The most important way of preserving and continuing cultural traditions has always been, and still remains, through the family. In Lithuanian culture, starting a family was not just the couple's personal responsibility. Weddings were always community affairs joining not only two people, but two families. Thus, it was the duty of the two families and other villagers to make the occasion as festive and grand as possible. It is not surprising then that wedding festivities were rich in collective creativity and expression.
Lithuanian wedding rituals followed rigidly fixed forms. At the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, weddings consisted of three separate stages: matchmaking, the wedding itself and atgriztai (coming back). Each one of these stages had strictly defined traditional elements which all participants observed.
The first stage included all of the rituals concerned with the pirslybos (official offer of marriage to the bride's parents), discussion of terms, examination of the groom's farm and finally the ziedynos (pair's decision to marry).
The wedding ceremony itself could then take place. The first part of the wedding was held in the bride's home, marking the end of the bride's life with her family and separation from her parent's home. The bride's farewells to her relatives, home and friends were dramatic and sorrowful. The climactic moment occurred when she finally drove off to her husband's house. All of these events were accompanied by the bride's raudos (lamentations) and farewell songs performed by the sorrowful family and guests.
The next important moment of the wedding was the bride's arrival at her husband's house. First, the kraitveziai (dowry drivers) arrived bearing the dowry in chests. These chests were filled with the results of many years of the bride's handiwork in expectation of her wedding: rolls of fabric, clothing, bedclothes, towels and woven sashes. The bride herself conducted the division of her dowry and other gifts. Her first act upon entering her betrothed's home was to place a colorful (usually red) sash or towel on the hearth or by the stove. This act was meant to gain the goodwill of the hearth's fire and the household spirits. She also hung sashes on the krikstasuolis (the place of honor), on the well's sweep and so forth. The husband's parents and family received woven sashes, towels and shirt materials as gifts.
During the wedding ceremonies, the bride's youthful wreath of rue was replaced by the mature woman's headdress. This ritual symbolized the acceptance of the bride into her new home as well as her transition from girlhood to womanhood. The other married women, led by the svocia (matron of honor), conducted this part of the ceremony. Married women's head wear varied among Lithuania's cultural regions. For example, in Aukstaitija, wives wore elaborately tied linen sashes called nuometas on their heads.
All of the wedding participants made sure that all accepted and familiar customs were followed. For example, they guarded the bridal pair, especially the bride so that evil persons could not damage their health or fertility. Corresponding spells and rituals were conducted in order to protect them. The young pair was showered with grain and water and clothed in furs to insure that they'd be rich and successful growing grains and livestock.
The third part of the wedding ceremony, atgriztai (coming back), was comparatively simple and quiet. Approximately a week after the wedding, the bride drove back to her parent's house for a brief visit. For the first time, they took her into their home as a guest instead of as a member of the family.
"LITHUANIAN ROOTS", Edited by Rytis Ambrazevicius