“Atlėkė elnias devyniaragis. Oi kalėda devyniara” [Lithuanian Advent song]
There is nothing as magical and pure for Lithuanians as Kūčios (Christmas Eve). It is much more important than Christmas! Wrapped in mystery and magic, mixed with pagan and Christian traditions, this day is full of rituals to follow.
Let me open up the doors of Kūčios and show you what Lithuanians do and why this day is so special. All day long we are usually just preparing for the evening and the dinner. There is a lot to cook! This day you can clean your home but you are not allowed to do any extra works, especially if they are loud and noisy ones. Our ancestors were not even able to knit, sew or focus on any regular routine tasks as it was “dangerous” for their home. You should not also sing, unless it is an advent song. After cooking and cleaning, we start to set the table by putting some hay on it (because baby Jesus was born and put in a manger) and then covering the hay with the tablecloth.
You will always find one plate more than there are family members eating. We do believe that on Christmas Eve the spirits of our beloved and passed relatives come and join us for the dinner. If not for spirits, this plate may always be dedicated for an extra guest – this night your doors must be open to everyone.
One by one at least twelve dishes arrive on the table – one for each apostle or as believed before, for 12 months (long ago there were 13 dishes because people were following moon calendar). This day Lithuanians do not eat meat, eggs or milk products – nothing related with animals. Despite that, fish is allowed and herring is one of the main plates.
You can also find beans and vegetables, mushrooms, some fruits and of course, kūčiukai (little cookies, first Lithuanian bread) on the table. We drink kisielius (thick and heavy drink) or aguonpienis (poppy seed milk) on this day. Even though the table is full of eatable treasures, after praying we start by sharing “ostia” and raising up the glass of vine. And then the real feast begins. You have to try all 12 dishes if you want to be lucky! But you should also leave a little bit of everything for the “owners” of this empty plate.
When the stomach is full, it is a time for games. Or to be more specific, for some magical rituals. On Christmas Eve you can find out who will be your lover, what new year will bring to you, how rich your life will be and many other things – we have a lot of different ways to read the future. The magic is so strong that at midnight even animals start talking!
But you are not allowed to listen to them. In many families, including mine, we even share and open gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas. Before going to sleep, you have to take off all sharp tools from the table (so spirits won’t get hurt when they come) but you have to leave all the plates and necessarily, – all the dishes. After you finish, the feast will be passed over to the spirits. In order not to scare them, you are not allowed to blow the candles.
You have to find another way set put off the flame. There are so many traditions for this night. One is more interesting than the other. Kūčios is the time for the family when everyone gathers together and celebrate life in calm and in peace.
This year I am more than lucky to share this tradition with my new family, my very open and curious flatmate Sümeyye.
Thanks to her, this day was not less special. Even though I was so far from my hometown.