LITHUANIAN CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS
 

 
 

Easter eggs made by Ada Mickuvienë.


 

 

 EASTER [ a.k.a. VELYKOS ]

Easter is the greatest annual church and national calendar, spring holiday. This date is set according to the moon cycle after March 21st , first Sunday of the full moon. The sowing of spring crops starts after Easter.
On this holiday the Christian elements [ resurrection of Jesus Christ ] merge with ancient national traditions, the rebirth of nature when the goddess " Žemyna" was honored. Easter rituals start one week before Easter, on Palm Sunday [ a.k.a. Verbos ]. That week is called the Great Week [ a.k.a. Didžioji Savaitë ] , it is full of prohibitions, beliefs and archaic traditions. At the end of 19th century, in the region of Lyda, on Holy Wednesday, Lithuanians heated the bathhouses so that men could bathe from midnight to dawn and women on the morning of Holy Thursday. Until the end of 19th century, Holy Wednesday was a dry day of fasting, with no milk, meat, butter and on this day no one left the house while chewing on something so that rats would not enter the house. On Holy Wednesday, in villages of Samogitija, there was the tradition of dragging a herring around the church. Children drew a picture of a herring on a flat board and dragged it around the church, in the churchyard. The draggers were followed by a crowd, all whipping the fish.
On the last Thursday before Easter, women cleaned houses, washed windows, whitened walls and stoves, washed clothes. Spinners hid spinning wheels and spindles because should they be seen by anyone, the spinner would have great difficulty with her work during the coming year.
L.Jucevièius writes that when wishing to avoid meeting with evil souls, the head of the household lights a candle on Holy Thursday, extinguishes it and throws it into a corner saying, " as this candle extinguished, let our eyes close and disappear from our enemies forever".
Those with skin diseases and other illnesses, bathed before sunrise in rivers, lakes and springs with the hope that they would be cured. Water was believed to be miraculous on that day, healing, protecting from evil eyes and evil spirits.
Here are several examples of behavior and work on Holy Thursday:
1 on this day, one ran, not looking sideways, to wash before sunrise in swiftly flowing river water. This will make a healthy body, and wearing shirts inside out will make the body function well.
2 in the morning, away from anyone's eyes, one washed with snow so as to be clean all year.
3 comb hair thoroughly so that there would be no fleas all year.
4 cobwebs are removed from barns, this cleans piglets, so they heal easier.
5 rise early, sweep the house and pour the sweepings on the boundary with the nearest neighbor. Having done that, return home without looking back, this will assure a year with no fleas.
6 on this day one must go to the forest, make an alder broom and sweep the house with it. Someone should ask, " what are you up to ?" You answer, "I'm chasing away the fleas, why are you asking me?" A spot is shown and the fleas all gather there.
7 rise early but quietly, so that no one hears you. Fill your apron with wood chips and place in all corners of the house, then a duck, sitting on eggs will be found.
8 go to your neighbor and steal a handful of firewood, this will assure that you will find many birds' nests in summer. 
9 place a handful of salt on a piece of cloth, tie it and hide it so that no one sees it or touches it during the year. This helps protect children and animals from evil eyes.

