VILNIUS - On All Saints Day and All Souls Day Lithuanians return to their homes, wherever they may be, and place candles on the graves of lost loved ones to honor their lives.
All Saints Day is devoted to prayers giving thanks to all the saints. It is also traditional to fast on this day. Following this is All Souls Day, when people go in droves to the cemetery. The traffic to cemeteries is so busy that police are needed to regulate it.
Candles have begun to appear supermarkets near the cash register. They are placed there in preparation for the days, which fall on Nov. 1 and 2. There are lots of options for different sized glass-contained candles. Some are tea-candle sized while others require two hands to hold.
Graves are cleaned, repainted and repaired before the weekend. School children sometimes go to neglected cemeteries to clean them up in the stead of relatives of the dead who have also passed away.
The rituals come from the belief that on All Souls Day, Nov. 2, the dead return to their homes on Earth. The souls of the dead are warmly received and treated according to the rituals of their ancestors.
Historians say that traditionally during this festival people would gather in cemeteries where women would sob and lament the loss of their men, remembering their valor, honesty and good habits.
Last year I went to All Saints Day and All Souls Days in the town of Raseiniai, central Lithuania, where we placed candles around the local cemetery for numerous people who had passed on. It is customary to place candles on the graves that have none.
When I arrived in the town I felt like an outsider. I had never been to a cemetery to honor anyone else's family before and I felt like a little bit of an intruder, but my companions assured me that it was all right.
We bought our candles on our way to the cemetery from the flower markets, which become candle markets on the day. As we got closer to the grounds, we could see lots of people walking in the same direction, all with hands and bags full of candles.
Sundown seems to be the most popular time to go and light candles and the view is breath taking. Thousands of candles on the hill sitting on the ground not only light up the place, but also warm it too. When the wind blew my way, I could feel the warmth wash over me.
People then said their prayers to remember the dead and, after the ceremony, went home to a feast of fish that had been pre-prepared. I think this is a great way to honor the dead 's by spending a good time with the living.
Another tradition of the evening is throwing sand around the house. Mothers who have lost their children hope to wake up and see small footprints in the sand, which shows that the souls of their children visited them in the night.
Don't miss the chance to go with a Lithuanian friend or relative to see this interesting tradition.