Wares plied at traditional fair

  • 2001-03-08
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Vilnius' old town was taken over by activities and stalls of the annual Kaziukas fair occupied the center of Vilnius on March 2-4. Tens of thousands of people from around the country came to buy, sell and haggle over souvenirs Ð even though many have little practical use. Lithuanians often spend up to 40 litas ($10) at the fair, because tradition obliges them to do so.

The Kaziukas fair has been held for centuries on St. Casimir's (Kazimieras in Lithuanian) Day. Casimir died on March 4, 1484. His father was a Lithuanian grand duke and king of Poland and his mother was also of aristocratic blood, hailing from the Austrian Habsburg family. In 1602, the Vatican proclaimed him a saint and patron of Lithuania because he devoted his life to prayer. Casimir's body lies in one of the chapels in Vilnius Cathedral.

Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis celebrated Mass in Cathedral Square on March 4. President Valdas Adamkus and his predecessor Algirdas Brazauskas, Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, U.S. Ambassador John Tefft and several thousand others attended.

Casimir is the Latin version of the name. Lithuanians use the Lithuanian versions: for men, Kazimieras, Kazys, Kaziukas, Kazimiera for women, Kazyte for girls. The traders on Pilies and Didzioji streets promised discounts for the holders of these names.

For most Lithuanians the day is associated with wooden spoons, angels and whistles, roses made of iron, and heart-shaped cakes. Verbos - dried flowers and grasses braided together and tied to sticks - are also popular.

Local Poles in the villages around Vilnius make the verbos.

"Kaziukas unites Lithuanians and Poles," said historian Arturas Dubonis, who came to the fair, as most people do, with his family - his wife, daughter and son.

Other Kaziukas markets were held in the newer suburbs of Vilnius, but the center of the fair was the Old Town, as it is every year.

A traditional inn in the style of Aukstaitija - Lithuania's western "highland" region - was built in front of the Town Hall. Food characteristic of the region was on offer, such as beer soup with honey. Street musicians played folk songs. About a dozen people wandered around the Old Town wearing strange clothes. The band of bohemians said they had just returned from a carnival in Venice.

There were also some more unusual souvenirs on sale at this year's fair. A middle-aged man sold what he called "Kaziukas coins", which showed a Lithuanian farmer on one side. Asked what could be bought with such money, he answered, laughing, "Kazyte."