius (in reality this flag is replaced several times a year due to wear, but other replacements go unpublicized).

It is frequently claimed that such a large number of commemorations and independence dates tells of a sad history of Lithuania, full of upheavals. Despite the number of national days, their celebration is minuscule compared to the similar days in America, although they have been increasing in recent years. Under the Soviet occupation (1940-1990), all Lithuanian national holidays used to be banned (with police (militia) presence increased to prevent spontaneous commemorations), therefore any historical traditions died out.

In the 1990s-2000s, there were only officially sponsored, state, church or municipality funded events (public speeches, holy mass, military parades), while for most people these days were simply a time they can rest from working.

In some 2000s a grassroots movement to organize street parades on the national holidays commenced - with flags and patriotic chants on the happy anniversaries and with candles on the sad ones. The parades have met opposition from groups such as the far left and non-Lithuanian nationalists who regularly attempt to disrupt them. The anarchists regarded the patriotism itself to be dated, while certain foreign nationalists and communists dislike any reminder of the Soviet crimes. In an attempt to smear the parades, their opponents even labeled them "neo-nazi", although this has little basis as the absolute majority of participants are moderates, with foreigners who support Lithuanian freedom also participating. The only side failing to abide the laws during these parades were typically their opponents.

11th of March parade in Vilnius (2012). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The situation of the celebration (or lack thereof) of Lithuania's national holidays correlates with the general situation of patriotism. In the Soviet Union, Russian nationalism was condoned, but any notion of minority (including Lithuanian) nationalism was seen as dangerous and labeled fascism. This idea stuck somewhat, with some people, primarily the Russophone minorities, still finding Lithuanian patriotism to be suspicious, especially when it comes from a non-state-sponsored source. To this day "nacionalizmas" ("nationalism") holds a deeply negative meaning in Lithuanian language, similar to "fascism". The relative poverty of Lithuania, compared to Western Europe, also induces some people to publically denounce their homeland and nationality. On the other hand, the state symbols, such as the flag and anthem, always remained more or less respected by Lithuanians, but a deeper glorification of Lithuania may evoke controversy in what is a self-conscious nation.

However, ~2010 the situation began to slowly change. Less controversial attempts to forge new traditions for Lithuanian national days were sponsored by media. One such event, commenced in 2009, suggests every Lithuanian, whether home or abroad, to sing his homeland's national anthem on a certain time on July 6th. The anthem is also played on some TV and radio channels at this time.

The 100th year anniversary of the Republic of Lithuania (2018) that had many interesting commemorational events, coupled with the increased perceived risk of Russia to Lithuanian freedom, may have finally turned the tide as celebrating the Lithuanian national holidays became fashionable among youth and many grassroots events would take place: they are still far from universal, but are not necessarily denounced as either "official and boring" or "supposedly radical".

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New Year Day in Lithuania

New Year Day (January 1st) is marked in Lithuania by massive fireworks. The vast majority of these are neither state nor municipality funded. There is a tradition for most Lithuanians to spend money (sometimes vast amounts of it) on fireworks in seasonal pyrotechnics stalls that are set up in every shopping mall and marketplace a month in advance. The government condones this - unlike at any other time no permit is needed to use fireworks between 11 PM December 31th and 1 AM January 1st. To see the most of it, one should find himself a high place in a major city (it is worth to stay at a taller hotel if you spend the New Year day in Lithuania).

While the fireworks may lack the choreographed display qualities of professional pyrotechnician's work it is the sheer number of them which impress the most as they are fired seemingly from every street and courtyard and this drags on for several hours (peaking at the midnight; video). Fireworks are followed by apocalyptical flocks of scared birds and fog-like smoke that engulfs Lithuanian cities.

New Year fireworks over Vilnius Old Town. Ordinary people fire out their stockpiles in several hours around New Year midnight. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanians typically celebrate New Year with friends and do it hedonistically (in contrast with Christian holidays which are family events). Any restaurant should be ordered in advance for that time.

New Year was especially promoted under the Soviet occupation (1940-1990) when the atheist regime unsuccessfully attempted to move Christmas traditions to New Year (by introducing "New Year trees", "New Year presents"). Only the state-controlled institutions (such as schools) followed this.

