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Pagans, Christians unite for advent

  • 2007-12-12
  • By Kimberly Kweder

CRANK UP THE KANKLES: Traditional music played on this folk instrument is part of the Advent festivities.

VILNIUS - A sacred fire built to burn off misfortunes... songs to the goddess of fire... it doesn't sound very Christian, but for Lithuanians the celebration of Advent 's the season leading up to Christmas 's is done in a way that harks back to ancient times, reflecting the county's deeply rooted pagan traditions.
Those in Vilnius on Dec. 16 will be able to witness this celebration first hand when the city will host an Advent evening, starting at 3 p.m., that will include songs, dancing and games that reflect nature and the passage of time.

"Vidury lauko grusele" (Pear-Tree in the Middle of the Field) is the title of the event in Vilnius City Hall where two creative folk groups, Sedula and Kursiu Ainiai, will perform songs and traditional folk dance.
And at Verkiu Park, the Kulgrinda group and Folkgroup of Strange Folklore (Keisto Folkloro Grupe) will also hold performances.
Advent is a special time in Lithuania 's a time to relax and spend time with family before the feast of 12 meals starts on Christmas Eve. The Latin word "advenire" is a time of waiting and preparing for the arrival of the Christ child.

And for the pagans, it is a time for renewal of the season and of the human spirit. 
"In pagan times, Advent is also a time of death in nature. Light and darkness are fighting, and in the pear-tree song we will sing about the transformation because people didn't know when the sun would return again, so they sang about the tree of life," explained Daila Urbanavicene, a Kulgrinda dancer. 

Christians and pagan traditions often coincide because they trace their feasts to the same calendar.
"Christians couldn't decide the exact day when Christ was born, so they decided to make it Dec. 25 and this is the same time when the pagans celebrate the sun rising earlier. In traditional Advent, it is a time to be calm and quiet for ancient pagans and Christians alike," said Daiva Steponariciene, a Sedula folk dancer and singer.
Some of the lyrics in Advent songs describe birds in a nest, trees, a garden, the sun and relationships.
In the Sedula program, six women will sing fragments from the 33 traditional songs that unlock magic that can lead to a wealthier life and good fortune in the new year.

Two lines will form and the Sedula dancers will move forward and back to form a bridge that symbolizes the passage between the old and new year.
The dancing for both events will feature soft movements mixed with those that are upbeat and loud.
The creative folk group Kulgrinda will encourage participants to dance along to drums, bag pipes and the Lithuanian kankles; a long wooden string instrument.
Kulgrinda's leaders are in charge of stoking up the sacred fire dedicated to the pagan priest, Lizdeika, in the park's forests.

"It is a time for connections with our ancestors 's for them to bring help again, and for us to celebrate the life of the living and life after death," Urbanavicene said.

Advent celebrations
Dec. 16, from 3 p.m.
Vilnius City Hall, Verkiu Park
Admission free