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Death - Funerals

Lithuanians foretold impending death using various omens such as the odd behavior of domestic and wild birds, prophetic dreams and so forth. Even after death, noise was kept to a minimum in homes as it was thought that the spirit separated from the body at death, but did not leave the house until the corpse had left it.

The wake was always held in the family's living room. The deceased was always dressed in his or her best clothes; unmarried girls wore bridal clothes and wreaths of rue. The body was not buried for three or more days during which the friends and family stayed at its side day and night. In the evenings, the neighbors gathered to pray and sing hymns.

In southeastern Lithuania, the tradition of singing laments (raudos) over the corpse survives unto this day. Laments performed a number of functions including expressing the mourners' pain and loss, and bemoaning the sorrowful plight of the orphaned children. The mourners recalled all of the deceased's good deeds and invited him to continue visiting his family in order to protect and defend them.

Lithuanians always honored the memory of their dead. Graveyards were considered sacred places whose tranquillity was not to be disturbed. From ancient times, Lithuanians believed that the spirits of the dead returned to visit their former homes during holidays. Not displaying enough regard for dead family members on these occasions was thought to provoke their wrath. Spirits were supposedly able to take revenge by damaging crops, the fertility of livestock, and people's health. Therefore, families diligently prepared for holidays by cleaning every corner of their houses, washing, laundering and wearing clean clothes. Traditional foods once prepared by the family's mothers and grandmothers were always served on these occasions. The dead were still considered members of the family and they were cared for together with the others during the feasting. Leftover food from holiday tables was divided among beggars as it was thought that they had mysterious ties with the dead.



next previous contents
Next: CLOTHING Previous: Childbirth - Christening

"LITHUANIAN ROOTS", Edited by Rytis Ambrazevicius


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Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.