VILNIUS - Imagine seeing the Neris River lit up with 3,000 candles while a 100-meter long grass snake floats downstream. A cepelinai-induced hallucination? A fever dream? No, this is how Vilnius residents will be celebrating this year's Autumn Equinox as the Interna-tional Festival of Fire Sculptures reaches its peak on Sept. 22.
The theme for this year's event is "Fire Grass Snakes," specifically the snake-shaped webbing designs used in decorative folk symbols and on ornamental belts.
Each year a different symbol is taken from traditional Lithuanian costume webbings and used as a theme for the festival. Long ago, Lithuanians believed that these webbings, which are made from strong, woven fabric, could protect them from evil spirits and misfortune.
"It's a connection from the past to the future, the bridge from what was to what will be [in the equinox]. It is connected to harmony...," said festival spokeswoman Kristina Ivanauskaite.
"Webbings have a lot of multi-colorful signs and we will use the same signs for the snake picture on the shore," Ivanauskaite said.
Along the river bank at 8 p.m., students from Vilnius secondary schools will "weave" two grass snakes by making patterns out of candles and then lighting them. The action will be accompanied by a musical composition organized by Gediminas Zilys, as well as samples of Lithuanian folk songs. The snake that floats on the river will be made of wood and foam material and decorated with candles. A boat will tow it from the boating base through the King Mindaugas Bridge.
The fire grass snakes is just one of the events of the International Festival of Fire Sculptures, which marks the Autumn Equinox and the Holiday of Duke Gediminas. In ancient times these ceremonies were held in memory of ancestors' souls, and people made sacrifices to the dead and to the gods to ensure a bountiful harvest season.
Ivanauskaite explained that fire is symbolic of the equinox because it represents the movement of the sun.
Other events in the festival include plays, performances of archaic songs and dances, and a carnival. These will be held Sept. 21 - 22 on Gediminas Avenue and in Sereikiskiu Park, Kalnu Park and Kalnu Park Stadium.
In a separate spectacular on Sept. 21, several 9-to-12 meter high straw sculptures 's created by professional artists and representing figures from Lithuanian mythology 's will be put up in open spaces of the city and then set alight. The torching happens at 9 p.m., but at press time organizers were keeping tight lipped about the planned locations. You'll have to keep your eyes peeled.
About 10,000 people attended last year's festival, according to Ivanauskaite, so it should be quite a scene.
The festival is organized by the Vilnius Center for Ethnic Activities, a non-profit center that promotes ethnic culture and education using funds provided by the city's cultural and art department.
The entrance to all shows is free.
International Festival of Fire Sculptures
Gediminas Avenue, Sereikiskiu Park, Kalnu Park, Kalnu Park Stadium
Sept. 21 's 22
Sculpture torching, Sept. 21 at 9 p.m.
Grass snakes candle lighting, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m.