Lithuanian Food and Entertainment Traditions
Lithuanians like to eat good, tasty and
filling foods. The tradition of eating well is inherited from our ancestors,
who would say, he who eats well, works well.
Lithuanian cooks prepare simple but tasty
foods. A good cook can create delicious meals using simple ingredients.
It is said that each cook stirs the cookpot in her manner.
The traditional food preparer was and
is mother, her knowledge and capabilities are handed down to the next female
generation. Before food was prepared using only seasonal products, however
during the last twenty-five years, fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs have
been available all year round, imported or grown locally. The same applies
to meat, now more fresh meat is used than salted or smoked.
Lithuanian traditional cuisine took shape
over many centuries and was much influenced by cultural contacts with neighboring
nations. A good example is potato cake - kugelis, which Lithuanians adapted
from the German kitchen. This has now become a favorite dish throughout
Lithuania is divided into five ethnic
regions. This regional division is evident in foods that are particular
to each region. The Highlanders, Aukätaičiai, live in the rich loam,
northeast region, and are known for their various pancakes and cottage
cheese dishes. The Samogitians, eemaičiai, inhabit the northwest region
and have their special sour butter, porridges and many gruels. Dzukai are
the people of the southeast region, where the soil is sandy and forested.
They are main growers and users of buckwheat in all its forms, as well
as mushrooms and potatoes. Suvalkiečiai, people of the southwestern region
favor smoked meats, sausages and zeppelins. Fish plays an important role
in the diet of the seacoast Lithuanians and also of those living near lakes
and rivers. These differences are less evident today than they were in
olden times. However, the tradition of regional foods continues.
Lithuanians usually eat three times per
day, but during periods of hard and intense work, especially in summer,
mid morning and late afternoon snacks are added to the daily eating routine.
The most filling, sumptuous meals are breakfast and lunch. Porridges, pancakes
and soups for breakfast, soups, meat and potatoes for lunch. In the evening,
dinner is a light meal. However, one does have a square meal, for the ancient
Lithuanians said that there is no sleep on an empty stomach.
Lithuanians consider eating a holy event
and behavior at table is like in church, quiet, orderly and reverential.
Each family member had his permanent place at the table, with father sitting
at the head of the table, mother sitting opposite father, the oldest son
to father right, and the remaining members next to the son. The traditional
seating at table is now practiced mainly during feast days, when the entire
Today the ancient tradition of placing
bread first on the table is still observed. Should a visitor arrive when
the family is at table, the visitor greets the eaters with "skanaus" (bon
appetite). If father answers "prasom"(you're welcome), it means do join
us. However, if the answer is "aciu" (thank you), the visitor is not invited
to join in the eating. When the meal is finished, the spoon is turned upside
down, to show that one has eaten well and the food was delicious.
No one leaves the table until everyone
has finished eating and has thanked the cook, mother, who in her turn answers
"I sveikata" (to your health).
Christmas Eve, Christmas
As the days draw shorter, Lithuanians have
finished most needed chores and are ready to celebrate Christmas Eve, December
24th, and Christmas, December 25th.
Christmas Eve is a very special time with
the gathering of the family at the ritual meal "kucia". This word has been
borrowed from the Greek "kukkia".
Kucia denotes the main food of the ritual
supper, made from grain and pulses.
The evening meal begins when the evening
star appears in the sky. A white, linen tablecloth is placed on a hay-covered
table. Hay symbolizes the birth of Jesus in the manger and also the hay,
where the souls of dead family members rest on.
Holy wafers and Christmas bread are placed
side by side in the center of the table. These are surrounded by other
foods, of which there can be seven, nine or twelve, all meatless. Twelve
foods are most commonly prepared, to assure that the coming year, twelve
months, will be good and plentiful.
The traditional kucia - porridge, is eaten
with poppy seed milk, as are the Christmas biscuits. It is a must to eat
oatmeal pudding with sweetened water.
The other foods include beet soup with
dried mushrooms, fish - mostly pike, herring and mushroom dishes, as well
as apples and nuts.
Traditional drinks are thin cranberry
pudding and dried fruit compote.
