Christmas in Lithuania is treated more like a religious holiday, as well as a holiday where the whole family gets together. The 24th (Christmas Eve or in Lithuanian – Kūčios) is a day of being serious, calm and peaceful. This day, everyone must clean their house, so it’s spotless for the evening, some people go to church, everyone is getting ready for the big Christmas Eve dinner. In the evening, the whole family gets together near a big table. The table must have 12 dishes (not more or less). There should be no meat on the table, but fish is allowed. The whole family also share a Christmas wafer (Kalėdaitis in Lithuanian) which you can get from a church. A photo of it is below.
The oldest person by the table starts sharing it and they need to say a nice compliment, wish for a person sitting next to them and pass it on until everyone in the family gets a piece. They even give a little piece to pets. Also, it is a tradition to leave an empty seat and plate for a member of the family that has passed away. Then, the whole family eats and plays some games. One game is that you put hay under the tablecloth and everyone needs to draw a strand of hay from underneath the tablecloth. If it is a long strand, it means the person will have a long life, if it’s shorter and poor, then the person will have a rough, short life. It is just a game, fortune-telling that nobody believes but does for fun.
The big cities also have Christmas markets that people can visit from the beginning of December to beginning of January. They do not have staple Christmas music, usually listen to Christmas songs by International, as well as some Lithuanian artists, but nothing specific.
On the 25th – Christmas day (Kalėdos) all family gets together again. They share gifts, talk, drink and eat. The table is usually full of different foods, meat is allowed. The Christmas day is more fun and every family celebrates is differently, while the Christmas Eve has a set celebration that usually most families follow.
A personal story:
By Elze Demereckaite
Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?
Cold herring (with different sauces for example: porcini, carrot, beetroot sauces) – this dish is a must. Dark rye bread, carrot salad, beetroot salad, Olive salad, meat jelly, tangerines, nuts, potatoes with butter and ground hemp seeds, sweet, savoury pastries.
Appetiser: leftover salads from Christmas Eve, as well as freshly made salads.
Main: Usually a big piece of meat (chicken, turkey, ham) with different sides like roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes and appetiser salads.
Dessert: a cake (depends on the family what cake they make)
Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?
My aunt makes an amazing white bean, fried bread and onion salad that I adore. Every Christmas I look forward to seeing her, she always makes me a massive bowl of the salad. As I am a vegetarian, it is quite hard to find foods I want to eat on the table, so I pretty much only eat that salad (and a few other salads). I really appreciate her making this dish for me and it is extremely delicious.
Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?
For closer family members, they usually ask what would you like for Christmas. If relatives that you are not very close with do not know what to get you, they get very simple, universal gifts for example chocolates, sweets, wine, snacks.