Lithuania lacks significant ethnic communities that celebrate New Year at any other date. However many people follow horoscopes - including the Chinese horoscopes which associate every year with some animal and element. This leads to a strange combination of Western and East Asian cultures where the Lithuanian media declares on January 1st which Chinese year had supposedly just begun (even though the real Chinese New Year is two months later).

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Holidays for Various Groups of People

Certain holidays in Lithuania are dedicated to specific groups of people. Mother's day on the first Sunday of May typically includes children giving presents to their mothers. Fathers are similarly honored in the Father's day one month later (first Sunday of June), but the traditions for celebrating this holiday are not as strong.

Day of science and knowledge (September 1st) is the universal start of schoolyear in Lithuania, also followed by most universities. Kids bring flowers to their teachers and there are no lessons but a short introduction. Alcohol sales are banned all over Lithuania that day to discourage teenagers from getting drunk in post-holiday meetings with classmates.

Students in formal attire going to school on the Day of Science and Knowledge. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Labour day (May 1st) used to be a major affair marked by massive state-organized parades during the Soviet occupation, participation in which had been mandatory for many people. After independence, it was briefly not a public holiday at all. Reinstated as such by the Socialdemocrats it failed to generate public attention and you will not see labor rallies of the southern European scale in Lithuania. Many people regard the Labour day to be primarily a Soviet holiday.

Women day (March 8th) celebration traditions also date to the Soviet Union, but this holiday is more popular than the Labour day. During it, males typically congratulate their female co-workers and bring them flowers.

A temporary stall selling flowers on March 8th with a slogan 'We know what women want'. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Soviet Victory day (May 9th) is still regarded as their own "national day" by many local Russians who celebrate it at Soviet soldier memorials. It is undoubtedly the most controversial one among the once-mandatory Soviet holidays. To Lithuanians, the Soviet victory (and Western non-intervention) was a tragedy as it meant 45 additional years of occupation as well as the Genocide and guerilla war.

People celebrating Soviet victory day at Antakalnis cemetery in Vilnius, the city's largest burial place for Soviet soldiers. They lay red flowers at the graves, carry images of soldier relatives and the controversial St. George strip symbol

Mostly ethnic Russian people celebrating the Soviet victory day at Antakalnis cemetery in Vilnius, the city's largest burial place for Soviet soldiers. They lay red flowers at the graves, carry images of soldier relatives and Russian symbols. The ceremonies are conducted almost entirely in the Russian language. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the 1990s, the Saint Valentine day (February 14th), a holiday for lovers, gained a popularity that sometimes exceeded that of the independence day two days later (February 16th). Not native to Lithuania, the Valentine day celebrations were completely imported from the West. They include spending a romantic evening and mutual gift-giving for couples and lots of heart symbols; however, only a part of couples follow it.

After independence, as a nod to the historically-important Jewish community, the major Lithuanian municipalities and institutions often have some official celebrations of Hanookah (8 days in December or late November), held locally to be the most important festival for Jews. However, as at the mass migration to Israel has recently reduced the Jewish community to its lowest in hundreds of years, there is a little actual celebration of the event beyond the official speeches of the local politicians and Jewish leaders.

A Hanukiah, 9-pointed candle, on a Jewish community building in Vilnius. Every day of Hanookah, one more candle is lit. Such Hanukiahs are often constructed in the city centers by the municipalities during the Hanookah. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Other "national days" of countries that have minorities or expatriates in Lithuania or are friendly towards Lithuania or may also be celebrated, albeit such celebrations are often limited to some single location where whoever is interested comes (e.g. a yard next to the embassy). This includes the independence days of Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, the USA.

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Lithuanian Song Festivals

Lithuanian Song Festival is the ultimate Lithuanian festival, taking place once in every four years (2018, 2022, 2026...).

During the Lithuanian Song Festival, Lithuanians from all over the country and the Lithuanian diaspora come to Vilnius to sing Lithuanian songs together. The Festival spans over a week, but the final "Day of the Songs" when ~50 000 of the participants march into the purpose-built grandstand in Vilnius Vingis Park for a mass performance is undoubtedly the magical pinnacle of the event.

