CHRISTMAS EVE and CHRISTMAS
[ a.k.a. Kûèios ir Kalëdos ]
Ancient historical sources confirm the main moments of the winter holiday,
the return of the sun, which are found in the 20th
century Lithuanian beliefs and traditions.
Supper on Christmas Eve " Kûèios", the oldest
Lithuanian feast, celebrated according to the sun's calendar. It is a night
holiday, whose festivities begin in the evening. This is not only the most
archaic, but the best preserved of holidays. Intimate family celebration,
in closed micro social environment, protected " Kûèios" from
many 20th century modern innovations. The pagan spirit of Lithuanian "Kûèios"
did not confront with Christian humanistic philosophy.
"Kûèios" is the ritual supper. The entire
December 24th day , Christmas eve is called "Kûèios". Linguist
K.Buga believes that Lithuanian ancestors borrowed the word "Kûèios",
way back in the 12th century through Slavs from the Greeks. This shows
up in words with the same meaning Russian " kutja", White Russian " kucia",
Greek " kukkia".
"Kûèia" is a special dish assigned to the
souls of dead ancestors. It is made of stewed wheat, peas, beans, sweetened
with honey or eaten with poppy seed milk. In the region of Merkinë,
"Kûèia" was a special loaf of bread, called the "Kûèia
loaf ", it was carried three times around the house by the master of the
house, dressed in holiday clothes. He then knocked on the door, when asked
who's knocking, he would answer, " God together with "Kûèia"
asks to be in your house". Upon entering, the master placed the bread on
the table. In the region of Kaiðiadorys, the master of the house carried
a basket filled with "Kûèia" supper foods three times around
the house. In other regions, the Christmas wafers were carried in the same
The ritual supper is not eaten until the evening star
appears in the sky. Until then, the bathhouse is heated, people bathe and
dress up in festive clothes. The floor was strewn with juniper by the mistress
and the master placed handfuls of hay on the table, covered it with a white
linen tablecloth. In many regions, a basket filled with hay, sheaves of
grain and a horse's collar was placed under the table. Foods were placed
on the table and as many tablespoons as there were eaters. If the number
of family members was an odd number, a beggar or a lone neighbor was invited.
If during that year there had been a death in the family, an upside down
spoon was set in that place. This being a family feast, not only live but
also dead members participate in it. The eldest family member went outside
to invite the souls of the ancestors, the cold, the wind and bees to eat
The tradition of feeding the souls of the dead, remain
in the 20th century in many parts of Lithuania. In the region of Ukmergë,
a glass of beer or kvass was set in the place where the dead member used
to sit. Around Kupiðkis after the meal the table was cleaned away and
set afresh with meat dishes, so that the souls of the dead would eat well.
In Eastern Prussia a goose was placed on the table in honor of the souls
of the dead. In other regions food remains were placed on windowsills or
in vestibules. This food was for the souls who did not die at home.
Most often the "Kûèia" table was not cleared
away, for it was believed that when the family is asleep the souls of the
dead come in to eat.
Christmas biscuits [ a.k.a. kûèiukai ],
are among ritual foods together with barley porridge, both eaten with poppy
seed milk. A must dish is oat pudding, which was given to the souls of
the dead, wind and cold. Spells were cast in order to prepare a good oat
pudding. In Suvalkija, while preparing the oat pudding, coatless and barefoot
children ran around the house reciting:
" pud, pud, pudding
Mathew will ride home
On a dapple grey horse
With a long snivel ".
Ancient "Kûèia" supper dishes are beet soup
with mushrooms, and fish. Twelve different dishes were prepared, this tradition
still continues. All dishes are meatless, with no fat, eggs and dairy products.
Today's "Kûèia" supper is begun with the passing around of
the Christmas wafer together with wishes for each member.
Lithuanian "Kûèia" traditions have much
room for concern about upcoming grain harvest. At the end of the meal it
is tradition to pull a piece of hay from under the tablecloth. If one pulls
the longest piece, the linen will grow best. Near Punsk, on Christmas Eve
night, three piles of grain, rye, barley and oats were set on the floor
and a hen was let in. if the hen first picked rye, it meant a good year
for bread, if oats, their crop will be abundant and if barley, there will
be tasty pancakes. Some people covered the garden with pots to assure growth
of large vegetables.
Trying to increase fruit tree production, the fruit trees
were wrapped with straw on Christmas Eve. In some regions cooked peas were
sprinkled in the orchard to increase the fruit crops.
