Category Archives: Lithuanian traditions

One, Two, Three, Four, I Declare an Egg War

Hello and welcome to another fun edition of “Wild and Wacky Lithuanian Holiday Traditions.” Today’s topic is Easter, or “Velykos.”

In Lithuania there was no Easter bunny, but rather an Easter Hag (“Bobut?). The Velyk? Bobut? was a little old lady who rode around in a carriage pulled by a rabbit. She would deliver each child ONE OR TWO EGGS.

“And you better believe those kids were grateful. Nobody ever heard of jelly beans or Peeps back then. They were just happy to get a couple of warm eggs on their windowsill, straight from the chicken.”

Another thing the Lithuanians did was to race each other home from church in their horse drawn carriages. It was said that the winner would finish his work faster than others throughout the coming year, all of his animals would be healthy, and his bees would make more honey. I imagine this caused more than a few buggy accidents, which is probably why the ancient Lithuanians also used to say special ritual prayers on Easter morning to protect themselves from roadside snakes, wolves, demons, and accidents.

“But guess what, kids! The Lithuanian children were happy to ride home seatbelt-less in a horse drawn carriage because it beat walking.”

Once home, the Lithuanians partook in a breakfast feast of pretty much every kind of meat available to them, bacon, cake, beets, mushrooms, and colored Easter eggs, or margu?iai.” But before beginning the meal, they would count their blessings and divvy up one egg between them as a symbol of family unity.

After everyone had eaten his egg sliver, the Egg Wars would begin. Each person would select an egg and hit it, end-to-end, against another person’s egg. If your egg remained intact, you would go on to the next round and hit your egg against the egg of another winner, and on down the line until one person with an unbroken egg emerged victorious.

That person would live the longest.

After breakfast, kids would roll eggs down a wooden plank on an incline, kind of like in a game of marbles. If anyone tried to cheat by using a fake egg, he would be pelted with raw ones.

“And believe you me, they thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. That’s because they didn’t have TVs, computers, or iPods.”

Growing up, my family retained some modernized forms of these traditions. For example, my dad would always make a beeline out of church right after the Mass of the Resurrection to get a head start on the parking lot traffic. And though we never tried to divide a single egg between us, we always decorated margu?iai and proceeded to destroy them in the Egg Wars. (The trick, if you choose to try this, is to always hold your egg still and let the other person hit it. Also, use the blunt end.)

DSCN202

The Twin Brothers and I, circa 1981, Cleveland.

Happy Easter! And may your egg remain intact on both ends.

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Easter Egg Shenanigans

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen decorating my margu?iai (traditional Lithuanian Easter eggs) this year. Many a morning I could be seen hunched over the Professor Bunson Honeydew style wax melting contraption on my kitchen island, dipping a pin head into hot beeswax and mumbling curses like, “Po šimts pypki?!” (One hundred tobacco pipes!) every time I messed up.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t make my eggs look perfect, and perfection is what I strive for in everything I do. (Trust me, several of my eggs didn’t even make the bowl shot cut this year, and you better believe I arranged them in such a way as to display only the good sides.)

marguciai 2013

pink and green margutisgray margutis

First, there were some issues with the wax not getting hot enough on my homemade wax melting apparatus.

potato contraption

Home Made Wax Melting Apparatus

 

The flame was a bit too far away from the spoon with the wax in it, which I fixed easily enough by sawing off the end of the spoon handle.

Just kidding! I raised the candle up to the wax.

Secondly, I didn’t have any pins with heads sized to my liking, so at first I used a nail as my decorating implement and it just didn’t produce nice markings. In the end, I went with a pin with a gigantic plastic head and this actually worked quite well, though it made thicker lines.

pencil tip

Here are a few more tips:

  • Work with warm, or at least room temperature eggs, if possible.
  • Keep your pin dipped in the wax for several seconds before transferring the wax to the egg, and use careful measured strokes. Waiting too long causes the hot wax to cool down, but going too fast makes it look like a Jackson Pollock painting.
  • Limit your pre-decorating coffee intake to one cup in order to reduce hand tremors.

One commenter on my original egg decorating tutorial said that instead of beeswax, she simply uses the wax from a lit candle to decorate her eggs.

In all my years of making Lithuanian Easter eggs, this thought has never occurred to me.

 

(Click here for my full post on Lithuanian style wax Easter egg making.)

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Curses!

Lithuanian is a delicate language. We like to use the diminutive whenever possible, managing to make even the most sinister of words if not altogether cheerful, then at least palatable. Even if we’re trying to tell you that your butt looks big in those jeans, we don’t want to offend.

