Lithuanians favor traditional holidays

  • 2000-04-27
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
Some Lithuanians disdain 'imported' holidays like Halloween and St. Valentine's Day. Rokas M. Tracevskis has the story.

The feast of the Resurrection came with he re-awakening of nature in Lithuania. It was hardly possible to find a family that did not paint or dye eggs for Easter on April 23. Easter Sunday is also a day for going to early morning mass. Churches were packed. Easter Monday, April 24, is set aside for visiting friends and relatives and enjoying enormous amounts of meats and salads.

"Lithuania is among the European nations with the lowest number of holidays," says Gediminas Ilgunas, adviser to the Lithuanian president. Lithuanians have exaggerated the cult of work and newspapers are full of readers' letters urging the state to minimize the number of holidays that mean days off of work.

Lithuania's official holidays are these: Jan. 1 - New Year, Feb. 16 - Independence Day (1918), March 11 - Restoration of Independence (1990), Easter Sunday and Monday, 1st Sunday of May - Mother's Day, July 6 - Coronation of Mindaugas, King of Lithuania (1251), Nov. 1 - All Saints, Dec. 25 - 26 - Christmas. There are several other less official holidays.

Christmas and Easter seem to be the most popular family holidays - celebrated widely, though not openly, even by the highest Communist "in crowd" during the Soviet occupation.

Akvilina Mercaitiene, an X-ray specialist, spent her life in the quarter of Soviet high nomenclature in Vilnius. Her husband was a member of the Communist Party Central Committee.

"Being a Communist boss meant a public performance. In real life, they remained normal Lithuanians, trying to use even minimal possibilities to be useful for the nation in the hard circumstances of foreign oppression," Mercaitiene said. The who's who of the Communist Party also celebrated "normal" holidays, though it was officially not advisable. Officially, Christmas and Easter simply didn't exist in Soviet times.

"The highest Communist nomenklatura celebrated Christmas and Easter in their families as did the rest of nation. You know, the painting of eggs, full tables. Their parents were going to church on Easter Sunday. Communist chiefs could not do it in these times," Mercaitiene said.

She said that even her neighbor, Ceslovas Jursenas, then a Central Committee member, now leader of Democratic Labor Party and the only current self-proclaimed atheist MP, was celebrating Easter.

Mercaitiene said her sister was born on Feb. 16, the Lithuanian Independence holiday. This holiday was the biggest taboo in Soviet times. "My sister was celebrating her birthday openly, although it was dangerous, in case somebody would pass word to the KGB. I know that some people, born on this day, were celebrating either on the eve or afterwards," Mercaitiene said.

"My favorite holidays are Catholic and Lithuanian holidays. Easter, Christmas, Feb. 16, March 11. I'm happy that we have our own state at least. I don't like these 'import' holidays - St. Valentine's Day, Halloween. Young kids like them, but to me they look artificial here," Mercaitiene said.

She is not alone in her views.

"I don't like St. Valentine. It is a somewhat plastic holiday. I prefer Jonines," Vytenis Andriukaitis, leader of Social Democratic Party, said. On Jonines (St. John's Day), June 24, bonfires burn, wreaths float on the water, people sing and dance during the shortest night of the year.

"I like Shrove Tuesday most of all. Masked and strangely dressed people wander in the streets of Vilnius on this day. Cafes are cooking blynai [pancakes] in the streets of Vilnius. Blynai are for free," schoolgirl Asta said.

"I like Kaziukas Fair on March 4 that is devoted to Lithuania's patron Saint Casimir. This year March 4 was very special to me. I went with the church choir to sing at the Vatican. Meeting with the Pope made a great impression on me. It is difficult to express this feeling in words. The Italian policemen also made a nice impression. They were very polite and willing to show the way," said Anitra Baziene.

This March 4 was extraordinary not only to her. Some 3,000 pilgrims from Lithuania visited Rome on this day. Even President Valdas Adamkus joined them.