On Christmas Eve a greater attention was given to animals,
their health, fertility and assure cattle breeding success:
hay from the supper was later fed to the animals
If one sewed on Christmas Eve, sheep will bear motley lambs
To assure that animals do not scatter in the summer, the
entire family must eat Kûèia, the Christmas Eve supper, together
To keep the animal herd together in summer, tie up the cutlery
after supper with the whip, broom and shepherd
No need to lock barn doors on this night, place a cross or
another sign on the doors so that charmings are ineffective.
Those who sprinkle a mixture of wheat and peas in the barn,
will have good animals
After supper the mistress of the house should take all milk
pots outside and place all around the farmstead so that next year the cows
would give much milk.
After supper the mistress of the house takes the butter churn
and walks around the fields churning it, so that there will be an abundance
No spinning should be done on this day because it will cause
calf abortions and animals will slobber.
After milking the cow should be poured with milk three times
so that the witches do not drain the cow on the feast day of Saint John.
On this day stroke the cows, so that they will be fat and
have no pustules.
Several Christmas wafers are saved and fed to cows, to keep
milk from spoiling.
If you want your horses to be good looking, steal manure
from your neighbor and feed it to your horses.
So that no one bewitches the horses, the master of the house
feeds them ears of rye.
Sheep should be sheared on this day so that new born lambs
have curly fleece.
To keep wolves from carrying away animals, mention wolves
Carry a sieve around the fields to prevent the killing of
colts by wolves.
Wash windows, door handles and all the corners of the house,
give this wash water to drink to the animals. This will keep evil eyes
away from the animals.
Christmas Eve charmings and magic was done to better
beekeeping. The beekeeper would take honey and bees to his poor neighbors.
So that bees would not swarm on Christmas Eve night, the beekeeper took
the first harvest grain sheaf around the orchard. Also placed a Christmas
wafer into beehives. All throughout Lithuania until this day there is belief
that at midnight on Christmas Eve day animals speak. Exactly at midnight,
animals rise, kneel on front legs and pray in human voices. Their spoken
words are not heard by everyone. The animal voices are heard by those who
are poverty stricken and who are spending the night in the barn. The animals
speak most often about their owner's funeral.
On Christmas Eve, just like during other calendar feasts,
much attention is paid to wedding themes.
There are several rare marriage charms:
1 The windows are covered after supper, a rooster and
hen are pulled out from under the stove, their tails are tied together.
If the rooster pulls the hen to the door, there will be a wedding and if
he pulls the hen back under the stove, there will be no wedding.
2 Three items are placed on the doorsill, a ring, a
piece of chalk and a piece of bread. A hen is brought out. If the hen picks
up the ring, the girl will marry. If the hen picks up the piece of chalk,
the girl will die. The girl will live poorly if the hen picks up the bread.
3 A pot of water is brought to a boil, then two pieces
of coal are dropped into the water. If the coals come together, there will
be a wedding.
4 Every girl in the room lights a candle. All the candles
are placed on the table's edge and blown out. The girl whose candle is
not blown out, will remain unmarried.
5 A ring is dropped into a half filled glass of water.
The number of ripples shows the number of years before her wedding.
6 At midnight girls place two sacred candles and between
them a glass filled with water, birch ashes and drop a wedding band inside.
Looking through the glass they either see their chosen male or a coffin.
7 Three whole herring, without bread should be eaten
before going to bed. A towel should be placed on two wooden rods, set over
a bowl filled with water. They must dream of their future male while sleeping.
8 Quietly tie up even knots, putting into each one
money, a piece of coal, a lump of earth, a piece of clay from the stove,
grain or seeds, a small rag. All these knotted pieces are placed in a tub,
next to the girl's bed, so that they can be touched without leaving the
bed. The meanings of the different knots are: ring wedding, money richess,
coal fire, earth- death, rag children, seeds, grain good harvest.
9 That night, two needles are dropped into a plate
filled with water. If the needles come together, there will be a wedding.
The mirror, invented in the third millenium before Christ,
reached Lithuania in the 13th century. Its mysteriousness is linked with
the world of the dead, it became part of Christmas Eve enchantings, guessing
the future, especially that of marriage. Young men and women, wishing to
find out who will be their mate, when casting lots take two candles, a
towel and a mirror to an uninhabited house. The candles are lit and placed
near the mirror. Wiping moisture from the mirror with the towel, they would
see their future mate. Worthy of attention in magic rituals' execution
is total nudity. After supper, the girl should climb up into the attic,
undress and walk three times around the chimney, then in total darkness
she will see the young man she will marry. It is said that one should run
to the bathhouse, undress and stand totally naked on the doorstep, bend
to look into the stove's opening there she'll see her future husband.
