NB! All saints Day is a bank holiday, and that’s why some places might be closed or work shorter on this day.
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 northerner 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 duty 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 s very stressful time for many Lithuanians. Maybe that’s why our Parliament plans to make Vėlinės bank holiday as well. Just to give people time to visit their families and light the candles without rushing.
How can you join?
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 Rosos Cemetery as their pantheon – Lithuanians, Polish and Belorussians. But the most impressive thing about it’s the area – 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.
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 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.
Bernardinai Cemetery (Žvirgždyno str. 3, Vilnius)
Situated in out beloved Užupis, it’s 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 walk, as the cemetery reminded of a park. Actually nothing really changed. We still love to take a walk there.
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, it’s 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.
And 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 Samuelis and get ready for extraordinary experience with dreadful stories and the spirits of the dead. 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. More information: here.