NB! All saints Day (November 1st) and Day of the Souls (2nd of November) are bank holidays in Lithuania, and that’s why some places might be closed or work shorter on these days.
The late autumn might seem as the worst time to come to Vilnius. It’s getting colder every day and the rain just won’t stop. Most of summer attractions have been closed and Christmas season hasn’t started yet. So what could save your trip to Lithuania? Maybe joining traditional Lithuanian celebrations and learning about centuries old local traditions? If you read the title of this post, you probably already guessed what we are talking about.
All saints Day (November 1st) and Day of the Souls known as Vėlinės (November 2nd): meaning and history
First of all, you should know that Lithuania is a predominantly Catholic country, so All saints Day and Vėlinės are quite important religious holidays. Traditionally it’s believed that souls of the dead come to visit the earth during those two days. That’s why the celebrations involve visiting the graves of one's relatives and lighting candles there. By doing this, we remember and honor our loved ones, who passed away. If you think that this reminds you of something, it might be compared to the day of Dead in Mexico. However, it’s definitely less flashy. We are reserved northerners after all.
Actually, remembering and honoring the forefathers and one’s relatives has way deeper roots in this region than Christianity. Almost all celebrations in pagan Lithuania involved some kind of offerings to the souls of dead, hoping they will protect the living and bring good fortune. After Lithuania was baptized and pagan believes and traditions melted with Christian-ones, huge fires were burned in the cemeteries. It was believed that fire is a mediator between worlds of living and dead and that it can help lost souls to find path to Heaven.
During Soviet times Vėlinės used to be persecuted, like every other religious holiday. Soviets especially tried to forbid people from lighting candles on the graves of non-Soviet historical figures.
Nowadays, not so many people in Lithuania are active Catholics (or Pagans) so many religious celebrations lost initial importance. However, visiting the graves of one’s relatives is still one of the main duties for any family in Lithuania. By the way, since most of Vilnius inhabitants are originally from rural areas or other towns, first weekend of November might also be known as “The great migration”. Everyone tries to go back to their hometown, and visit all the family graves in two days. No need to say that it’s a very stressful time for many Lithuanians. Maybe that’s why our Parliament plans to make Vėlinės (November 2nd) bank holiday as well. Just to give people time to visit their families and light the candles without rushing.
Visiting Vilnius cemeteries
Stressful or not, a visit to any cemetery is spectacular on All Saints Day and Day of the Souls in Lithuania. Most Lithuanians go to the cemeteries all over the country to light the candles on the graves of the deseased. Luckily for you, Vilnius has not one but three beautiful historical cemeteries quite close Vilnius Old Town. You should definitely visit one of the cemeteries to experience Lithuanian traditions. It is a must thing to do in Vilnius in November!
But before going, don’t forget to buy a candle. It’s very important to light them on the uncared graves and give some warmth to the forgotten souls. You can buy candles literally in every grocery shop. There will be some people selling those things next to the cemeteries as well. However, keep in mind that they can charge you double or triple the actual price.
Rasos Cemetery (Rasų str. 32, Vilnius)
Rasos Cemetery is the oldest and most famous cemetery in Vilnius. All the important people from the first half of 20th century are buried here. Three nations consider Rasos Cemetery as their pantheon – Lithuanians, Polish and Belarussians. But the most impressive thing about this cemetery is the area – Rasos cemetery is located on two hills and in the valley between them. So there are lots of good view points and panoramas to enjoy the sea of lights.
You can easily walk to Rasos cemetery from Vilnius Old Town, however if you prefer to go by public transport take bus No. 89 and get off at the bus stop Rasų kapinės.
Antakalnis Cemetery (Karių kapų str. 11, Vilnius)
This is the pantheon of the modern Republic of Lithuania. Renowned artists and scientists from second part of 20th century rest here. It’s a peculiar place, because huge monument for Red Army is located next to Freedom defenders who died on 13 January 1991 and border guards killed in Medininkai on 31 July 1991. Probably it’s the best place to see that all are equal in death.
Antakalnis cemetery is a bit further from Vilnius Old town. Public transport does not stop close to the cemtery, so we would recommend grabbing UBER or Bolt to get there. It is possible to walk as well :)
Bernardinai Cemetery (Žvirgždyno str. 3, Vilnius)
Situated in our beloved Užupis, it’s a very small and cozy cemetery. It was established in 1810 and was administrated by the Bernardine monastery (therefore the name). In 19th century Bernardine Cemetery was a favorite place for Vilnius residents to go for a walk, as the cemetery reminded of a park. Actually nothing really changed. We still love to take a walk there.
Again, you can easily walk from Vilnius Old town to Bernardinai cemetery, but if you prefer public transport take bus No. 11 and get off at Bernardinų kapinės stop.
How about Halloween?
It’s not a traditional celebration in Lithuania. Halloween was introduced here only after Independence declaration in 1990. We learned about it because of Hollywood movies and shopping mall displays. However, Halloween is getting more and more popular among young generations. Bars definitely see this as an opportunity for theme nights. So you will have no problem in finding a party on 31st.
If you are not a big party person, or you need to get into the mood first, on the spookiest night of the year join our charismatic guide and get ready for extraordinary experience with dreadful stories and the spirits of the dead on Vilnius Ghost tour. Explore Vilnius Old Town in the dark and discover city's most secret locations while learning when it is appropriate to eat your neighbour. Don't forget to invite your friends, so you can have someone's hand to hold during this ghost walking tour in Vilnius city.