What you should know about Lithuanian Christmas traditions

Blog created at Last updated December 30, 2020

Christmas is here again! This year is very different though. Thanks to global pandemic we will not be able to do some of the things we are used to. However we believe it is important not to forget how usual Christmas in Lithuania is celebrated. So let’s see what Christmas is all about for Lithuanians!

Christmas Eve Dinner in Lithuania

Christmas Eve in Lithuania is considered the most important day of the whole holiday season. It is officially a day-off from 2011 (as well as 25th & 26th). This is the time when all the family gathers together from different parts of the world to sit down around Christmas Eve table with close relatives. Twelve simple dishes that do not contain any meat should be prepared for Christmas Eve dinner. Everyone should try ALL of the dishes! As you can imagine, it is quite a lot. So usually there is less eating during the day time.

As Lithuania is predominantly a Catholic country, it is said that 12 dishes represent 12 apostles (followers of Jesus). However, it is believed that 12 dishes were served even before Catholicism spread all over the country. Those 12 dishes represented 12 months of the year that passed. Everyone had to try all the dishes so all the following months would be successful. One dish for one month.

Usually Christmas Eve dinner would start when the Western Star rises. At first, family members would share communion wafers that can be bought at every church before Christmas. Then everyone can start tasting twelve dishes. You can find different herring dishes on every Christmas Eve dinner table as well as kūčiukai (small pastries with poppy seeds made from leavened dough), poppy seed milk, grains, different kinds of nuts and dried fruits, kissel drink, kūčia (a dish made from different grains), potato salad, etc. Recently you can find more variety on Christmas Eve dinner table like salmon or even sushi.

A bowl of kuciukai -  very popular Christmas pastries
You will always find kūčiukai on Christmas Eve Dinner table in Lithuania. Photo by Aistė Jūrė

Kūčiukai deserves more attention. This is the type of food you will not find anywhere apart from Christmas season. We forget these pastries exist from the day after Christmas Eve dinner till next December. Only when Christmas starts approaching Lithuanians start looking for kūčiukai in supermarkets or try to make them at home. We just cannot imagine our Christmas Eve Dinner without kūčiukai.

Do not get surprised if there are too many plates of Christmas Eve dinner table. Usually one empty plate is left for the diseased. It is believed that souls of the diseased join the family on Christmas Eve.

Some families still follow old Christmas Eve traditions after dinner. Usually you can find some hay placed under the tablecloth before the dinner starts. After the dinner family members take one straw. It is said if you draw out a long straw, you will have a very long life. On the other hand, if you draw out a short straw, your life will not be as long.

Lithuanian Christmas trees

Christmas trees in Lithuania are essential to create Christmas spirit. I am talking about not only Christmas trees we light up at our houses. Every city, big or small, has its own Christmas tree in the main square. And those Christmas trees are impressive! Of course, bigger cities like Vilnius and Kaunas always have the largest trees and try to impress not only Lithuania, but the whole world. However even small towns understand the value of Christmas trees. A great example is Širvintos – a town with a population of 6000 people around 50 km from Vilnius. In 2018, the town surprised Lithuania with an impressive Christmas tree. Local tourists started flooding from other towns close by to admire original Christmas tree. Since then Širvintos takes Christmas decorations very seriously and tries to surprise Lithuanians every year. You can check Lithuanian Christmas trees in 2020. You can even vote for the most beautiful one until 3rd of January.

The main Vilnius Christmas tree in 2019
The main Vilnius Christmas tree in 2019 at the Cathedral square

By the way, you might have heard that Latvians & Estonians argue to this day who had the first decorated Christmas tree. We are not involved in this competition. Our Vilnius Christmas tree is usually selected as the most beautiful Christmas tree in Europe anyway laugh

White Christmas in Lithuania - will there be snow?

White Christmas is very important to Lithuanians. One of the questions we ask in December is whether there will be snow during Christmas. Because Christmas without any snow is not really Christmas.

Let’s see what do professionals say. According to Lithuanian Hydro meteorological Service (LHMT) since 1961 there were only 11 years when Lithuania was covered with snow for three full days from 24th to 26th of December. The last year like this was 2012. During other years, we had snow in some parts of Lithuania or snow just for one day. It depends a lot on the region you live in. Meteorologists say that probability to have snow for at least one day of Christmas in Vilnius is over 70% according to the statistics since 1961. That sounds quite fine. However Christmas without snow is more and more common since 2013… So the probabilities might change in upcoming years. The good news is that we expect to have some snow on Christmas day in 2020 smiley Even a bit of snow helps to lift up the Christmas spirit!

Other Christmas traditions in Lithuania

Going to church with your family on Christmas morning is one of our Christmas traditions. Lithuania is a Catholic country, however most of Lithuanians do not attend church every Sunday. Only Christmas and Easter are the celebrations that bring more people to church than usual;

Usually the first day of Christmas is spent with your closest family members, and the second one is for visiting other relatives or friends;

Usually gifts are exchanged on Christmas morning. However some families unwrap gifts after Christmas Eve Dinner;

I hope this article helped you to get a better picture of Christmas in Lithuania or compare they way Lithuanians celebrate to your own country. Every year Christmas season is magical in Lithuania. Vilnius always surprise its citizens with mazing Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, Christmas markets, events and so on. Even though this year is definitely different, there are still things to be excited about in Vilnius this Christmas.

If you happen to be in Lithuania during Christmas season, please keep in mind that this is the most important time of the year for family gatherings. Do not expect to see much going on from 24th to 26th of December. Most of the shops are closed and most of the locals are out of Vilnius visiting their relatives all over the country.