Many Lithuanian holidays and festivals fuse Christian
beliefs and indigenous customs. For example, Shrovetide, the period before
the season of Lent that precedes Easter, has been combined with a traditional
celebration of the end of winter. The feast of St. John in late June is
celebrated with bonfires and dances that were once part of an ancient midsummer
festival. All Souls' Day on November 2, when Lithuanians light candles in
cemeteries, coincides with an autumn festival of the dead.
Even Christmas celebrations in Lithuania retain some traditions from earlier winter solstice festivals. The holiday begins on December 24. People fast during the day. When the first star appears in the evening sky, the family gathers for a special meatless meal of 12 courses. Originally the 12 courses symbolized the 12 months of the year; today they represent the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. If a family member has died during the year, a place is set for him or her.
After the meal, the family members exchange gifts and
play games such as drawing straws to tell the future. Families attend Christmas
Mass either at midnight or early on Christmas Day. The weather at Christmastime
is also believed to be significant. If it is snowy, Easter will be green. If
the snow has not yet covered the ground, it will snow at Easter.
Easter is another important religious celebration that includes some elements from an ancient spring festival. Eggs are dyed and decorated to symbolize the rebirth of nature. It is a tradition for two people to hold eggs in their hands and strike them together to see whether they will break. If one egg remains unbroken, it is considered lucky and is not eaten.
National holidays in Lithuania include the Defenders of Freedom Day, which commemorates the demonstrators who were killed by the Soviets in Vilnius on January 13, 1991, after the country had declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Lithuania has two independence days: one in February that celebrates the declaration of independence in 1918, and one in March that celebrates the restoration of independence in 1990.
June 14, the Day of Mourning and Hope, is the anniversary
of the first mass deportation of Lithuanians to Siberia in 1941. The Day of
Statehood commemorates King Mindaugas, who first established the nation of
Lithuania. Black Ribbon Day is a solemn day that recalls the pact between the
Nazis and the Soviets in 1939, which led to the invasion of Lithuania. The Day
of the Nation honours Vytautas the Great, who reigned in the 15th century.