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Christmas in Lithuania

How do young Lithuanians celebrate Christmas? Lithuanian traditions are not forgotten even abroad

Image source: © Canva / Canva
Materiały Prasowe,
11.01.2024 13:06

For many people, the period leading up to Christmas is their favourite time of the year. Some enjoy buying presents, others find immense pleasure decorating their home, and there are also those who just enjoy warm and cosy atmosphere with their loved ones. However, not all young Lithuanians will be able to enjoy the Christmas season in their home country. Several young individuals have agreed to share with Delfi how they plan to celebrate the holidays and what Christmas traditions will cherish.

The same traditions have been preserved since childhood

Gabrielė from Vilnius says that the festive period has been giving her pleasant emotions and inner warmth since her childhood.

"I’ve always loved Christmas because, ever since I was a child, my parents would do everything to make it a delightful celebration, a memorable magical experience. Santa Claus used to visit our home too. That time is very magical for me since childhood," says the girl.

According to Gabrielė, the most important Christmas element reminding her of the festive season in her family home appears quite early.

"We always decorate a big Christmas tree. For me, the mere act of turning on the lights on the Christmas tree has always been an indicator that the magic is about to begin. We were usually among the first ones to decorate the house, and we keep the decorations up until the end of January because I really wanted to preserve the festive mood until my birthday, which is on 28th January," said Gabrielė.

She adds that the traditions that her parents have been upholding since she was a child are preserved to this day.

"I think I’m continuing my family traditions. For me it is very important. I associate them with my family, with slowing down, coming together, and spending quality time at home. At Christmas table we often reflect on the past year – what we enjoyed the most, what brought us happiness, and so on," she explained.

Conscious evaluation of financial capabilities

Although Gabrielė said she starts preparing for the winter holidays well in advance, the girl is very conscious about buying gifts and responsibly plans how much to spend.

"I wouldn’t say I spend more during this period. Maybe I’ve become more aware of the traps that marketing sets to lure us in – numerous tempting offers encouraging pure consumerism. I am looking at it more critically, questioning whether I do I really need this particular item. I simply refrain from buying things I don’t need," says Gabrielė.

Agreements with others also help to avoid excessive spending.

"While it is inevitable to spend more on gifts, nevertheless I try to plan my finances, agree with the loved ones on the sum of money to spend on a gift. Ultimately, it is not the money spent, but the warmth and the notion that someone was thinking about you is the most valuable gift you can get. The event of meeting and exchanging symbolic gifts is the best feeling ever," the girl thinks.

Sharing family traditions

This Christmas, like many others, Gabrielė is spending with her family in Vilnius.

"We always celebrate in Vilnius, at home. On Christmas Eve, we prepare 12 traditional dishes, the entire family gathers together. We have a tradition where everyone shares their accomplishments from this year: what they have done, what brought them happiness, what they would like to do differently in the becoming year. It serves as a kind of collective self-reflection for the entire year," she shared.

According to the girl, this tradition is not only fun but also holds significant value.

"It’s genuinely really cool because you realise how much you’ve achieved, get a chance to appreciate your accomplishments, because when you don’t see any progress, you feel like nothing is changing. And when you think about how much you’ve travelled, for example, this year, and how physically active you were, maybe made some new acquaintances, it’s not only fun, but also gives you a lot of extra motivation for the upcoming year," Gabrielė says.

For Gabrielė, Christmas morning is another very joyful experience.

"Even though my brothers and I are not early birds, on Christmas morning, we get up early and rush to the Christmas tree, as we just enjoy those moments so much. Unwrapping gifts bring a lot of pleasant moments. We are always so excited about the presents that I think even if we only got a chocolate bar each, we would still jump for joy, because somehow the idea itself makes us very happy, as all the presents, regardless of their nature, are always wonderful and, of course, useful," shares Gabrielė.

The girl elaborates more on Christmas gifts.

"There are gifts for parents, children, and also gifts for the entire family. For example, one year, we got a projector, so that we could all watch films together at home," Gabrielė recalls.

The festive mood extends beyond unwrapping Christmas gifts.

"After unwrapping gifts, we play Christmas music or watch holiday movies, enjoy breakfast in our pyjamas, sip cocoa, and enjoy the beautiful morning," says Gabrielė.

She added, that for her and her family, the most important thing during the holidays is being together, enjoying the festive mood and being grateful for everything they have. This is what Gabrielė’s family see as the most valuable tradition to be preserved.

Not everyone will spend the holidays with the loved ones

Unfortunately, not all young people in Lithuania will be celebrating Christmas this year together with the beloved family. This year, a Lithuanian currently residing abroad, Justė will be spending Christmas period away from home and her home country, Lithuania. Despite the long distance, this doesn’t stop her from enjoying the most beautiful holiday of the year.

"I love Christmas. For me, personally, since I was a little girl, Christmas has been the most important festival of the year," said Justė.

According to the girl, who currently lives in the USA, the Christmas period in New York is incredibly exciting.

"All the bars, restaurants and surroundings, in general, start preparations very early in advance. In fact, from the 1st of November onward, there are Christmas decorations everywhere," she says.

However, Justė says, American traditions have not changed her habits.

"I think it’s too early, I, personally, try not to decorate my house before December because I always know that the earlier I start celebrating, the sooner I’ll get bored of Christmas decorations and lose the festive mood. Usually, I buy a Christmas tree and decorate the house on the first weekend in December. Usually, preparations are accompanied with a nice dinner," she said.

Justė admits that she typically starts thinking about the presents almost at the last minute. And she is not proud of it.