Unfortunately, this cultural tendency carries over into swear words, which was always a problem in grade school when kids would ask us to say a bad word in Lithuanian and the best we could come up with was, “You toad. Go pee upside down.”

I was poking around the Internet today, doing research for one of the many projects that has precluded me from writing much on the blog lately, and I found a treasure trove of friendly Lithuanian curses. They are perfect for those occasions when you’re hopping mad, but a child or old person is within earshot. The next time somebody wrongs you, try one of these:

“Kad tave perk?nas vidur? dienos trenkt?!” (May you be struck by lightning in broad daylight.)

Kad tau pilve nerimt?” (May you get an upset stomach.)

Or, worse yet, “Kad tau sk?tis pilve išsiskleist?.” (May an umbrella open inside your stomach.)

Kad tave zuikis subadyt?.” (May you be mauled by a rabbit.)

Kad tavo kakta nuplikt? – ant pakaušio kuodas likt?.” (May you go bald only in the front and have a tuft of hair sticking out in back.)

Kasyk sliekui pažastis.” (Go scratch a worm’s armpits.)

Kad tu ištintum, kaip avilys.” (May you swell up like a beehive.)

Kad tau ežys keln?se išdygt?.” (May a hedgehog sprout inside of your pants.)

 

Have a nice day! And may your children never draw on the floor in pencil.

(Sources: http://www.tautosaka.lt/pasakojamoji-tautosaka/keiksmai/http://cha.lt/skaitiniai/39881-lietuviski-keiksmai-ir-palinkejimai.html)
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Dining With the Dead: Lithuanian Christmas Eve Traditions

Šližikai (Poppyseed Biscuits)

The traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve dinner is called “K??ios” (Koo-chos) and it’s one of the most important holidays of the year. Like most Christian holidays, it used to be a pagan feast marking the winter solstice and as such, it was fraught with ritual and superstition. The main focus was always family unity and so it was paramount that, come hell or high water, every member return to the ancestral home for the K??ios meal.

And when the Lithuanians said “everybody,” they meant everybody. My people believed that the souls of dead ancestors returned to be with their loved ones on Christmas Eve night. According to some accounts, before the meal began, the head of the household would quite literally open the front door to invite the ethereal posse inside. If a family member had died in the preceding year, a place would be set for them at the table. In one region of Lithuania, a glass of mead or beer was also set for the dead person and I mention this only because my family swears up and down that K??ios is supposed to be a non-alcoholic meal.

Beet Salad

K??ios was also a night dedicated to forecasting and soothsaying, and a main obsession seems to have been divining one’s future in fortune and love. Various games were played and rituals were performed to ensure a good crop and healthy animals, not the least of which involved tying a chicken and a rooster together by their tails and seeing which one dragged the other one where.

My family celebrates K??ios, but like most Lithuanians nowadays, we stick with more basic traditions like twelve cold, meatless dishes (e.g., smoked eel and salmon, pickled herring, marinated mushrooms, beet salad, cranberry pudding, poppyseed biscuits in poppyseed milk). We still pass the plotkel? wafer around from the oldest to the youngest member of the family until everyone has broken from everyone else’s bread. One year we gazed for fortunes in hot melted wax and hid straws under the tablecloth which were later pulled to forecast who would have the longest life.

Dead Ancestor

Now that Vija and Jonas are approaching the age of reason, it’s becoming increasingly important to me to drive these traditions home so that many years from now, when they’re sitting down to Beef Wellington with a nice Rhone red for Christmas Eve dinner, they’ll be overcome with guilt at the sight of my disapproving specter materializing before them and say, “Screw it! Let’s just have cold marinated fish and Vernors.”

To this end, I went online to research some of the more interesting K??ios traditions we could incorporate into our meal this year.

Here are the ones that won’t be making the cut:

  • “On this day stroke the cows, so that they will be fat and have no pustules.”
  • “If you want your horses to be good-looking, steal manure from your neighbor and feed it to your horses.”
  • “Young men and women, wishing to find out who will be their mate, when casting lots take two candles, a towel and a mirror to an uninhabited house. The candles are lit and placed near the mirror. Wiping moisture from the mirror with the towel, they would see their future mate. Worthy of attention in magic rituals’ execution is total nudity.”
  • “After supper, the girl should climb up into the attic, undress and walk three times around the chimney, then in total darkness she will see the young man she will marry. “

Merry Christmas, everybody! May your horses be good-looking and your cows fat with no pustules!

Source: http://ausis.gf.vu.lt/eka/customs/christmas.html

Images courtesy of Google Images.

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