Traditions and customs of Lithuania

What traditions and customs of Lithuania?

Discover the customs and traditions of Lithuania, a country in the Baltic Region.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

The typical diet consists of items that are readily available and inexpensive. National dishes reflect the economic situation and the fact that the climate is cold for much of the year, causing a shortage of vegetables in winter and the desire to prepare and eat hot and healthy food.

Pork, smoked meats, cabbage, beets, and potatoes are staples. Two of the traditional favorites are šaltibarščiai, cold beetroot soup with buttermilk, and cepelinai, boiled potato dumplings stuffed with meat or curd and served with fried pork fat or sour cream.

Eating out in restaurants has become more popular, and there are many different types of restaurants in the larger cities; how often a family dines is determined by their income.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Food plays an important role in the celebrations, and a long table full of tasty food is considered a sign of hospitality and affluence.

It is customary for all guests to sit at a common table that fills most of the room, and for hosts to ensure that no guest leaves the table hungry.

These meals start with salads, deli meats, and bread, accompanied by kompotas (cold fruit tea) or juice, vodka, wine, or tour, a carbonated soft drink made from grains. Following is a course in singing and conversation, and perhaps dessert and coffee.

The Christmas Eve meal, kučios, is the most symbolic meal of the year. Twelve meatless dishes are prepared, including various types of herring, grain porridge, and often pickled mushrooms. Hay is sometimes sprinkled under the tablecloth to represent the manger where Jesus was born.

People often eat kučiukai (biscuit-shaped cakes) with poppy milk (poppy seeds boiled with water and sugar) for dessert. They also break the symbolic Christmas wafers (“Dievo pyragai”) that were once bought in churches, but are now available in local stores at Christmas, to bring the family closer and wish a healthy and successful year.

If a family member has died in the past year, a plate and chair are placed on the table, along with a small candle, to welcome the spirit of participating in one last family gathering.


Lithuanians are a reserved people and respectful of tradition. They usually don’t go out of their way to greet someone they don’t know; people who travel on public transport do not look directly at another person unless they are friends, and they usually give up their seats to their elders.

People often bring a small gift of candy or flowers when they visit someone (always an odd number of flowers unless someone is deceased). The hosts are generous and go out of their way to make the guest feel comfortable.

Men always shake hands with their male friends when they meet in a cafe or on the street, but never inside a door. This is one of many superstitions, which include not whistling inside the house for fear of summoning little demons, and not sitting on the corner of a table if one wishes to get married soon.


Religious beliefs

Lithuania is mainly Roman Catholic (90 percent), with some Lutherans and some members of other churches. The Jewish population was almost completely wiped out between 1941 and 1944.

Religious practitioners

The Academy of Catholic Studies has more than eight hundred members in Lithuania, and there are several seminaries and monasteries. Klaipėda University has an Evangelical Lutheran Theological Center which houses about thirty monks. The Lithuanian Lutheran Youth Center and various Bible study organizations serve religious practitioners and their sponsors.

Rituals and Holy Places

One of the most significant holy places is the Hill of Crosses, just north of Šiauliai, on the way to Rīga, Latvia. The hill has hundreds of thousands of crosses brought by believers from across the country and around the world. Although the Soviets tore down the hill several times for its open violation of their anti-religious policy, the crosses always reappeared.

Death and afterlife

Funeral practices in Lithuania take place in three phases. First, the deceased dresses formally and prepares for a visit of three days and three nights, either at home or in a public place. Family and friends keep watch and make sure the candles stay lit when people come to bring flowers – always in even numbers – and pay their respects.

This is followed by a burial ceremony in a cemetery (cremation is not common), and a sit-down lunch for all funeral attendees. Lunch is a time for friends and family to share their memories of the deceased.

It is common to visit the graves of loved ones on birthdays and on November 1 (All Saints’ Day), when most cemeteries are overflowing with flowers and lighted candles.

Secular celebrations

The Television Tower Remembrance Day is celebrated on January 13. Shrove Tuesday (Užgavėnės), the second Tuesday in February, is a Catholic holiday forty days before Easter, which has become popular with the non-religious and is the Lithuanian equivalent of trick-or-treating. The children wear masks and go from door to door singing a song that asks for pancakes and coffee.

The most elaborate celebrations involve the burning of a winter effigy to welcome spring. Independence Day is celebrated on February 16.

Saint Kazimier’s Day, March 4, was originally a religious holiday, but now provides a reason to hold annual fairs where vendors sell handicrafts. Every five years a national folk music festival is held in honor of Saint Kazimier’s Day. Independence Day is celebrated on March 11.

The eve of the summer solstice (San Juan), June 24, celebrates the arrival of summer. The tradition includes running into the woods at night in search of fern blossoms. Legend has it that the eve of the summer solstice is a night for young people to find a mate, and finding a fern in bloom is a sign of great luck.

Women and girls make flower crowns to wear on their heads or float down the river with candles. Celebrants dance around a campfire and jump over it to bid farewell to the cold season.

The Mindaugas Day coronation takes place on July 6. August 23 is the Remembrance Day of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

Many artists are self-sufficient, but the government has limited funds. Some apply for foreign scholarships, and many spend time in foreign countries studying or practicing their trade.

There are strict laws on the export of cultural property, and anyone who wants to buy or move cultural property over fifty years old must follow a detailed registration procedure.


Chronicles of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a historical treatise, marks the beginning of national literature. The works of the Middle Ages were mainly religious, the first being in Lithuanian Katekizmas (the catechism). From the 16th to the 18th century, literature increased in popularity; Konstantinas Sirvydas printed the first Lithuanian dictionary and the Bible was translated into Lithuanian during that period.

Secular literature became more widespread in the eighteenth century. Kristijonas Donelaitis, considered the founder of Lithuanian literature, wrote Metai (Seasons). at that time.

The literature of the early twentieth century was linked to the national independence movement. The writings were characterized by symbolism, romanticism and existentialism. The Soviet occupation sapped the creativity of writers, many of whom fled to the West and wrote in secret.

After World War II, a collection of literature emerged describing experiences during the war. The most famous is Balys Sruoga’s Dievų miškas (Forest of the Gods), which depicts life in a concentration camp.

Poetry has also served as a means of expressing and sharing cultural heritage and has played a role in preserving national identity.

Graphic arts

Graphic and decorative arts have been part of the cultural heritage for centuries. The Vilnius School of Art was established in the late 18th century, but crafts and religious art date back much further. Large crosses and carved wooden statues are seen throughout the field.

They sometimes mark the boundaries of cities, but are often placed for decoration or to mark the place of death of a loved one. Large collections of wooden statues appear in sculpture parks across the country.

Many cities have art galleries, museums, and craft shops to display or sell works. Several international artists’ unions have Lithuanian branches, and artists often organize personal exhibitions outside the country.

Performing arts

There are thirteen professional theaters, a National Opera House, several youth theaters, puppet theaters, state orchestras, and hundreds of choral groups. The Vilnius Quartet and the Rinkevičius Orchestra are well known throughout the country, and the Nekrošius Theater has gained international fame.

Folk music and dance are the most popular performing arts, and there are thousands of folk groups. Schools and villages often have their own groups that dress in traditional costumes, travel and perform or compete with groups from other places. Attending theatrical and musical events is a popular cultural activity at a reasonable price.

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