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Easter

Folk customs associated with the celebration of Easter are livelier than those related to Christmas. Celebrations used to start on Palm Sunday and continue for a fortnight.

Palm Sunday, which commemorates Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, used to bring a lot of fun into the peasant's life. This is a day when the reviving nature makes people's hearts rejoice. It is a long standing tradition to attend church on this day with a bunch of green twigs in one's hands. In most districts it is invariably a bunch of juniper twigs, but in the eastern parts it is usually a bunch of pussy willows. It is always desirable to find juniper twigs with as many berries as possible, and willow twigs covered thick with yellowish furry flowers, for their number shows, as people used to believe, for how many more years a person is going to live. Sometimes juniper or willow twigs are mixed with twigs of birch tree, lilac or thuja. In the Vilnius region Palm Sunday bunches are made of dried flowers.

The bunches of green twigs, hallowed in church, used to be dried and preserved because it was believed that the smoke of these herbs when burning protected the house against evil, brought good luck and averted lightning. These dried herbs were also used as incense in the spring rites when the cattle were first let out to graze in the pasture, or the farmer ploughed the first furrow.

Early on Palm Sunday morning family members compete in getting up as early as possible so that they can flog playfully the others who are still in bed with the Palm Sunday bunch. This playful flogging is accompanied by a simple ditty: "It's not me who is flogging you. It's the Palm Sunday juniper doing it. Easter comes in a week. Do you promise me an Easter egg?" On Easter morning the "flogger" is repaid with a nice Easter egg. On the way back from church young people try to tap each other on the hand, shoulder or head with the hallowed bunch and wish each other to be as healthy as the green juniper. This tradition of smacking each other with the Palm Sunday juniper was very much alive as late as the second decade of the present century. It has not been forgotten to this day as a gentle reminder that Easter is coming.

The Holy Week is the time for spring cleaning. In olden times all Easter food used to be cooked in hallowed water on hallowed fire which was brought from the church. As late as the beginning of the 20th century, on Easter morning people used to take food to church in special baskets as well to be hallowed by the priest. After the Holy Mass was over, every one hurried back home trying to outdo each other in starting the Easter meal as soon as possible, for it was believed that those who were the first to sit down at the Easter table and break an Easter egg would be the first to finish all the field chores in the coming season. The first dish to be eaten at the Easter table is always an egg. People strike one egg against another to find the strongest ones which are usually saved for rolling or even till the next Easter.

For children, Easter is a day for eggs. Early in the morning they find a present of nice Easter eggs from Easter Granny who leaves them in a nicely made nest outside the house or in a basket hanging in a tree. But the children can never see her, for she comes before sunrise in a little cart pulled by a wax horse which could melt if she came while the sun was shining. Children get presents of Easter eggs also from neighbours, their own mother and always from their Godmother.

After all their eggs are collected, children enjoy testing them for hardness, He whose eggs are the hardest can win all the eggs from his friends. Therefore sometimes some "wise guy" fills his egg with salt or tar or smuggles in a wooden egg. When this is discovered, the cheat is punished and he must leave the game.

Another popular Easter game is egg rolling. When a rolling egg touches another egg which is lying in its way, it wins the latter for its owner. There are experts who manage to roll their eggs in such a way that they win all the Easter eggs from the other players.

Girls enjoy swinging on swings in hay barns or in the open. The higher they go in their swings, the taller their flax is going to grow in summer. This superstition is sometimes responsible for accidents and injuries. In Zemaitija people used to sprinkle each other with water.

A lot of Easter customs-such as egg decoration, egg rolling, swinging on swings, hurrying home from church on Easter morning - have survived to this day.

A very widely-known Easter custom in olden times was visiting homes on Easter night by groups of young men and musicians, called lalauninkai. They sang songs and religious hymns, wished the girls to find a good husband and everybody else good luck. For this they were given presents and Easter eggs. This custom was still alive in the middle of the 20th century in Dzukija.

Most of the Easter games were repeated on the next Sunday after Easter.

Beside Christmas Eve, Shrove Tuesday, Easter and Midsummer's Night Lithuanian still observe certain customs, associated with St. George's Day and Whitsunday, which is a shepherds holiday. Quite recently certain customs have come back to Lithuania, such as the commemoration of the dead at Halloween and the celebration of Mother's Day.



next previous contents
Next: Midsummer Day Previous: Shrove Tuesday

J. Kudirka "THE LITHUANIANS"

Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.