Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 6

On Day Six of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we welcome back Daiva Venckus! Daiva is the author of an upcoming book about her experience working for the leaders of the Lithuanian revolution during the collapse of the Soviet Union. For more on her experience please visit her website, and she can be found on twitter @DaivaVenckus and on facebook

Lithuanian Pre-Christian Rituals and Superstitions in Today’s Catholic Celebration

Long before Christianity, Baltic tribes shaped their faith from the natural world. The simple cosmology of the circle of life, of death and rebirth formed the foundation of tradition and ritual.


Before Christmas existed, the Balts celebrated Winter solstice as a part of this cosmological understanding. The essence of Winter solstice is represented in the following ancient Lithuanian song:

A pear stands in the middle of the field, Kaleda.
Oh! And a spark fell, Kaleda.
Oh! And the blue sea spilled over, Kaleda.
On that sea – a ship is sailing, Kaleda.
In that ship – a chair stands, Kaleda.
On that chair – a girl sits, Kaleda.

“The word Kaleda refers to the time of Winter solstice. A candle burns in a pear tree – in the world tree. The fire of the candle is the sacred altar fire. A spark falls, creating the sea – moving the sacred waters, awakening the universal force of life.”
(From Inija Trinkuniene, Leader of the Vilnius Indigenous Religious community, Romuva)


The “Deer Mother” who represented the “life-giving-mother-deity,” was a center figure in Winter solstice celebrations in ancient and primitive cultures.
The Deer Mother flew across the earth on the longest, darkest day of the year carrying the sun within her antlers to usher in the return of the sun and resume the fertility of the land.
In Lithuania, the Devyniaragis, a white deer with nine antler points, carried celestial bodies, in particular, the sun and the moon within its antlers.
The Deer Mother legends varied, as there are stories in both Lithuanian and Latvian cultures of the goddess Saule flying across the sky in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and throwing amber (a symbol of the sun) into the chimneys below.

One can see how this pre-Christian belief has permeated into modern Christmas traditions celebrated today.

Lithuanian Christmas, or Kaleda, customs have retained many of the pre-Christian rituals and absorbed Christian meaning. Some are practiced in most Lithuanian households, and others, perhaps require living on a farm to be observed.

Preparations for the Christmas celebration were a part of the ritual.
Cleaning, bathing, and fasting to purify oneself for the sacred event was common.
The house would be decorated with evergreens to recreate the “sacred grove” for the celebratory rituals. In the middle of winter while most vegetation are in a deep sleep, evergreen fir and pine trees continued to thrive and represented the sacred powers of life and fertility.
Bringing in a small fir tree and decorating it was a German influence and became a custom after World War I.


Christmas Eve began with the Kucia bread, made of various grains, which represents regeneration. Once all guests had arrived, the male host of the house would take the Kucia bread and circle the farmstead three times, and then knock on the door. When asked, “Who’s there,” he’d reply, “Dearest God with the Kucia bread.” The bread then would be shared amongst the guests after blessings.
It was unlucky for an odd number of people to gather at the table, so those who had no place to go were often invited.
The more common version of this custom practiced today is the sharing of the Christmas communion wafer with the added tradition of trying to remain with the largest piece since it meant you’d have a lucky year.

Underlying the celebration of Christ’s birth was the ongoing celebration of ensuring the awakening the universal force of life that gives sustenance to the family. Many of the superstitions revolved around ensuring a bountiful harvest and the fertility and health of livestock:
--The entire family must eat the Kucia meal together to ensure the animals do not scatter.
--The fruit trees were wrapped in straw to increase their productions.
--Sprinkling wheat and peas in the barn will ensure good animals.
--After the dinner all the milk pots are taken outside and placed all over the farmstead so the cows would give more milk in the next year.
--If you want your horses to be good looking, steal manure from your neighbor and feed it to your horses.
--To keep wolves from carrying away animals, mention wolves while eating.

