For Lithuanian Christians, Easter (Velykos) is the most sacred of holidays. It follows 40 somber days of Lenten moderation and marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each spring, Lithuanians commemorate the Passion of Christ by attending church services throughout Holy Week on Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
While the rites of these services are comparable to those in other parts of the world, many Easter traditions observed outside of church liturgy are uniquely Lithuanian.
One of these unique Lithuanian traditions is seen on Palm Sunday. In many parts of the world, churches provide their parishioners with palms. However, in Lithuania, churchgoers bring homemade palms with them to the church to be blessed. Since the climate is too cold for palm trees, Lithuanians weave branches of indiginous plants into decorative palms (verbos)
for Palm Sunday. More like bouquets than common palm branches, typical verbos include sprigs from juniper, misteltoe, weeping willows, pussy willows, and osier decorated with colorful dried flowers.
On Holy Thursday, Lithuanians clean their homes vigorously to ensure an upcoming year of abundance and good health. They wash and scrub floors, windows, pantries, stoves, and laundry in preparation for Good Friday. Beyond bringing good health and abundant harvests to the household, this ritualistic spring cleaning is thought to ward off fleas and evil spirits.
Holy Saturday is dedicated to painting Easter eggs (margučiai) and preparing the Easter Sunday feast. Traditional Lithuanian Easter eggs are stained with natural dyes extracted from bark, leaves, fruit, and vegetables. Stained margučiai appear in solid colors or patterns created when leaves or other materials are pressed onto the eggs during the staining process.
More famously, Lithuanians are known for their ornate margučiai, which are either hand-painted or hand-carved into magnificent works of art. With the hand-painted method, they use the tips of needles and other sharp objects to paint intricate patterns with hot wax. Then, after the wax hardens, they dip the eggs into colorful dye. After the eggs dry, they are heated and then pressed gently with towels or paper to remove the wax and reveal the pattern. With the hand-carved method, wax is not used. Instead, these eggs are dipped in dye first. After they dry, designs are etched into the shells with a finely tipped, sharp object. Both methods require artistic talent and patience and both result in extraordinary, heirloom quality margučiai.
In Lithuania, the Easter Granny (Velykų Senelė) delivers Easter eggs and treats to children. Children often prepare for the Easter Granny by leaving empty homemade egg nests outside their homes in gardens and shrubs. On Easter morning, they wake to search for their hidden margučiai treasures.
The Lithuanian Easter buffet is a lavish contrast to the meatless Lenten fast. Opulent displays of roasted pork, baked ham, lamb, veal, sausages, roasted duck, and roasted chicken abound. If lamb is not served, then butter or cheese is molded into the shape of a lamb and served to symbolize Easter. Accompaniments include homemade cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, sautéed or creamed mushrooms, kugelis, rye bread, assorted salads, and horseradish. Wine flows and an equally impressive dessert selection of poppy seed rolls, nut rolls, honey cakes, and raisin and/or dried fruit “boba” breads follows the meal.
We should mention two final uniquely Lithuanian Easter traditions. Before everyone indulges in the Velykos feast, the dinner host slices a hard-boiled egg into as many pieces as there are guests and passes the plate around the table to share this one egg with everyone. This sharing of the egg is believed to bring harmony and unity to the household.
Another tradition is egg rolling. Players prop one end of a rounded chute fashioned from bark or wood (or cardboard in modern times) at an angle from the ground. They take turns rolling an egg down the chute attempting to tap another’s egg. If they succeed in tapping another egg, they claim both eggs. The player with the most eggs at the end of the game wins.