Lithuanian Christmas traditions are a combination of old and new and Christian and pagan, and they have similarities with traditions from the other two Baltic nations, as well as with the traditions of Poland, whose past is linked with Lithuania's.
In pagan Lithuania, the Christmas celebration as we know it today was actually the celebration of the winter solstice. Roman Catholics, the predominant religious population in Lithuania, gave new meaning to old customs or introduced new ways to celebrate the religious holiday.
For example, some people say the practice of placing hay underneath the tablecloth on Christmas Eve predates the introduction of Christianity to Lithuania, though now obvious parallels can be drawn between hay on the Christmas table and the hay in the manger where Jesus was born.
As in Poland, the Christmas Eve feast traditionally consists of 12 meatless dishes (though fish is permitted, and herring is often served). The breaking of religious wafers precedes the meal.
Lithuanian Christmas Decorations
The practice of decorating the Christmas tree is relatively new to Lithuania, though evergreen branches have long been used to bring color to homes during the long winter. If you visit Vilnius during the Christmas season, it's possible to see the Christmas tree on Vilnius' Town Hall Square.
Handmade straw ornaments are particularly traditional. They can decorate Christmas trees or be used as decoration for other parts of the house.
Sometimes these are made with plastic drinking straws, but the more traditional material is the yellow straw usually used for farm animals.
Christmas in the Capital
Vilnius celebrates Christmas with public Christmas trees and a relatively new tradition - a European-style Christmas market. The Vilnius Christmas market takes place in the historic center; stalls sell seasonal treats and handmade gifts.
The Christmas season begins with a charity bazaar coordinated by the International Women's Association of Vilnius at Town Hall, where Santa Claus greet children and foods and products from around the world are available for sale.