The Christmas Eve table was covered with a white linen tablecloth and hay underneath it.
After Christianity was introduced, the hay represented the hay in the manger of Jesus’ birth.
However, the hay provided fodder for predictions. After the dinner everyone pulls a hay straw from under the tablecloth. The length of the straw indicates how long one will live. For the younger unmarried individuals, the length of the straw indicates how soon, or how long they’ll have to wait to marry. Those who pulled the fatest straws were predicted to grow fat with prosperity and wealth.

I’m sure everyone is well aware that twelve meatless, non-dairy dishes are prepared for the meal. After the introduction of Christianity, these twelve dishes represented the twelve apostles. In pre-Christian times they represented the twelve months of the solar calendar, indicating the position of the Earth on its revolution around the sun. But originally, thirteen dishes were prepared to represent the lunar calendar, as the moon rotates around the Earth every twenty-eight days.

One must eat from every dish, or else, the superstition states they might not live to see the next Christmas. Leaving the table before everyone has eaten was also considered unlucky.

A candle is often lit if someone died in the past year to invite them to the celebration. The fire invokes the eternal sacred fire, representing the unbroken lifeline of the family and ancestors.
An empty plate remains on the table for those who are no longer with us. Food also must be left on the table overnight for the ancestors to feast and to bring them peace. Sometimes a cup of kvass would also be left for them.


While the ancient tradition of winter solstice represented the regeneration of life, it's no surprise that wedding predictions have become a main focus of forecasts and superstitions during Christmas. 
--A young girl could learn the name of her future husband by writing every name she can think of on separate slips of paper and placing them in her pillowcase. On Christmas morning she can draw a name to discover the name of her future spouse.
--A girl of marriageable age would go out and return with wood for the fire. If she brought back an even number, then she’d be married that year.
--The windows are covered. A rooster’s and a hen’s tails are tied together. If the rooster pulls the hen to the door, there’ll be a wedding, if the hen pulls the rooster, there will be no wedding.
--A ring is dropped into a glass of water. The number of ripples shows the number of years before her wedding.

Christmas Eve was considered a magical time. At midnight, animals gained the ability to speak like humans and, having additional psychic ability, were rumored to talk about when their masters will die. However, it was dangerous to venture to the barn to find out what they were talking about because of the topic of their conversation, which is something no person should know.


On Christmas morning the dinner table is cleared away, but first, everyone checks to see if there is any evidence that the souls of their ancestors visited them and enjoyed the feast while everyone slept.

The hay is removed from the table and given to the animals in the barn, to recognize the animals present in the manger where Jesus was born. If the hay leaves most of its grain and seeds on the table, then it meant they’ll have a bountiful harvest the following year.

The weather during Christmas also provided predictions. A clear Christmas Eve night would predict a good year for all. If snow had fallen Christmas morning and covered the ground, then Easter was going to be green. If snow hadn’t fallen, then expect snow on Easter Day instead.

Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, the symbols of the cycle of life, and the return of the sun form the foundation and continue to permeate the Lithuanian Christmas rituals practiced today.

Some interesting links:

Thank you Daiva! It is fascinating to compare the Lithuanian and Latvian holiday fortune-telling customs, and I'm not at all surprised how similar some of them are... Daiva helped make the 1st 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas a success, and I urge you to visit her 2014 post, Kucios: The Connection Between the Dead and Living. Please join us again tomorrow for more Baltic Christmas inspiration in the form of a gift guide!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 5, a Baltic Christmas at the MSI in Chicago

Today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we travel from Atlanta (where we saw the 1st ever Lithuanian Christmas tree at the Atlanta International Airport), to Chicago - for the Christmas Around the World Celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry, where all three of the Baltic countries have a Christmas tree!

The tradition began in 1942 with a single tree, newly decorated every day for 12 days to represent the countries fighting alongside America during World War II. The display has since grown to feature more than 50 trees and displays, decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe – among those Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Estonia’s tree is decorated with small dolls in national costumes, apples, snowflakes and mittens. The dolls and their costumes are representative of the tradition of national dress, which is best represented at the Song and Dance Festival. Most of the 20,000 singers and 7,000 folk dancers wear their folk costumes at the Festival, which takes place in Tallinn once every five years. The garlands are woven belts that are part of the national costume, and specific to their region in Estonia. The handmade children’s mittens represent the longstanding craft of knitting, while snowflakes and icicles adorn the tree to evoke the cold winters.

