LITHUANIAN CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS
 
 

PENTECOST, (WHITSUNDAY)
[ A.K.A SEKMINËS Seventh Sunday after Easter ] 

In Lithuania and in neighboring countries, traditions of Pentecost are related with the end of sowing and the start of summer labors. This is a spring gathering and shepherds' holiday. The most distinctive feature of Pentecost is nature worship. The power of nature was attributed to young, green birch trees. It was believed that the birch tree can pass her vitality to the soil, to animals, protect from illness and all evils. On the eve of Pentecost, village girls dispersed in fields and woods in search of flowers and greenery that were used to make wreaths. Young men picked branches off birch trees, which they placed around doors, gates, inside porches and in living rooms. Wreaths and bunches of flowers decorated the entire house. Tables were covered with linen tablecloths, garden paths were sprinkled with sand and greens. It was believed that the souls of the dead, while visiting homes on Pentecost, rested on birch tree branches. Shepherds decorated cows with birch wreaths, to keep them calm and together, be good milkers and to please the mistress of the house so she would be kind and generous throughout the year.
The writer, B.Buraèas described this tradition of decorating the herds in his writings, saying that on the night before Pentecost, shepherds returning home with the herd dressed the animals with birch and marsh marigold wreaths. They even tied birch branches to cattle horns.
In some regions women placed a piece of bread in a white linen kerchief, tied it with three double birch branches and tied this kerchief to their apron sash believing this to be a protection from snake bites. Whipping with bathing birch- rods in bathhouses was believed to chase all ailments out of the body. On Pentecost morning, the master of the house whipped his cows to make them more active while grazing in the fields.
When Christianity came to Lithuania, churches began blessing grasses. Then on this holiday, churches were decorated with birch trees and other greenery. People arrived in church carrying bunches of greenery , which were blessed. These blessed greens were set on fire and their smoke was used to incense dying persons, new buildings and storm clouds. It was believed that smoke from Pentecost greens had the power to chase away evil spirits, protect buildings and send storm clouds away. Wayside crosses and ritual tables were also decorated with Pentecost greenery.
J.Balys wrote in " Lithuanian Calendar Holidays" how plants are used in charmings. First of all, many wreaths were twined and each one was given a man's name. The largest wreath was given the name of the girl who wanted to know the name chosen name. The wreaths are thrown into the well or into the pond in the evening, so as not to be seen by anyone. Early in the morning the girl went to see if her wreath was beside the largest wreath. If it was, she would marry him.
Before Pentecost one must twine a large wreath of cornflowers with three branches of rue in it. Before evening this wreath is placed on the girl's head and fastened to the hair so it would not fall off. He, who in a dream removes this wreath, will be the one too take away her virginity. 
N.Gimbutas in " Baltic Mythology" , wrote that there was tradition to go to the woods on Pentecost. A birch tree was picked out, decorated and taken into the village. About hundred years ago this was an important ritual which involved the entire community. 
On this holiday there are fire and water glorification rituals. The church on Pentecost blessed fire and water. In many regions holy water was sprinkled on grain seeds, so that they would sprout fast and that birds would not peck at the grain. Sprinkling with holy water was meant to keep insects away from the crops and keep ponds and rivers safe from drownings. To keep horses well and give them shinny coats, their food was also sprinkled with holy water. 
After Pentecost, according to the folk calendar, it was safe to swim in rivers and lakes, especially if these bodies of water were close to churches, they were blessed by the priests to protect the swimmers from drownings. Country folk poured holy water into their wells and ponds for this reason.
Pentecost is one bright day in the shepherds' year. This day was begun by the blare of the herdsman's trumpet before sunrise, awakening the shepherds. That day, every shepherd planned to take his herd out at the earliest and play his small horn. Each shepherd made his own small horn for Pentecost from osier or alder wood and added a hollow cow's horn to give it a better sound.
As the animals were leaving the barn, they were incensed with burning, dried herbs by the mistress of the house. The herd grazed until noon, then the shepherds decorated the entire herd and themselves and returned to the village singing and playing their horns. Then the feasting began, hosted by the head herdsman.
Shepherds' outings were organized on Pentecost, called shepherds' omelet, [ a.k.a. pautienë ]. In some regions shepherds stopped at homesteads in the morning to pick up prepared foods, while in others they asked for eggs, flour, butter, milk and salt so that they could bake their own omelet. 
In Dzûkija the following greeting was voiced, " happy Pentecost, spent happily and peacefully with horses neighing and cows mooing. I was sent to you by the oxen for bread, for milk by the cows, by sheep for flour, by hogs for bacon and fat, by the motley hens for eggs, by the rooster for pancakes and by the shepherds for money". If some households gave nothing, the returning herd was decorated with nettle wreaths and brooms tied to the cows' horns, so that everyone would know about the stinginess of that household.. However, most homeowners were generous because they knew that by not giving the cows' milk would be decreased.
After collecting all he goodies, the shepherds went to feast, picnic in the woods. After the omelet was baked, the shepherds went into the forest, climbed a tree and called out to wolves and bears to come and have breakfast with them, saying, " if you do not come out now, you will never come out during the coming year". This is an ancient prayer, an incantation. 
In some regions of the Highlands [ a.k.a. Aukðtaitija ], shepherds were allowed to sleep in while the herding in the morning was carried out by girls. They herded out very early, before the larks awakened. Hearing the larks, village lads came out playing reed and pan pipes. They also brought food, lit bonfires. The important ritual was made up of a game called " Arrange a Wedding". The prettiest girl was chosen to play the bride and a lad was chosen to play the groom, while other girls dressed as bridesmaids. After the wedding rites, the newlyweds were taken to bed in a granary, a tent made of tree branches. After that came their awakening and the end of the wedding ritual games. People in ancient times believed that peoples' sexual love and fertility stimulate earth's productivity.
On the second day of Pentecost, the hired hands together with the owner's sons carried on in the same manner as the shepherds. They provided drinks and music while maidens prepared the food. The maidens walked along fields of grain, singing songs with magical meanings:
You osier, clover,
Green bush, clover,
How tall you grew, clover,
At the first gate, clover,
The sun rose, clover,
At the second gate, clover,
The moon trundled, clover,
At the third gate, clover,
The maiden walked, clover.
Entire families visited the rye fields. Checked both theirs' and neighbors' fields and shared farming advice. In some regions, hired hands brewed beer before Pentecost so that they could treat the owners after their walks in the grain fields. Everyone gathers to eat and drink , while the young people sing and dance. 
Girls had separate amusements. They sat in a nice spot on a hill, twined wreaths, cast lots, told tales, sang and walked around grain fields. 
When Christianity spread throughout Lithuania, priests turned these ancient walkings around grain fields into blessings of the grain fields. People gathered in one farmstead upon the priests' arrival and went together to bless the grain fields. Feasting took place after the blessing. 
This tradition disappeared at the beginning of 20th century, when villages broke up into individual farms.
 
 

 

 
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