Christmas in Lithuania is a special occasion with very old and deep traditions.
Christmas Eve (Kucios) is a more important day than Christmas Day. It is a special Christmas Eve meal when family members gather together. Kucios is also the last day of Advent, so it is important and special.
Straw is a traditional decoration. Is it normally spread on the table top and then covered with a clean, white tablecloth. The table is then decorated with candles and small branches or twigs from a fir tree. The straw reminds people of the baby Jesus lying in a manger.
Ingrida says "That evening the table setting is with a white tablecloth and no red or other Christmas ornaments just fir twigs."
At the center of the table is a plate of Christmas wafers - one wafer for each person at the meal. The meal starts when the first stars can be seen in the night sky. The wafers are offered to each person at the table and Christmas greetings are exchanged. Sometimes an apple is also cut into as many people at the meal and is shared. This remembers the apple eaten in the Garden of Eden.
Ingrida's table on Christmas Eve (Kucios)
The Kucios meal normally has 12 dishes - one for each of Jesus's followers. None of the dishes contain meat (and some people also don't have milk or eggs in them).
Traditional and popular dishes include fish (often herring), kuciukai (small sweet pastries) normally soaked in poppy milk, kisielius (a drink made from cranberries), dried fruit soup, beet soup (often with mushroom filled dumplings in it), vegetable salad, mushrooms, boiled or baked potatoes, sauerkraut, a kind of wheat porridge with honey and bread. Normally water or homemade cider is drunk with the meal.
Kuciukai before being soaked in the poppy seed milk
Lithuanian Christmas Eve table with kuciukai
Sweet dishes are also often eaten including kissel (a fruit soup/jelly thickened with potato flour) and stewed fruit compote.
After the meal (or possibly between the main and sweet courses) there might be a visit from 'The Old Man of Christmas' (Santa Claus) with presents! People will also exchange presents between themselves. It is also a tradition to draw a straw from underneath the table to see who will find the longest straw meaning they will live the longest.
Ingrida says "After the dinner we all enjoy drawing the straw from underneath the table cloth."
When the presents have been exchanged it is traditional to go out to Midnight Mass (Berneliu mišios - which means Shepherds' Mass).
Christmas Eve (Kuciios)
Popular Christmas Tree decorations in Lithuania are ones made from straws. They are often in the shapes of stars, snowflakes and other geometric shapes. Also apples and candy are hung.
Christmas Day is celebrated by visiting relatives and friends.
Lithuanian families today practice this ancient tradition of Christmas Eve not only in Lithuania but were ever Lithuanians resides. My family keeps up the traditions as much as possible.
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