The Latvian tree was decorated by the 8th graders at the Chicago Latvian School this year, accompanied by Ēriks Blumbergs (cub scout leader & parent), Inga Lucāne (Latvian tree coordinator) and Aleks Briedis (parent). Originally the tree was decorated by the Chicago Latvian Youth Association, and then for many years the Latvian boy scouts and girl guides completed the task. In recent years the scout leaders still coordinate the effort, but the decorating is a field trip for the Latvian School of Chicago's 8th graders. Traditionally, Latvians use natural materials for ornaments and decorations, and so the Latvian tree is adorned with puzuri, cranberry garlands, pinecones, apples and nuts. Similar to the Estonian belt decorations, the Latvian tree features garlands of prievītes, woven ribbons decorated with traditional designs.

The Lithuanian tree was for some time decorated by the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture. When Juze Dauzvardis (wife of Petras Dauzvardis, then-Consul General of Lithuania in Chicago) was first asked to decorate the MSI tree, she wanted to distinguish it from all the others, and her solution was to use ornaments made of white paper drinking straws instead of the traditional straw. The modern and urban twist on the tradition has survived to this day, and has spread to Christmas trees far and wide. Every year Balzekas Museum hosts a Straw Christmas Ornament Workshop; although this year’s workshop has already taken place, you can find more information on the event on their website.

Three years ago we had the chance to attend the Christmas Around the World annual Holidays of Light gala, and the (much smaller) boys got to explore the rest of the museum after hours. It was a memorable experience, and I'm looking forward to taking them back now that they are a little older, to view the Latvian tree and take another look at the historic Museum of Science and Industry. You can get a look at the 2013 holiday trees and read about the experience here.

250,000 people visit the Museum of Science and Industry Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibit each year. In addition to the Christmas trees, the exhibit features cultural performances, ornament building activities and photos with Santa; Sunday, December 11th the Knights of Lithuania Dancers & Suktinis are performing at 2:45pm. For a calendar of other events please visit the MoSI webpage here, and remember to tag your photos of the Baltic trees with the museum’s #MSIHoliday hashtag so we flood the feed with a Baltic Christmas!

Thank you to Ēriks Blūmbergs and Inga Lucāne for the photographs of the Latvian MSI Christmas tree! Tomorrow on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we have a very special guest, Lithuanian author Daiva Venckus. Please join us for an in-depth look at the pagan traditions that have helped shaped the modern Kaleda into the Christmas celebration it is today! 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 4 Lithuanians in ATL, the World's Busiest Airport

From Seattle to Atlanta, today during the 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we have landed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where the Atlanta Lithuanian-American Community has decorated a Christmas tree in the International Terminal!

The Director of International Business at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Ms. Arlene Barr invited the Atlanta Consular Corp (which represents 75 nations worldwide) to participate in ATL’s Winter Wonderland Celebration. Of the ten trees available to decorate throughout the International Terminal, the Lithuanian Honorary Consulate was selected to decorate one to showcase the beauty and unique qualities of the Lithuanian Christmas tradition. 

Šarunė Stankevičienė and Silvija Aniulienė joined Honorary Consul Dr. Roma Kličius to decorate the tree last week. The ornaments are all hand-made of straw (natural and plastic) by members of the Atlanta community, a portion especially crafted for this tree by Stankevičienė and Aniulienė.

Sarune adding the finishing touches

For information on events organized by the Lithuanian community in the Atlanta area please visit their website. The Atlantos Lietuviu Bendruomene / Atlanta Lithuanian-American Community is also on facebook here, with information on future events such as the December 10th Lithuanian Mass and Traditional Christmas Eve Dinner in Marietta on the events tab.