Holy Friday was also held to be an unusual day. People cast spells, chased witches and other evils. To make insects disappear from houses, stoves were heated with the herb artemisia and all house bugs and insects were thrown into the fire. Ashes were removed, taken far away from the house and dug under. 
This day's unusualness is evident in wide beliefs throughout Lithuania:
1 the house has to be clean by Holy Friday, for if on this day chimney is swept or cobwebs are removed, Christ's eyes will be bewitched and the flax harvest will be poor.
2 if from midnight to noon you do not speak with anyone, you can expect fulfillment of all your desires.
3 no laundry is done on this day so that ice does not destroy the grain fields.
4 one should not grind with millstones, so that thunder would not knock. 
5 on this day one should wash up outside, so that in the spring the water would warm up fast.
In the region of Këdainiai, on Holy Friday, eyes were covered and pots were smashed. An immediately smashed pot brought good fortune. People from this region took porridge and buried it in the fields expecting a good harvest. Women endeavored to bake good bread, so that family members would be healthy and strong.
Holy Saturday. On this day, no lending took place, so that the borrower would not take away the good harvest or other successes. So that witches would not spoil cows' milk on this day, cows were milked with milk going through a branch of the rowen tree. It was thought that the rowen tree leaves and red berries will frighten away all evil spirits.
On this day, a bonfire built of old crosses was set in the church yard. The fire was lit striking a piece of flint and blowing the sparks into a dry wood fungus. Everyone rushed to snatch the fire and hurry home with it. To carry the live fire some brought a dried birch fungus, others a tow rope, a metal can or rag. To keep the fire burning while going home, it had to be continuously twisted about.
In the eastern regions of the Highlands [ a.k.a. Aukðtaitija ], carriers of the holy flame, would start a small fire outside their property borders, so that the ills of the year would burn away. Hurrying home with the flame, they rode around, smoking the fields, to assure a good harvest. Arriving home, the old fire was put out in the stove and new fire was started with the Easter flame. Some homemakers, following ancient traditions, kept the Easter fire burning in the stove till next Easter, Pentecost or at least till the Sunday after Easter. It was believed that thunder did not hit the home where the annual Easter flame burned in the stove, for it brought luck and harmony to the family. Desiring to protect their homes from disasters, ashes were strewn in the house so that there would be no fires and in the garden, so that vegetables would grow well. When building a house, coal from the Easter fires was placed in corners. In the Tvereèius region tree branches were placed on the burning, holy flame so that snakes would run away. Ashes were rubbed onto the scalp, to chase away pain.
Blessing of water takes place on Holy Saturday. It was tradition to bring back holy water in a hurry, so that farm chores would be done faster that year. On Easter, morning the house, fields, orchards and barns were all sprinkled with holy water. Some holy water was poured into wells, lakes and ponds. Old people washed their eyes and skin with holy water. Homemakers wet cows' udders, vegetable seeds and seedlings. The sick and dying were also sprinkled with holy water. People in the regions of Këdainiai and Pasvalis, kept a clay container in the center of the house, filled with holy water, where fingers were dipped before crossing themselves, at the beginning and end of the day. Even today holy water is taken home and widely used and is kept till Pentecost.
The last days of Holy Week were linked with the souls of the dead, for it was thought that they were loitering about the homes. In some regions of Lithuania, on Holy Saturday, tables were not cleared away after meals, churches were not locked to allow the souls to congregate inside. In the region of Veisiejai, during breakfast on Easter, three teaspoonfuls of food were poured under the table for the souls. It was thought that on Holy Friday and Holy Saturday the souls were unconstrained and it was not proper to speak ill of dead family members.
Traditions of the night of Easter are very interesting, church rituals are intertwined with early beliefs. In 1933 newspapers wrote how people went to church Easter night, but did not pray. They dressed up as scarecrows and jested about. The guards at Christ's tomb were dressed as soldiers, holding guns and swords. In Samogitia and in other regions, people blew horns, dressed as devils. The principal disguiser had sooth on his face, cow horns on his head, with cow's tail hanging from his back, biting a huge pipe and holding a bottle of vodka in his hands. A masked woman would stick dead crows under noses of women, asleep in church. 
Another type of disguisers wore masks with needles in the nose, dressed in rags, carrying whips. If they found anyone outside during the night, they chased them into church. 
Before the First World War, throughout Lithuania , food was blessed on Easter morning. This tradition has remained in the region of Dzûkija. Easter eggs, salt, bread, cakes, ham, bacon, sausage, butter and cheese were foods to be blessed. Blessing eggs and bread would assure plenty of food all year. Butter and cheese were blessed to make sure that cows would give much milk. 
The folks from Kurðënai placed three eggs, red, yellow and black into a basket, decorated with willow branches, filled with hay or moss and took the basket to church to be blessed. In Dzûkija, foods to be blessed were placed in straw baskets with removable covers. In other regions foods were carried to church in specially woven kerchiefs. It was believed that if it was a cloudy day, this kerchief should be taken outside and spread in the middle of the yard then the clouds would disperse.
After the mass on Easter, some placed foods near Virgin Mary's altar, while others placed food in the churchyard. After the blessing of the food, everyone hurried home with the belief that those who got home first, they will be first in all their endeavors and that their bees will swarm faster.
Having returned with the blessed foods, everyone sat at the table, laden with traditional foods: eggs, pig's head or roast piglet, cheese, butter and baked lamb. If there was no baked lamb, there was a lamb made of butter or sugar placed on top of sprouted oat greens. This was a symbol of Easter. Before eating began, the family stood around the table, saying three prayers and wishing peace to the home. Eating began with eggs. If your egg shell is stronger, you are destined to live longer. The Easter egg shells were collected and half of them were fed to the hens, so that they would be good layers. The other half was burned in the stove, to make sure that trees will bud earlier. Meat bones and remaining egg shells were dug in the fields, so that mice would not eat the grain and hail would not be destructive to the grain fields.
In some regions, a tree made from nine or twelve fir branches, with woven nests to hold Easter eggs, was placed on the Easter table. It was also decorated with dough birds and colored papers. 
It was said that on the first day of Easter, no visiting should take place till noon. If anyone came before noon, it was said that he brought flees from his home. 
Children visited godparents and relatives to collect Easter eggs. A child upon entering the house, says nothing, just puts one finger into his mouth and receives an egg. If he places two fingers, two eggs are placed in his basket. Giving eggs to the children means that hens will be prolific layers. 
The tradition of egg gathering still exists. In all of Lithuania, the act of hitting Easter eggs is known and practiced, especially by men and teenagers. The egg is placed in the palm of the hand with thumb and forefinger holding the pointed end of the egg, which is the hitting area. The cracked egg is taken by the person whose egg did not crack in the process of hitting.
Egg rolling is also popular throughout Lithuania. A thick tree bark with a smooth inside is placed at an angle and eggs are rolled down through it. When the egg hits another egg, which had rolled down earlier, the egg's owner takes possession of both eggs. 

