THE DAY FOR CELEBRATING THE DEAD [ a.k.a. VËLINËS ] –
In Lithuania, remembrance of the dead took place during all annual feast
days. Come autumn, when all work was done, Lithuanians carried out special
rituals honoring the souls of their dead ancestors.
J.Dlugosh [15th century ] and M.Strijovski
[16th century ] wrote that this ritual took place in the month of October
and continued from St.Michael's, September 29th through St.Martin's, November
11th .Other sources state that the time for honoring the dead was end of
October and beginning of November. In ancient writings this ritual is called
" Ilgës", pangs of love or longings. The name comes from the fact
that this ritual went on for a long time, long ritual. In Eastern Lithuania
, this ritual was called " Dziedu" days, old men's days. This name was
related to beggars, who are asked to pray for the souls of the dead.
The ritual traditions of the dead were directly related
to peoples' belief that on that day the souls of the dead return to earth,
to their homes. Therefore the souls of the dead were graciously received
and treated according to rituals of the ancestors. All 16th and 19th century
writings single out hospitality shown to the souls of the dead. According
to M.Strijovskis, during this feast people gathered in cemeteries, where
women sobbed and lamented over their men, remembering their valor, honesty
and good habits. Afterwards the women prepared plentiful suppers. The Kuronians,
Ziemgals, Prussians, remembering their dead would go straight from church
to a tavern, where they brewed beer, women brought baskets filled with
cold, cooked and baked fish, which was eaten without knives. Portions of
food and drink were poured under the table.
M.Pretorijus writing about traditions of Westernmost
Lithuania said: " the soul of the dead cannot rest if the table is not
set". Historian T.Narbutas, writes in the 19th century that on the eve
of the Day of the Dead, father gathered the family around the table and
recited this prayer: " dear souls of the dead, you are still remembered
by the members of my family, you are most worthy of our perpetual remembrance,
especially you, my grandparents, my parents, also our relatives, children
and everyone whom death took away from our home. I invite you to this annual
feast. We wish that this feast is agreeable to you, just like memory of
all of you, is to us ''. After a short silence, father asks everyone to
sit at the table and eat. Food was eaten in silence.
At the beginning of the 19th century, in the district
of Noèia, county of Lyda, Lithuanians prepared twelve different
dark foods. People gathered around the table quietly. It was believed that
the souls of the dead partook of the meal together with the living members.
Even at the beginning of the 20th century, in some parts of Lithuania,
an assortment of foods was brought to cemeteries at the beginning of November
and left there. Upon returning home from the cemetery, all family members
went to wash in the bathhouse. Supper of seven different foods of meat,
grains and eggs was prepared and the table was set in a room with windows
and doors open wide. The oldest person picked up a candle, circled it around
his head and three times around the food then lit it and set it on the
table. Everyone spilled a portion of his drink, where no one sat at the
corner of the table, saying, " this is for you, dear souls". An assortment
of foods was also placed on that corner of the table and then everyone
began to eat.
In the Dieveniðkës region, still at the beginning
of the 20th century, on October's first Saturday evening, the souls of
the dead were feted. Everyone washed up in the evening, started a fire
in the cook stove and cooked traditional foods, beet soup, buckwheat porridge,
meat, also baked a buckwheat cake. These foods were eaten after midnight,
after everyone had taken a nap. The eldest family member poured three tablespoons
of beet soup under the table for the souls of the dead. Family eating was
begun after this pouring. A portion of each food was placed in a basket
and was taken to the beggars. The buckwheat porridge, baked in sheep's
stomach and hen's or rooster's right leg or left wing were taken to church
as an offering.
In 1998, Mrs.M.Dvynelienë, born in 1900 in this
region, told about the autumn of her youth, when all work was completed
then celebrations took place. Nine bowls with different foods were set
on the table, while a tenth bowl was set at the head of the table, into
which three spoonfuls from each of the nine bowls were poured. Then the
contents of the tenth bowl were mixed with buckwheat flour and using the
mixture, rolls were baked for the dead souls. The number of rolls equaled
the number of dead family members. The rolls were given to the beggars,
so that they would pray for the dead family members. It was found out from
D.Poðka, that in 1823 food allotted to the dead souls is given away
to the beggars.
