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Dining Etiquette

Lithuanian dining customs were unique, rigidly structured and strictly observed. Each family member had an assigned place at the table. The head of the household sat at the end by the wall, in the place of honor. The other men sat along the wall, and the women opposite them. Families always invited any guests or beggars that had arrived that day to their tables. Important guests were seated either in the father's place, or beside it.

Meals always began with the slicing of bread which was the sacred duty of the head of the household. First he broke off one corner of the loaf and gave it to his eldest married son wishing him the good fortune of someday having sons. He then cut slices for the other family members who placed them respectfully on the table. The remaining loaf was placed with its cut face towards the place of honor or towards the sun. Putting the bread on the table upside-down was considered insulting and profane. It was thought that the bread could take revenge for such treatment by causing the death of one of the household. Slices were always broken off using both hands because producing the bread required two hands. To leave a knife lying with its sharp edge upwards was to invite misfortune. Children were taught that if they dropped a bread crumb on the floor, they must pick it up, cross themselves, kiss and eat it. Many customs honoring bread appeared in various aspects of Lithuanian life. For example, a loaf of bread was always placed in the foundation of a building as it was being constructed.

When a certain dish was served for the first time after the new year, the eldest member of the family unexpectedly struck someone else on the forehead with a spoon saying, "Here's something new!". The struck person could only retaliate against someone younger than himself. This tradition was common throughout Lithuania. No one, not even guests, could rise from the table until everyone had finished eating.

19th century and earlier literary sources mention Lithuanian hospitality. Guests were greeted warmly and invited into the best room. Even hurriedly prepared meals for guests featured special foods not eaten every day: skilandis (a type of Lithuanian sausage), cheese, honey and home-brewed beer. Guests never ate or drank anything without the host's urging. Pressing food on visitors insistently was considered the mark of a generous host.

The head of the household began special meals by pouring himself a cupful of beer from a pitcher and saying to the guests, "To your health. Drink brothers and celebrate!" He then spilled a few drops, drank the cup dry, filled it again and handed it to a guest. In this fashion, the cup made its way around the table as the gathered people said "Be healthy!" and replied "To your health!"



next previous contents
Next: Foods Previous: Sashes

"LITHUANIAN ROOTS", Edited by Rytis Ambrazevicius


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Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.