"It’s always at the last minute. Every year, I tell myself that next year I will start planning and buying presents for my family in advance, there will be no fuss and bad decisions, but the year goes by, and I fail to keep my promise and do it again at the last minute," the girl admits.

The fifth Christmas away from home

This is won’t be the first year Justė spends the holidays without her family and away from home.

"This year will be the fifth Christmas in a row that I won’t be celebrating in Lithuania, with my family," she said.

The girl recalled her first Christmas in America.

"All I can say is that the first Christmas in New York and the fifth Christmas in New York are radically different from an emotional standpoint. I remember the first Christmas to be something surreal, I felt like I was in a movie. New York during the Christmas period is truly spectacular and charming. In the first year, it was very interesting to see the famous "Rockefeller Center" Christmas tree, there were many things that impressed me," Justė remembers.

In the first year, homesickness was quite intense, but certain thoughts proved very useful in dealing with it.

"It wasn’t very difficult emotionally, because I knew that soon my family will come to visit me. Knowing that after a month or two we will be together, helped me to concentrate only on a good moments and positive things", said the girl.

The girl admits that over the years something has changed.

"I wonder if it is possible to come to terms with the idea that it will not be possible to celebrate Christmas with family and relatives in Lithuania. I feel that every year during the Christmas season my emotions just get stronger and more intense. If in the first year everything was very new and exciting, the fifth year is different. Of course, the Christmas period remains very special, but I miss my family more and more, and that, I think, is natural," Justė reveals.

Modern technologies help to keep in touch with the relatives and at least for a moment to become a part of traditional Lithuanian holidays.

"My family and I always call each other on Christmas, Christmas Eve, and New Year, and usually it happens when they are gathered around the festive table. We exchange greetings, wish each other well, congratulate each other, but when the conversation ends, it’s hard. Something is happening inside. It’s always sad during the big holidays, but I do have wonderful friends, incredible boyfriend. For the last few years, we have celebrated the holidays together, planned something special, went for a dinner somewhere. I’m never sad, I’m never alone and I’m always surrounded by wonderful people," said the girl.

Distance does not prevent from surprising each other

Although Justė and her family in Lithuania are separated by the vast distance, it does not prevent them from surprising each other and expressing love.

"Every year we exchange gifts. I usually ask my sister, who lives in Lithuania, to buy gifts for my parents, and I ask my parents, especially my mother, to buy gifts for my sister. Since childhood, we have tried to keep a certain secrecy around buying gifts, so even now, being very far from each other, we try to preserve this tradition," said Justė.

In the past, Justė has tried other ways to surprise her loved ones.

"I tried several times to send gifts from America to Lithuania, which was very nice, but proved impractical. My parents, however, send me gifts all the time. Every year, I receive a parcel from Lithuania containing a gift, sweets, and a postcard. I look forward to it every year. The urge to surprise one another is very powerful. It really doesn’t demand much effort, but the result is always positive," says the young Lithuanian living in America.

Although, during this period, she misses being together with her family, the closest friends partly compensate this.

"As I mentioned, we always plan something with our friends. Most of the time, we gather for dinner at a restaurant or cook together at someone’s house. Also, we have a "Secret Santa" tradition, so we can all exchange gifts and have fun. We may not have any special traditions, but we get together and have a great time," said Justė.

Introducing Lithuanian traditions to America

Living in America gave Justė the opportunity not only to get to know a new country, but also acquaint herself with its diverse culture and traditions. When asked, how American holiday traditions differ from the Lithuanian ones, the girl admits failing to notice any significant distinctions or peculiarities.

"There are a lot of people of different religions in America, especially in New York, so Christmas is celebrated differently in many places, and some people do not celebrate at all. In the circle of my friends, however, the Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year are quite similar to Lithuanian versions," she says.

However, Justė emphasises one particular difference she has noticed.

"One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed is that Christmas Eve is not as important to Americans as it is to us Lithuanians. We prepare 12 dishes, follow other traditions, visit our relatives, and gather around a large table. In general, we take the Christmas Eve dinner a bit more seriously, and here in America I get the impression that Thanksgiving is more important. It seems, that for Americans this holiday is of similar importance as the Christmas Eve is for Lithuanians," the girl thinks.

In addition, according to Justė, Americans also promote different traditions for exchanging gifts.

"Americans exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, which is very strange to me. I know, that some people do that in Lithuania as well, and everything is fine with that. However, in my family, it has been a tradition since childhood to exchange gifts on Christmas morning," she said.

Justė also has tried to introduce her friends to Lithuanian Christmas celebrations.

"I have many friends here in New York. And they are not only Americans, I have also friends from Ireland, Sweden, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Barbados. I am surrounded by a lot of cool people, and it is very interesting to see how they react to certain Lithuanian traditions. One year, I tried to show them Christmas Eve rituals – everyone liked it very much, and I also introduced them to our special Christmas Eve cookies, it became a hit," recalls Justė.

This year is the fifth time Justė celebrates Christmas in America and says having a gut feeling that the upcoming holidays will be one of the best she has experienced in New York so far.

"I plan to celebrate Christmas with my friend and his family. My friend and his family are from South America, so I think this year the Christmas Eve will be very interesting. His family is Catholic, like most people in Lithuania, so the traditions are very similar – we celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year quite alike," she shares.

Of course, despite similarities, some substantial differences do exist.

"The biggest difference is that their Christmas Eve is like a New Year’s party, so I was told to get ready to party and dance a lot. I’m really looking forward to it, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Christmas will be very traditional - in the morning, we will exchange gifts, have a festive breakfast, maybe in the evening we will meet with friends, we will go to dinner", the girl thinks.

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