Šarunė Stankevičienė, Silvija Aniulienė and Dr. Roma Kličius, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania

Dr. Kličius writes, "We are really proud and thankful to Atlanta International Airport for the opportunity to display our Lithuanian 'business card' at the busiest airport in the world!" Thank you to Silvija Aniulienė and Dr. Kličius for their photographs and assistance with this post! Please join us tomorrow in our journery from ATL to ORD...

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 3 and the Seattle Bazaar

The Seattle Latvians were already gearing up for Christmas during November! As you are headed out to the various holiday markets going on today across the US and Canada (for a list, see yesterday's post to find the one closest to you!), we travel to the west coast for one market that has already occured.... The annual Seattle Latvian Christmas Bazaar took place November 12-13, and here with a look at this annual holiday celebration is Inta Wiest!

This tirdziņš is organized by the Washington State Latvian Association, with its board members assisting in planning and implementation.

Daina & Olga at the Latvian table

“Man pašai patīk skaistie latviešu rokdarbi un tautiskās rotas.” My favorites are the Latvian crafts and ethnic jewelry.

For a wide variety of traditional Latvian, Lithuanian and Livonian jewelry and other art (including works by Alfrēds Stinkuls), visit Baltic Crossroads

Daudzi nāk labi paēst, pirkt pīrāgus, kūkas un cepumus, baudīt  omulīgo atmosfēru.” Hundreds come to eat a hearty meal, buy pīrāgi, cakes and cookies, to enjoy the cozy atmosphere.

The Latvian school parents run the cookie market

Katrs tirdziņā var atrast kaut ko savai gaumei un iegādāties jaukas Ziemsvētku dāvanas.” Everyone can find something to suit their style, and to acquire lovely Christmas gifts.

Silvija's Glass Heart / Raksti stiklā

In addition to the Latvian bakery, the event featured Christmas specialty foods to take home, Latvian and modern jewelry, decorative pillows, knit fashions, stuffed toys, etched crystal, Latvian linens, books & handmade goods.

Latitude/longitude necklace by CJseattle.com

There is a Seattle Latvian Christmas Bazaar facebook page that will keep visitors appraised of dates of future Christmas tirdziņi as they are set. Wherever you may be today, I hope you have the chance to enjoy some skābie kāposti and desiņas, pīrāgi and tortes at your local Christmas market! Thank you to Inta for the pictures from the Seattle bazaar, and stay tuned tomorrow for a trip cross-country to Atlanta, Georgia

Maija, Kristīne, Lisa & Linda at the cake table

Friday, December 2, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 2 and the Christmas Bazaar

While living in Chicago I always looked forward to December and the various Christmas tirdziņi that would take place on the weekends. The several churches would each have a Christmas bazaar one December weekend, and the Latvian School would host theirs on the third Saturday. Although these markets are the perfect place to pick up beautiful handmade gifts, there’s always the lure of tortes and pīrāgi for those already finished with their holiday shopping!

Whether you are looking for traditional Baltic jewelry, linen textiles, ceramic art or just a few trimmings for your tree, here’s your chance! There are a few cities that host their markets in November*, but with more than a dozen tirdziņi still to come there is plenty of time to score the perfect Lithuanian, Estonian or Latvian present! Events are listed by date and alphabetical order by state (or country/city).**

photo source here

Today, December 2nd
PA (Applebachsville): 1-8pm Bucks County Latvian Baptist Church Kringle Christmas Shoppe (source)

Saturday, December 3rd
U.K. (London): 11am-4pm The Latvian Daugavas Vanagi annual holiday market to include concert by Anima Solla and folk dancing by the London Latvian school (source)
CA (San Francisco): 10am-4pm 3rd Annual Baltic Christmas Fair (source)
CO (Lakewood): The Colorado Latvians Christmas bazaar starts at 10am (source)
IL (Chicago): Not a market, but a wonderful opportunity to take home traditional Lithuanian holiday ornaments: "Learn how to create beautiful Lithuanian straw Christmas ornaments at this year's Straw Christmas Ornament Workshop at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture." (source
IL (Wood Dale): 9am-4pm The St. Peter’s Latvian Church bazaar
MI (Kalamazoo): 10am-2pm The Kalamazoo Latvians will host the 55th annual European Christmas Bazaar at the Latvian Center. 
MN (Minneapolis): 11am-3pm Latvian Ev. Luth. Church Christmas Bazaar (source
NY (NYC): 2-5pm NY Estonian House annual Jõululaat (source)
PA (Applebachsville): 10am-4:30pm Bucks County Latvian Baptist Church Kringle Christmas Shoppe (source)
PA (Philadelphia): 12-5pm The Latvian Society annual tirdziņš (source)
WI (Milwaukee): Holiday Cookie and Gift Fair (source)

