Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the second day of Christmas are much celebrated in Lithuania, and the Christmas season officially lasts for over a month from the beginning of Advent in late November through Epiphany on 6 January. Three public holidays are observed as part of the season.
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Cities and towns throughout Lithuania put up large, fully decorated Christmas trees and public nativity scenes as the season gets rolling in early December. Before long, “Christmas spruces” appear in private homes as well, along with artificial trees in more recent years.
Christmas Eve is the main Christmas celebration instead of Christmas Day. During the evening, the Christmas feast takes place. The whole house will have been thoroughly cleaned before dinner, and everyone will be wearing their best clothes. Sometimes, an empty chair will be left for a family member who cannot be present or who has passed away since last Christmas.
Traditionally, the meal begins with a prayer and then each person at the table eats a special wafer, called a “Kaledaitis,” which has religious Christmas designs baked into it. Then everyone wishes each other a merry Christmas before beginning to eat. Some fast all day before Christmas Eve dinner, and often the meal will be meatless and have 12 dishes.
Traditional Lithuanian Christmas decorations include straw strewn throughout the house to remind of Jesus’ birth in a manger and a white tablecloth with candles and fir tree branches on it. Straw is also put underneath the tablecloth, and those who are lucky enough to pull a long straw from under the tablecloth believe they will live a long life. Those who pull out a fat straw are promised a happy life.
After Christmas dinner, or sometimes between dinner and dessert, the “Old Man of Christmas” often shows up bearing gifts for young children. Adults, however, simply exchanges presents among themselves. After the gift-giving ends, children generally retire for the night, but adults often go to church for a midnight service.