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Funerals

In villages the dead are laid in state at home, but in town this is usually done in funeral parlours. The duration of funerals in villages and towns is also different: in villages they last three days, in towns two days. Coffins have six sides and taper off toward the foot. The dead are laid in state in the best room, the walls are adorned and covered with beautiful home-woven bedspreads; a cross, some pictures of saints and two burning candles, hallowed in church, are placed at the head. There may be more candles and seats for the immediate kith and kin at the side of the coffin. Wreaths with ribbons inscribed with words of condolence (sometimes in a poetical form) are hung on the walls on both sides of the coffin. They are also placed round the coffin on the floor together with baskets and bunches of flowers. A little picture of a saint and a rosary are placed in the dead man's hands. The funerals of young people are more pompastic, they are sometimes laid out in their wedding clothes, adorned with sprays of rue. Wreaths are made of oak, pine or fir twigs studied with flowers.

While attending a funeral it is customary first to stand for a while by the coffin, or kneell down to say a prayer, kiss the cross on the table flanked with two burning candles, approach the beraeved family, ex- press sympathy, inquire about the last minutes of the dead man and discuss the sadder aspects of life in general. Relatives and close friends kiss each other.

In the evening singers of religious hymns sing the Rosary, the Litany of All Saints and the psalms. In some localities singers have hymns created by the local poets or selected from various books suited to be sung on a mother's, father's, sister's or brother's death. A few decades ago in Dzukija it was customary to accompany the funeral rites by laments, i.e. songs or poems which express sorrow on people's death. Laments used to be sung or said by the relatives of the deceased man or by professional lamenters. The singing of religious hymns is followed by prayers for the dead members of the family of three generations, each one being mentioned by name. Every evening after the prayers a funerary meal is served, prepared by the best cook of the neighbourhood. If the family has a pig, it is killed on this sad occasion.

In villages the dead are usually buried in the morning. In some localities before closing the lid of the coffin a cross is burnt into the lid with a hallowed candle. The Lithuanians have also preserved the tradition of kissing the dead by way of saying the last goodbye. A few decades ago children were bound to kiss the feet of their dead mother.

The coffin is placed on a platform in a truck. Three men stand at the head of the coffin, the middle man holding a cross the other two the funerary flags which were hoisted at the door of the house where the deceased man lay in state. Sometimes the way leading into the flat where there is a funeral is strewn with twigs of fir. After the funeral service in church, if the cemetery is within a walking distance, the procession with a priest at its head, moves to the cemetery singing hymns. In cities the coffin is not taken to church, the mass for the dead is said in the morning and the priest accompanies the procession right to the cemetery. In Zemaitija drums and a brass band accompany the funeral procession.

In villages the hole is dug out by the neighbours. A cross made of burning candles or a single candle is placed at the bottom of the hole, the sides are adorned with green twigs and flowers, especially if it is the funeral of a young person. After the rites performed by the priest close relatives throw a handful of earth into the grave. In some localities children are not required to throw a handful of earth onto their parents' coffin lowered into the grave. Recently a new tradition of throwing flowers into the grave has appeared.

After burying the dead, a cross is pressed into the top of the grave mound with the haft of a spade, and candles, flowers and wreaths are placed on it. In villages more religious hymns are sung then, the people who have attended the funeral are invited to the funeral repast.

At the end of four weeks after the death, it is customary to commemorate the dead by visiting his grave, by attending a mass of intercession for the dead, by inviting close friends and relatives to dinner and by singing religious hymns. In a similar way the dead man is remembered at the annual recurrence of the date of his death. As a sign of mourning for the death of one's parents it is customary for women to wear black or dark clothes, while men usually wear a black ribbon on the lapel of their coats.

Funerals, particularly in villages, are attended by as many relatives, friends and acquaintances as can possibly come.



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Next: FOLKLORE Previous: Weddings

J. Kudirka "THE LITHUANIANS"

Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.