The Day of the Songs concert with 12 000 participating official singers on the granstand and four times as many spectators (who also sing). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There is no actual boundary between a "performer" and a "spectator" in the Song Festival, as everybody is invited to sing together. Foreigners may join in too, as the entire program of the Festival is available online in advance. Typically, the most popular Lithuanian songs are performed, both old and somewhat new, with an emphasis on folk songs and patriotic songs.

During the other days of the festival, Lithuanian folk dances are also practiced.

Lithuanian Song Festivals are taking place since 1924 and became a major part of the Lithuanian cultural identity. They are state sponsored and governed by a special law. Together with similar Latvian and Estonian Song Festivals, the Lithuanian Song Festivals have been inscribed into the UNESCO list of immaterial world heritage.

Singers and dancers of the Lithuanian municipalities and diaspora communities march to the Vingis Park during the Day of the Songs, greeted by locals from the surrounding hills. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In addition to the major Lithuanian Song Festivals, there are many minor Song-Festival-Inspired events in between them, such as the Junior Song Festival. The Lithuanian Song Festival itself actually grew out of such smaller local 19th-century events when songs used to be a major part of the national identity. While elsewhere in Europe the mass singing events gradually died out in the early 20th century, in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia they achieved a cult status.

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City and Town Local Holidays and Events

Traditional city and town holidays have been celebrated at the time of the day of the patron saint of the local church. These are religious events, however, they also bring in traders who sell traditional long sugar sweets, among other things, and they make a pretext for family reunions.

In larger towns, concerts and other events also take place during these holidays.

Sugar sweets in a local fair in Inturkė, Aukštaitija. Such events, known in Lithuanian as kermošius, typically correlate with locally important Christian feasts. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the cities, the 20th century brought in a flavor of secular holidays.

In Vilnius, the traditional religious holiday is the St. Casimir's day (March 4th). What attracts more people to it than the churches is the Kaziukas (diminutive of Casimir) fair, typically held the weekend before. Covering several streets and squares in the Vilnius Old Town the stalls sell people's art, candies and other things, traditional and modern alike. St. Casimir day is so successful that Kaunas now attempts to emulate it.

Klaipėda has the Sea Festival (Jūros šventė), marked by concerts, other events and a procession of Neptune, attract many people to the seaside. First Sea Festival took place in 1934 and it is celebrated the final weekend of July. Many events are related to the sea and the concerts typically take place close to the sea or the Curonian lagoon.

Evening concert, a regular element of the town festivals. Usually, mediocre known-only-in-Lithuania celebrities sing in the smaller towns, while the festivals of the major cities may attract the top talent. In this image Vaidas Baumila (made famous by a Lithuanian talent reality TV show) performs in the Klaipėda Sea Festival. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Resorts such as Palanga or Druskininkai also have many annual events (mostly May to September), taking the whole weekend and aimed to entertain.

Some of the smaller towns that lacked religious festivals have also established similar annual festival weekends after 1990 (usually no more than one per year). While some of them have names, usually these towns holidays are quite similar to each other, with the emphasis on a small business fair, daytime fun, and evening concerts.

Some international initiatives came to Lithuania, including the Museum night (May 19th) when museums are free of charge and open longer. One initiative originated in Vilnius and has since become international: it is the Day of Street Music, held in May, when professionals and amateurs alike are encouraged to go to the streets and play whatever instrument they can, or sing. The level of performances varies greatly, but when you dislike a musician you may always walk some 300 additional meters to the next one. The day of Street Music takes place in the Old Town and New Town of Vilnius.

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Lithuanian Celebrations of Lifetime Events

Traditionally, the wedding and funeral are the most important lifetime events as they mark the beginning of a new life (family and afterlife).

Both events were traditionally seen as reasons for weeping. Relatives used to perform the weeps (improvised laments accompanied by crying). Not that surprising if you know that "ašarų pakalnė" (Valley of tears) is used as a poetic synonym for "The world" in the Lithuanian language.

Lithuanian funerals

Funerals are nearly always celebrated traditionally (according to the wishes of usually elderly deceased). They take up to several days with the first day(s) dedicated to the presentation of the dead body. All the people who knew the deceased then come for a final look and a few minutes (hours in case of the closest friends) of contemplation. They also bring weaths and flowers and tell their condolences. In villages, this used to be done at home with vigils at night but now a funeral house is typically rented out (which are closed at nights). Christian carols by professional singers now have largely replaced the weeps.

