Christmas in Lithuania
Lithuanian folk tradition treats the Christmas season as a time of religious mystery and folk magic. In past times Lithuanians associated many old superstitions and folk charms with the season. Though no longer taken seriously these magical formulas may still be practiced as a form of entertainment. In this predominantly Roman Catholic country people once observed Advent with fasting. This tradition has left its mark on the customary Lithuanian Christmas Eve dinner, which is meatless. Today Lithuanians observe Christmas Eve with a ceremonial evening meal, fortune-telling games, and attendance at Midnight Mass, which is referred to as the Shepherd’s Mass (see also shepherds).
In the twentieth century Lithuanians adopted certain Christmas customs more familiar to Americans and western Europeans. These include the exchange of Christmas gifts, the decorated Christmas tree, and the nighttime visit of Santa Claus who sometimes makes a personal appearance in Lithuanian homes on Christmas Eve to distribute gifts. Many Lithuanian families like to gather around the tree after leaving the Christmas Eve dinner table and sing Christmas carols. In some families children are expected to recite a poem, sing a song, or offer some other kind of performance before receiving their gifts.
The Christmas season closes on January 6, with Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. On this day people write the letters KMB over their doorway in chalk as a reminder of the kings who came to visit the baby Jesus (see also Magi). The letters stand for the names assigned to the kings in folklore: Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.