Sunday, December 4th
Canada (Vancouver): 12pm: Kuldse Klubi jõululaat / Pensioner’s Club Christmas Bazaar (source)
CA (Los Angeles): The South-California Latvian Society hosts the Christmas bazaar in the Latvian House (source)
CO (Lakewood): The Colorado Latvians Christmas bazaar starts at 11am (source)
IL (Chicago): 9:15am The Latvian Daugavas Vanagi Christmas bazaar
MA (Brookline): 12-3pm The Boston Latvian Church Christmas Bazaar (source)
MD (Rockville): 12pm Washington DC Latvian Lutheran Church annual Christmas Bazaar
OH (Lakewood): Hosted by the Latvian Cleveland Womens Auxiliary, located at 1385 Andrews Ave.
PA (Applebachsville): 12:30-4:30pm Bucks County Latvian Baptist Church Kringle Christmas Shoppe (source)
PA (Philadelphia): 12-6pm The Latvian Society of Philadelphia’s annual holiday market (source)
NY (Melville): The NY Latvian Ev. Lutheran congregation’s annual Christmas bazaar at the Salas Church (source)

Saturday, December 10th
Canada (Toronto): 12-4pm An Estonian Christmas event for the whole family at the Toronto Estonian House (source)

Sunday, December 11th
Australia (Melbourne): 12:30-2pm Melbourne Lithuanian Club’s Prieškalėdinis Turgelis (source)
IL (Chicago): 9am Ciānas annual Christmas market, with a performance by folk dance troop Mantinieki and Latvian School Stariņš
WI (Milwaukee): 11am The Latvian church and school Christmas celebration and market (source)

Saturday, December 17th
IL (Chicago): The Latvian School of Chicago’s annual Christmas bazaar
MD (Baltimore): 2-8pm Lithuanian Hall Christmas Bazaar / Kalėdinė Mugė (source

Sunday, December 18th
Sweden (Stokholm): 1pm Hosted by the Swedish Latvian Association (source

December 26th-28th
Australia (Melbourne): 10am-3pm 56th Cultural Festival Market at the Melbourne Latvian House (source)

Please comment if you know of any Baltic Christmas markets/bazaars that I have missed – I will add them as I get them and I thank you in advance for your help!

Please, shop local and shop thoughtful this holiday season! Supporting the local tirdziņi is a great way to support the local craftspeople who are making traditional Baltic jewelry, textile goods and other handmade products, and not only do you get presents out of the deal, you also get fresh piparkūkas, oftentimes a warm lunch, and the company of other Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in this very merry holiday season! Cheerful shopping and welcome back tomorrow on day three of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas for a peek at a popular Christmas market here in the US…

* For future knowledge, those considering attending a Baltic Christmas market in November should look into the dates for the following:
- The Estonian House in Riverwoods, IL hosts the International Christmas Market “Jõululaat” on what is usually the second Saturday of the month. Holiday fun with Baltic and Scandinavian flare! (source)
- The Seattle Latvian Christmas Bazaar at the Latvian Cultural Center is often on the second weekend of the month. (source)
- Oregon Latvian Society hosts a Christmas market towards the end of November. (source)

** Cities that have held Latvian Christmas markets in the past (but that haven’t been featured in this year’s list as I don’t have updated information) include Adelaide (Australia), St. Petersburg (Florida), Rockville (Maryland) and Indianapolis (Indiana).

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