The final day of a funeral includes a priest visit and the "final goodbye" (touching/kissing of the deceased by closest relatives) followed by the funeral procession to a cemetery (in villages the hearse is followed on foot). Amidst prayers and final words the casket is lowered and the hole then filled. Numerous flowers and wreaths brought in throughout visiting days are put on the grave together with a wooden cross (to be replaced by a tombstone a year later). Dinner of grief follows where friends and relatives are invited and Christian carols also performed. Such dinner is repeated after a year and holy mass for the deceased is celebrated at every anniversary of death.

BOTTOM LEFT: a family grave with three gravestones for those died over 1 year ago and a wooden cross for a recent burial. TOP: Large cemetery chapels such as this used to house the remains of nobility families but are no longer constructed. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Cremations are rare (the first crematory was constructed in Lithuania in 2011) and when they are done, the traditional rites may still be followed where possible, with casket replaced by an urn.

The length of funeral and a cultural emphasis on care of the graves (which are covered by elaborate tombstones and flower gardens) make some say that there is a cult of death in Lithuania somewhat reminiscent to that in Mexico.

Lithuanian weddings

The high-point of a wedding is usually the sacramental celebration in church (long form with holy mass which takes ~1 hour or short form without one). Some people opt for a non-religious wedding performed at the Soviet-established "wedding palaces" (although now possible to be done anywhere). A decreasing number of others do both (this was a must for the religious families in the Soviet Union when church weddings were not recognized by law. Today however such practice is just a mean to make that special day last longer).

Taking oath at the main altar of a Lithuanian Roman Catholic church. Left-to-right: wife, priest, husband, assistant of the priest. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Everybody may participate in the ceremony and a short (~1 hour long) "microparty" that follows it in a nearby street, yard or venue.

The main party is held that evening in a hired restaurant or farmstead and usually ends the following day. Only the friends and relatives are invited there. Some old traditions are still quite common, such as a supposed "hanging" of the matchmaker (who is saved by bride) or the matchmaker buying the right to sit at a table. In the countryside, wedding cars may be blocked by other people asking for candies.

Rue laurels traditionally symbolized virginity and were made for the bride during her bachelorette party. Today, bachelor(ette) parties are usually celebrated the Western way. Matchmaking parties, once celebrated some 20 days before a wedding, are gone altogether.

Until the 1990s it was common to marry after ~1 year of friendship (this was influenced as much by Christian traditions as by the Soviet system which forbade unmarried couples from even sharing a hotel room). Today, 3, 5 or even 10 years of cohabitation pass until a couple agrees to marry (that's why there are fewer rue laurels...). Some people prefer to spend vast money on the wedding (dress, photographer, musicians, good restaurant, rings, limousines, and honeymoon) facilitating the need for a career before the wedding (it all used to be much cheaper when celebrated at home).

Birthdays and name days

Birthdays are celebrated the Western way with parties and presents. However, some people (primarily females past their 30s) avoid this as getting older brings them negative feelings. Co-workers greet the person during the workday closest to his birthday.

A woman brings cake for her co-workers at the morning of her birthday (left) and brings back home flowers she received from her co-workers after the workday (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Name days exist for every Lithuanian name but they are usually not celebrated save for a few particular Christian names (e.g. Jonas - John).

Childhood, teenage and youth celebrations

Christian ceremonies celebrated by children (and their parents) are the sacraments of Christening, First Communion and Confirmation (at ~1 year, ~12 years and ~14 years respectively). During the Christening (infant baptism), a baby is given a name and accepted into the Christian community. Before receiving his/her First Communion one learns prayers and makes the first confession. Confirmation is granted by the bishop and requires person's further determination to be Christian. In practice, Christening is often seen as a must even for some non-religious parents, whereas later sacraments may feel more optional.

Christening of a baby. Holy water is poured by a priest as his parents (on the sides) and Christening parents (in front) watch. Traditionally, "Christening parent" is a symbollic obligation one accepts to help the child throughout his life and help him be Christian, although these days often the Christening parents have little to do with child's life and just help perform the ritual. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Most secular "initiation rites" are related to educational milestones. The person's first (~7 years old) and final (~18 years old) schoolyear beginnings (September 1st) are held as important (parents also participate).