EASTER WOMAN
[ a.k.a. VELYKË, VELYKØ BOBUTË ]

Easter eggs were taken to children by the imaginary Easter woman, who was not to be seen by the children. Children usually found two Easter eggs, in places like wooden shoes, baskets and even in bed. These eggs were very different from those that were dyed at home. Most often mothers exchanged eggs with neighbors or secretly used different dyes.
Children began to wait for the Easter Woman on Holy Saturday afternoon, prepared egg nests and placed them in flower gardens, bushes, between wall logs and even on doorsteps. Each child tried to make most beautiful and colorful nests. 


STROLLERS and SINGERS while collecting Easter eggs
[ a.k.a. LALAUNYKAI ] 
Groups of young men on the night of the First Day of Easter, visit villages, extend greetings and for that are given numerous gifts. The night was filled with men's compelling voices, travelling from village to village. This tradition still continues in many villages even today. 
These groups are made up of musicians, singers and a bag carrier, who will carry all the gifts. Their greetings began with the following words: " dear auntie and uncle, may we entertain your household", followed by: " Happy Easter Greetings". After this, they sang songs meant for unmarried girls:
A pear tree stands in the center of the manor
Under which grows a garden filled with rue
Young maiden, Anne walked there
Made paths and picked rue.

When gifts were received, they thanked the owners saying, " may God give you as many piglets to equal the number of nibbles you gave us". It also happened that the owners gave nothing, then a spell was put on them: " may your chicken swell under the stove, like the stove, so that you could not pull them out using even horse's strength". Girls who refused to receive these strollers singers, were wished to remain single and to spend the rest of their lives sitting on the stove.
When their bag was filled with eggs and other goodies, the strollers singers would stop at someone's home to party. They would then select the most beautiful Easter egg, calling its creator
" Queen of Eggs". If this woman was married, they crowned her with a crown that they carried, she in turn would place the crown on her unmarried daughter's head. This second Easter Day's festivity of strollers singers, soon became the time of selecting daughters-in-law. Soon after matchmakers would do the rounds. For this reason young women tried to give their best Easter eggs to the stroller-singers.

THE DAY of HAIL [ a.k.a. LEDØ DIENA ] 

The fourth day of Easter and later the third day, in the first part of 18th century, according to ancient pagan traditions, was called ICE DAY, DAY of HAIL. No work was done on that day, to keep hail from destroying grain fields. Even on any Wednesday until Pentecost no work was done. This behavior was honoring the memory of the Goddess Lada. In ancient times, seed oats and other grains were taken to church to be blessed on this day.

EASTER EGGS [ a.k.a. VELYKAIÈIAI ] 

The egg being the symbol of life and rebirth of nature is given special meaning in Easter traditions. The tradition of egg dyeing and exchanging is much older than Christianity. In Lithuania, eggs were dyed not only before Easter but also before St.George's day and Pentecost. 
There were two methods of egg decorating: drawing designs with wax or scratching designs on dyed eggs. Numerous designs consisted of blossoms, snakes, wheel and cog, stars, branches of rue, snowflakes and many others.
Most common dye used was onion skins. A pot was filled with dry onion skins and water and allowed to soak for several hours, then brought to a boil, then raw eggs were placed for seven or ten minutes, later the pot was removed from the heat, but eggs were left in the dye for some time, to intensify the reddish brown color. Nettles were used to obtain green color. Nettles were covered with cold water, then boiled for twenty minutes. Eggs were placed in the strained nettle dye and boiled. If the solution was nor strained, the eggs would be spotted Adding alum to the nettle solution intensifies the green color. Red color was obtained by slicing raw beets, covering with cold water and bringing to a boil. The red solution was strained and eggs boiled in it. A reddish yellow color was obtained from a solution made from a mixture of chopped birch lichen, fir and black alder trees. Very popular black and dark brown colors were obtained by soaking black alder bark with rusty metal pieces in boiling water and adding fermented juices of beets or sauerkraut. This mixture was left to ferment two to three weeks and boiled eggs would be soaked in it until good color was obtained.
The tradition of swinging on Easter was practiced throughout Lithuania. Ethnographers believe that swinging had magical powers to awaken the plant kingdom, which helped grain to sprout and grow faster. Swings were built in the village outskirts or near forests. The swing seat could accommodate several people at a time. People swung so high that some even fell off and were killed instantly. Girls on swings were swung by boys and for this the boys received many Easter eggs.
On the Second and Third Day of Easter, it was tradition to pour water on each other. Sometimes young men would throw young women into water. Once again, this watering forecasted a goodgrain harvest and a washing away of evils accumulated during winter.
 

 


 
 

Playing Easter eggs games
 

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