Easter in Lithuania is called “Velykos”, which is derived from the Belorussian word for “important day”. This is rather appropriate since Easter ranks high in Lithuania among the most important holidays of the year.
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|22 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
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|13 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
As Lithuania is mostly Roman Catholic, some of its Easter traditions are similar to those in other Catholic countries, and they also share similarities with neighbouring Slavic nations, especially Poland. Nonetheless, Easter is celebrated in Lithuania in many unique ways.
The Easter season begins with Lent, 40 days before Easter Sunday, and there are a number of special masses during Holy Week. Masses are held on Palm Sunday, to commemorate the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, as well as on Holy Wednesday, when Judas plotted to betray Jesus; on Maundy Thursday, when Jesus was betrayed; on Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross; on Holy Saturday, the day Jesus’ body was in the tomb; and Easter Sunday itself, when He arose from the grave.
On Palm Sunday, Lithuanians make “verbos,” which are woven branches of pussy willows, leaves, twigs, and dried flowers to take the place of palm branches since palms do not grow in the far northern climate. These bouquet-like creations are brought to church and blessed, sold in marketplaces, and also used to beat your loved ones because that is thought to give them good luck.
On Maundy Thursday, Lithuanians thoroughly clean out their houses. This is a kind of spring cleaning, but it is also thought to bring wealth and health, drive away evil spirits, and get rid of the winter fleas. The latter may indeed have some truth to it.
Holy Saturday is the day for decorating Easter eggs, or “marguciai.” They are made traditionally with natural dyes. Eggs are dipped for solid colours or dye is applied with leaves or other instruments to create patterns. The tear-drop shape is particularly common and a veritable symbol of a Lithuanian Easter. More intricately designed marguciai are also common, and the process is an art. Either wax is applied before dying and then melted off to leaves white patterns or needles and sharp objects are used to “carve” out patterns after dying is complete.
Just before Easter Sunday, the “Easter Granny” comes to leave eggs and candies for kids, putting the Easter Rabbit out of a job in Lithuania. Children leave nests in the garden or bushes in anticipation of her coming early on Easter Morning, but she is devious and hides the eggs all over the yard, so the children have to search for them.
Before the Easter Day dinner, it is traditional to slice a single egg and divide it among all present at the table. This “egg sharing” is meant as a sign of unity. The dinner itself will have many meats, such as lamb, ham, pork, sausage, roast duck, and roast chicken. The butter or cheese is often carved into the shape of a lamb to symbolize Jesus, the Lamb of God. There will also typically be Easter eggs, creamed mushrooms, salad, dried-fruit breads, honey cakes, and more.
Those touring Lithuania at Easter time may wish to engage in any of the following activities:
- Make your own verbos Easter bouquets or buy them at the Kaziuko Muge fair in Vilnius’ “Old Town.” You can also buy the highly decorative marguciai Easter eggs, various crafts and souvenirs, and Lithuanian food items at the same location.
- Go “Easter carolling,” if you can find a group of Lithuanians that still hold to this old tradition. You may be given an Easter egg by your audience as you go door to door. Nowadays, however, it will be easier to find an Easter concert at a local performance centre.
- Engage in “egg gambling,” more commonly called “egg rolling.” This is a game in which Easter eggs are rolled down wooden chutes in an attempt to knock someone else’s Easter egg that is waiting on the ground. The eggs you hit, you win, and whoever finishes with the most eggs, wins the whole game.
Lithuania has many religious and secular Easter traditions that are fascinating to learn, and the tourist to Lithuania will have no problem finding things to do around Easter time.