At the beginning of this century, on All Souls' Day [
a.k.a. Vëlinës ], special bread rolls were baked for the beggars.
Giving the rolls to the beggars, each roll was assigned a name of a dead
family member, with a request of prayers for the dead. Others would dispense
the bread rolls to the dead souls, before putting the rolls into the oven.
The first roll went to mother's soul, second to grandfather's and so on.
A special roll was baked for a soul which no one remembered. In other regions
a cross was scratched on the top of the roll.
In northern Lithuania, in the forties a Feast of the
Graves, [ a.k.a. Kapðventis ] was celebrated, an autumn holiday by
the entire village. A part of donated money was given to the parish priest,
and with the remaining money, ritual food was prepared for the priest.
Everyone prepared for this feast, invited family and friends. A table covered
with a white tablecloth, topped with a burning candle was set in the cemetery.
In Lithuania, the belief that souls of the dead came
for a visit during All Souls' Day, lasted a long time. Some said that the
souls visited their family homes, others said that they came to cemeteries
and even others that the souls congregated in churches.
The most ancient version is that the souls return home.
In the region of Žeimelis, tables would be set with foods in the
evening, in rooms with doors and windows ajar to allow the souls of the
dead, easy entry. In the towns of Kupiðkis and Panevëþys,
on the eve of All Souls Day, everyone expected visits from the souls of
dead family members, therefore white and soft beds were prepared. Blessed
candles were placed and lit on either side of the pillow and the family
knelt near the bed awaiting the arrival of the soul of their dead family
member. They would hear cracking in ceilings or floors, which meant that
the dead souls had arrived.
The Samogitians had a long standing belief that on the
Eve of All souls Day, all souls of the dead were released from Purgatory
and away from suffering. Thus all roads to churches are traveled by the
souls, to pray there, or the souls return home to visit their families.
Seeing flickering candles, the souls gathered and prayed near wayside crosses.
Souls of dead children, those buried in diapers and unable to walk, roll
on the church floor.
Traditions of honoring the dead took shape in the middle
of 19th century: joint visits to cemeteries, decorating of graves, lighting
of candles, prayers and support of beggars. In the region of Varëna,
it is known that candles were burning in churchyards around 1880 – a symbolic
grave was laid and covered with burning candles. After the parish priest
blessed all the candles, people carried them away, placing a candle on
their family grave. It was thought that those souls who did not ascend
to heaven, roam about in perpetual darkness and for this reason lighted
candles were placed on grave sites to light the way for them.
In the forties, in several Lithuanian churches celebrations
of the dead took place during eight days. From 1966, after publication
of the traditions, the eight day practice became a national commemoration
octave in all the Lithuanian dioceses.
In the village of Margonys, region of Varëna, today
on all eight nights bonfires are lit in cemeteries and all country folk
pray for the dead buried in that cemetery. On All Saints' Day and All Souls'
Day, year after year, Lithuanian gravesites are decorated with most beautiful
flowers and burning candles.
The beliefs of All Souls' and All Saints' Days are:
1- on the day of All Souls, the souls of the dead come
to visit the living, asking that the living pray for them.
2 - one time before All Saints' Day, a homemaker swept
the house and sprinkled with sand. In the morning sees the floor covered
with small footprints, but there are no small children in the house. Therefore
she understood that souls of dead children had come into the house.
3 - if mother went to the cemetery at midnight on All
Souls' Day, she would see her dead children.
4 - on All Souls' Day, churches are filled with souls
of the dead. That day, the souls are not burning in hell. They are happy.
However some, whose mothers are wailing, these souls arrive wet, soaked
by earthly tears. No need to cry for the dead.
5 - on the Eve of All Saints' Day, one does not go visiting
or walking through villages because all roads and the country side are
filled with souls of the dead. There can also be some mean souls.
6 - on All Souls' Day and in the evening no ashes or
garbage should be taken out, because the souls can be witched by these
7 - if it rained on the night of All Souls' Day, there
will be numerous deaths the following year.
8 - if the sun did not shine on All Saints' Day, the
following year will be filled with misfortunes.
9 - if on All Saints' Day, trees are still fully covered
with leaves, it will be a year of black death.
10 - if a child is born on the eve of All Souls' Day,
when in life he attends a funeral meal, he will see evil souls.