The final schoolyear includes a bunch of other celebrations: Šimtadienis (celebrated in March, 100 days before the final lesson), Final bell (final day at school named so after electric bells used in Lithuanian schools to invite students to lessons; June) and prom night (June or July).

Undergraduate studies are completed by the majority of young Lithuanians followed by graduation.

Generally, various personal holidays (especially weddings and birthdays) have been associated with heavy alcohol consumption but today many people celebrate without getting drunk.

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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 usually won by "Rytas" of Vilnius and "Žalgiris" of Kaunas teams (pouring fuel into the eternal Vilnius vs. Kaunas rivalry). "Rytas" home games are held in Vilnius main 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 Gate of Dawn November 11th-20th Christian festival Celebrates the Virgin Mary and the miraculous painting visible for all who pass the historic Gate 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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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.

Name Date Location Event
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.

The cars line up next to Palanga main square for the annual 1000 km race (July). Spyker car is in the foreground. The race is followed by many publicity events and is well reported by the Lithuanian media. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Name Date Location Event
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.

Kaunas Festivals and Annual Events

Kaunas may have slowly ceded its status to Vilnius but it still hosts numerous national events as it is closest to the geographic center of Lithuania. Kaunas biker festival, operetta festival, and agricultural fair have importance reaching beyond the Lithuanian borders.

Name Date Type Event
MAMA music awards Early Janurary Music awards and concert Best Lithuanian musicians and singers of various genres are elected by a jury. The gala format is joined with a public concert that easily sells out Kaunas arena in what aims to be the prime annual event of Lithuanian music.
Independence day parade February 16th Parade A massive grassroots parade with flags and patriotic chants in downtown Kaunas.
Ką pasėsi agricultural fair The first week of April Fair International showcase of agricultural vehicles and a fair of seeds and plants in Kaunas suburbs. ~20 ha territory also hosts concerts.
Kaunas Jazz End of April–start of May Music (jazz) festival Born together with independent Lithuania in 1990 the festival brings local and foreign jazz musicians (~20 bands annually). Some concerts are free and some even take place in the streets.
Hansa days A weekend in mid-may Fair Medieval arts and crafts are recreated (in addition to modern shopping opportunities) near the Kaunas castle.

Medieval dance show during the Hansa days. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Name Date Type Event
Lithuanian Basketball League final series Around April Professional sports Since 1998 the right to contest the champion rings of Lithuania’s major league is always won by the “Žalgiris” of Kaunas team, which typically has to fight "Lietuvos rytas" of Vilnius (pouring fuel into the eternal Vilnius vs. Kaunas rivalry). “Žalgiris” plays its home games in the modern 15 668 seat arena (largest in the Baltics) and it takes 4 victories to triumph.
Bike Show Millennium A weekend in the beginning of June Biker festival One of the largest biker festivals in Europe Bike Show Millenium fills the old Kaunas airport with bike parades, races, stunts, and concerts. Recently it has been expanded to include quads and automobiles.
Pažaislis music festival Entire summer Music (classical) festival While it started as a true music festival at the Pažaislis monastery garden in 1995 today it is a catch-all name for many classical music events taking place all over Kaunas and its suburbs throughout the summer. The concerts in churches are usually free.
Kaunas castle operetta Start of July Music (operetta) festival Eastern Europe’s sole operetta festival is held annually near the Kaunas castle.
Akacijų alėja (Acacia Boulevard) The Saturday closest to July 6th Music (sung poetry) festival A massive sung poetry concert. This genre is a very popular “alternative music” in Lithuania characterized by a single musician, single instrument, no special effects and thought-inspiring lyrics. Taking place in a Kaunas suburb of Kulautuva on Nemunas bank it is free but therefore crowded (~15 000 spectators).
Kaunas cinema festival Late September-Early October Cinema festival Largest cinema festival in Kaunas takes place in Romuva interwar cinema. Various non-Hollywood films and documentaries are presented in the original languages with Lithuanian subs.
Christmas December 25th Christian holiday Recently Kaunas became famous for the artfully inventive Christmas trees in its main Rotušės square.

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