On February 16, 1918, Lithuania declared its independence creating an independent state. Therefore, each year on February 16, Lithuania celebrates Independence Day.
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At the time, the country had been under Czarist Russia rule until Germany occupied the country during World War I.
History of the Holiday
The Act of Independence signed in 1918 by the Council of Lithuania proclaimed the right to national self-determination based on the Vilnius Conference Resolution of September 18-23, 1917. The country was to be founded on democratic principles with Vilnius as the capital. However, in 1940, Russia annexed the country and it remained under Soviet rule for almost 50 years until it became independent again in 1990. For this reason, February 16 is celebrated as State Independence Day while March 11 is celebrated as Independence Restoration Day.
At the time independence was declared in 1918, Lithuania was under German occupation as Germany advanced toward Russia. Germany encouraged the establishment of the Council of Lithuania as long as they agreed to a union with Germany over Russia. Lithuania’s declaration of independence did not appeal to Germany and, as a result, publication of the act was prohibited in Germany and the work of the Council was hindered. When Germany was defeated in World War I, the Cabinet of Lithuania was established and the Council gained control of Lithuania until 1940 when it was annexed by Russia in events leading up to World War II.
Traditions and Celebrations
Lithuanians celebrate Independence Day enthusiastically. All major cities in the country hold festivals, public speeches and parades. The capital holds public shows of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Concerts are held in Cathedral Square that are free to the public. Offices, closed and governmental agencies are closed on Independence Day.
Recent Holiday Celebration
Because many of the holidays celebrated in Lithuania, including Independence Day, are related to the upheavals Lithuanians faced to gain freedom throughout history, holidays were not celebrated as enthusiastically as they are now. In the 2000s, a grassroots movement began to encourage citizens to hold parades and festivals on holidays to encourage national pride. Today, the celebrations include the display of flags as well as patriotic chants. Some, who still follow Soviet Union Russia’s belief that nationalism is dangerous, do not believe such displays are appropriate on Independence Day. However, those beliefs are fading as Lithuania continues to improve economically, leading to increased patriotism.