When all the foods are in place, candles
are placed on the table and lit, and the family is seated. A special place
is set at the table for a family member who died during that year. It is
also tradition to invite a poor or homeless person, or to take food to
them. This behavior assures that there will be happiness in the family
throughout the coming year.
Eating is begun with the passing around
of the Christmas wafer and with wishes for each member, then all the foods
have to be tasted.
Christmas morning begins with the clearing
away of the Christmas Eve table. Christmas foods are mainly of meat, generally
pork, cooked pigÕs head, sausages, baked piglet and ham. There is
also an assortment of sweet breads and cakes.
Christmas is the ancient feast of the
return of the sun, and it was celebrated in pre-Christian times in many
Shrove Tuesday is a happy and noisy celebration
of the transition from winter to spring. The festivities begin on Sunday
and last for three days. This also puts an end to the period of meat eating,
which began after Christmas. On Shrove Tuesday, it is traditional to eat
very rich, fat foods at least twelve times, so that you would be fat and
healthy. The foods of the day include different pancakes, fat pork meat
The table is laden with an abundance of
foods and awaits not only family members but also masqueraders, who go
from house to house. After eating, the masqueraders wish the homeowners
good luck, health and good harvest in the coming year.
Easter is the first spring holiday, the
rebirth of nature. The dyed egg is the primary symbol of Easter, signifying
life, goodness and bountiful harvest. The egg dyeing tradition is older
than Christianity. Easter egg decorating is a family affair, done on the
Saturday before Easter.
The Easter table is covered with a white,
linen table cloth and the first thing to be placed on the table are dyed
eggs in a basket or clay bowl, decorated with rue, cranberry stalks or
sprouted wheat greens.
The traditional Easter table decoration
is an egg holder, a tree branch, with nine or twelve branches. The egg
holder is decorated with greens, colored paper and sprouted birch and pussy
willow branches with dough birds.
Traditional Easter foods are made of pork,
veal, fowl and milk: baked piglet, pig's head, veal ham, sausage, cheese
and in the center of the table a butter or sugar lamb set in sprouted oat
greens. There is also an abundance of Easter baked goods, both sweet and
savory. Traditional drinks are beer, kvass, maple and birch sap.
The Easter meal is begun with eggs. It
is tradition to strike two eggs together, one person holds his egg while
the other hits it with his egg. The strongest egg is left uneaten.
Visiting relatives and friends begins
in the afternoon, when it is especially common for children to visit their
godparents and neighbors, where they are given Easter eggs as gifts. The
traditions of striking and rolling eggs is still popular throughout the
Family holidays incorporate the main events
in life, births, weddings and funerals. These are occasions for communal
eating and drinking. Regular, every day foods are eaten during christenings
and funerals, but weddings are the exception. Food preparations for wedding
feasts start very early with a variety of foods and drinks. A beer maker
is hired as well as a cook with a culinary reputation.
Wedding guests arrive bearing baked goods,
cakes and drink. This ancient tradition is still in practice.
Upon their return from church, the newlyweds
are received with the traditional bread, salt and drink.
As the wedding guests leave, they are
given a piece of the traditional wedding cake to take home.
Lithuanians have always been known for
their hospitality. It is said that "if you do not love other people, you
will not be loved". When expecting guests, Lithuanians go all out to prepare
all kinds of food and drink, for they want the guests to comment "there
was an abundance of everything, the only food missing was bird's milk".
However, the visitor does not begin to savor the food until he is urged
to do so by the hosts.
Lithuanians are happy and sober, they
drink slowly because they want to extend the socializing, they often share
the same drinking glass. The drinking glass goes around the table, to the
right, together with the bottle and greetings - be healthy, thank you,
to your health and many other wishes that are shouted with each drink.
Such feasting is very friendly and cozy.
One experiences the pleasure of sitting, talking and relaxing with relatives
Drinks which have been popular through
the ages include mead, beer and krupnikas, a herbal alcoholic drink.
Every get together is accompanied by songs
about beer, mead, hops and barley grain. While singing the guests praise
the hosts and thank them for their hospitality. When the guests prepare
to leave, the hostess prepares a gift of food to take home. This gift of
food is called "rabbit's cake"/
A much loved or honored guest is accompanied
to the door or gate, where one last drink is shared with the hosts to wish
the guest a good, dustless trip home.