Lithuania is in Northern Europe, nestled between Belarus, Latvia and Poland. By December, the area is gripped by cold temperatures and covered in ice and snow. As Christmas Eve approaches, Lithuanians traverse the frozen landscape to be home with their families for the sacred ritual of Kucios. Kucios is the Lithuanian word representing Christmas Eve and the supper served on the same night. While it used to be customary to fast, most Lithuanians now partake in a 12-course meatless dinner.
Christmas Eve Preparations
Christmas Eve is more important in Lithuania than Christmas Day. It is an unspoken sentiment that the Christmas Eve celebration is an indicator of how the following year will play out. Preparations begin early on Christmas Eve morning, with families tending to livestock, cooking copious amounts of food, changing the bedsheets and cleaning the entire house. People take extra care to bathe and put on fresh clothes. Some believe that being clean will protect them from evil and disease in the coming year.
Setting the Table
The Christmas Eve table is traditionally covered with straw to symbolize baby Jesus in the manger. The straw is sometimes mixed with mint to make it aromatic and also to entice good spirits to attend. The table is topped with a pristine white table cloth, and decorated with candles and small fir branches. A place is set for each loved one unable to come to dinner, as well as any family member who has passed away within the last year. A candle is burned at each place to mark the absence.
Dinner is Served
When the first star appears in the sky, the family can sit down to dinner. If the sky is too dark or cloudy, the head of the house will decide when the meal can be served. The meal begins with the eldest member of the family saying a prayer and passing out wafers also known as "God's cakes," It is considered bad luck if you are skipped when the wafers are passed. The 12 courses to follow represent each of the 12 Apostles. Typical dishes include biscuits, dumplings, mushrooms, herring, sauerkraut, oatmeal and cranberry pudding.
Table Code of Conduct
Respect and tradition are revered at the Christmas Eve table. Parents and grandparents are often the first people to speak. Topics of conversation center around the birth of Jesus and the important events of the past year, including the harvest. It would be unlucky to pass up a course, so each person takes from each of the plates on the table. People eat slowly and wait for one another to finish. No one leaves the table until the entire family has finished eating. Legend has it that if you do leave, you will die the following year.
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