Total belief belongs to magic spiritual rituals, when the girl takes her
hair and burns them while speaking the name of her supposed male. If that
man lives near by, then he comes around the same night. If he lives farther
away, he comes in the morning, and asks who was calling him. The future
mate can be seen after collecting crumbs from all Christmas Eve supper
foods and burning them in the entry way in a fire lit with remaining Advent
splinters. A man's facial features can be seen in the rising smoke.
Christians began celebrating Christ's birth on December
25th , according to the civilian Roman calendar. Ethnographers maintain
that Christmas is an ancestral holiday. It is sun and nature Gods' birthday.
Lithuanian Christmas rites have much in common with the rites of other
Indo European nations.
On Christmas morning, the Christmas Eve supper table
was cleared away and checked to see if souls of the dead left any signs
of having been at the table.
Pork or wild boar meats were ancient traditional Christmas
foods. Later written sources mention ritual pork meat dishes eaten during
spring festivals and the start of agrarian labors. Tradition of slaughtering
pigs before Christmas was widespread throughout Lithuania. Pig's head,
decorated with greenery, was the main Christmas dish. In Samogitia the
traditional ritual food is hodgepodge with pig's tail sticking out of the
serving dish. This was prepared by that member of the family who stayed
home to look after the property while other members attended midnight mass.
At the beginning of 19th century, authors J.Pabrëþa
and S.Daukantas wrote that on Christmas day groups of men, singing ancient
hymns and beating wooden folk instruments, dragged about a yule log [ a.k.a.
blukas ] from house to house, while greeting the owners and wishing them
a Happy New Year. These men were graciously treated to Christmas goodies.
Then the yule log was dragged out of the village and set on fire.
Christmas merry making usually began on the second day
of Christmas or on the eve of the first day of Christmas and continued
until Epiphany, the feast of the Three Kings. Youth groups called alms
collectors, darlings, gypsies or by other names, walked through villages
under the pretext of wishing good harvests while greeting all homeowners.
They received gifts for their greetings. Each group's leader had the duty
to request permission to enter homes only when invited. P.Dundulienë
Writes that in the region of Tauragë, the youth
group was made of twelve young men, dressed in red trousers, wearing jackets
back to front, with hats, bells and whips in hands. Before entering houses
they would chase evil spirits in the villages and behaved uproariously.
When an invitation was given to enter the house, they sang and wished good
harvest. In the Highlands, the youth group was collected by Santa Claus,
saying to each of them, " I will lead the lambs". Each youth clung to Santa's
coat and soon a flock of lambs was collected. Santa was a popular Christmas
wanderer, dressed in an inside out fur coat, humpbacked, carrying a crooked
cane and a bag to hold gifts. Santa knocked on doors with his cane. When
asked who is knocking, he would answer, "this is Santa, I came from the
other land, where there are hills of flour, rivers of honey, lakes of beer,
rains in candy, snows in bagels. I carry a bag filled with luck, harvest
and other goodies. Please open the door and don't chase me away to the
other land". Once inside the house, Santa gave nuts to the children, sang
and danced with them. In the region of Vilnius, on the first day of Christmas,
children walked near windows bleating like lambs. The owner of the house,
under whose windows they bleated knew immediately that the coming year
would be very lucky and was generous in gift giving to those children.
In seacoast villages, Santa was replaced by a night watchman
who walked near every house, singing Christmas hymns and wishing success
to everyone. He was awarded delicious foods for all his doings.
In the region of ilalë young people visited to
express Christmas greetings to each other. They sang beautifully and once
inside were invited to eat potato sausages, potato cakes, drink beer and
sing and dance.
On the second day of Christmas, the feast of St.Stephen,
the first Catholic martyr, oats were taken to church to be blessed. It
was also the last day of work for the hired hands, who were paid in grain,
especially oats. They would donate part of their grain to church so that
God would bless them and their earnings. In some regions at the beginning
of this century, the mistress of the house greeted new hired hands with
blessed oats, while the master of the house sprinkled their heads with
blessed oats, with the wish that everything would be well.
At the end of 19th century, in villages throughout Lithuania,
Christmas celebrations lasted three and four days under the pretext that
ice would not destroy the grain fields. During the time between Christmas
and Epiphany certain works were allowed while others were not. Almost no
work was done after sunset and on holiday evenings: no spinning and no
grinding. Only feather tearing could be done.
These traditions continued until Christian times. It
was written in the Jesuit Chronicles, " these pagans still celebrate twelve
day evenings after Christmas, they do no work but continue their holy rest.
They use that rest to ask God for health for their sheep. They believe
that without rest the new born lambs will have no head or legs. It is almost
impossible to change their behavior and beliefs".