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Kūčios (Lithuanian pronunciation: [ˈkuːtɕɔs] ) or Kūtės (Samogitian Dialect) is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Lithuania, held on the twenty fourth of December. The meal is a family occasion which includes many traditions of both pagan and Christian origin. Some traditions are no longer widespread and usually Lithuanians just enjoy dinner with relatives and friends while the main events and festivities are left for Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve is the evening or entire day before Christmas Day, the festival commemorating the birth of Jesus. Christmas Day is observed around the world, and Christmas Eve is widely observed as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas Day. Together, both days are considered one of the most culturally significant celebrations in Christendom and Western society.
Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania, is a country in the Baltic region of Europe. Lithuania is considered to be one of the Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.8 million people as of 2019, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. Other major cities are Kaunas and Klaipėda. Lithuanians are Baltic people. The official language, Lithuanian, along with Latvian, is one of only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.
Everyone in a family makes a special effort to come home for the Christmas Eve supper, even from great distances. They make the journey not so much for the meal as for the sacred ritual of Kūčios. Kūčios draws the family members closer, bringing everyone together and strengthening the family ties. In this spirit, if a family member has died that year or cannot attend the meal (only for very serious reasons) an empty place is left at the table. A plate is still placed on the table and a chair is drawn up, but no spoons, knives or forks are set. A small candle is placed on the plate and lit during the meal. It is believed that the spirit of the deceased family member participates in the Kūčios along with everyone.
Preparing for Kūčios is an all day event, though the preparations can begin up to a week in advance in some communities. On Christmas Eve, the entire house must be thoroughly cleaned and all of the bed linens must be changed. Everyone attending Kūčios must bathe and dress in clean clothes before the evening meal. Before gathering at the ritual table, everybody makes up with their neighbors and forgives their enemies. The twelve dishes for the evening meal are prepared as is the meal for the first day of Christmas during the day.
Traditionally, people fast and abstain from meat for the entire day. While the Catholic Church has decreed that food may be eaten as often as desired on Christmas Eve, most Lithuanians still adhere to the original custom of abstinence. Before they changed their stance, Catholics could only eat a handful of boiled peas and water on Christmas Eve with exceptions allowing small children, the sick or very old persons to eat a bit more. This tradition is still followed by many Lithuanians. Although official fasting no longer exists, most Lithuanians refrain from eating meat on Christmas Eve so as to preserve tradition. Regardless of what is consumed during the day, it is vitally important that the Christmas Eve dinner include no meat dishes because it would then no longer be called Kūčios but an ordinary meal prepared for any other evening ( Lithuanian-American Community 2002 ).
In the liturgical calendar of the Western Christian churches, ember days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, that are set aside for fasting and prayer. These days set apart for special prayer and fasting were considered especially suitable for the ordination of clergy. The Ember Days are known in Latin as the quatuor anni tempora, or formerly as the jejunia quatuor temporum.
Lithuanians are a Baltic ethnic group, native to Lithuania, where they number around 2,561,300 people. Another million or more make up the Lithuanian diaspora, largely found in countries such as the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Russia, United Kingdom and Ireland. Their native language is Lithuanian, one of only two surviving members of the Baltic language family. According to the census conducted in 2001, 83.45% of the population of Lithuania identified themselves as Lithuanians, 6.74% as Poles, 6.31% as Russians, 1.23% as Belarusians, and 2.27% as members of other ethnic groups. Most Lithuanians belong to the Roman Catholic Church, while the Lietuvininkai who lived in the northern part of East Prussia prior to World War II, were mostly Evangelical Lutherans.
For the Christmas Eve dinner, the table is prepared in a special way. A handful of fine hay is spread evenly on the table which is a reminder that Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger on hay. The table is then covered with a pure white tablecloth, set with plates and decorated with symbols of the life force, which sustains the human world according to pagan beliefs ( Dundzila 1990 ). These include fir boughs, candles, and a bundle of unthreshed rye, which pagan families would traditionally bind around their apple trees the next day. Live flowers are not appropriate for the table, in particular the red or white poinsettias that are so common in other countries during the Christmas season.
A stable is a building in which livestock, especially horses, are kept. It most commonly means a building that is divided into separate stalls for individual animals. There are many different types of stables in use today; the American-style barn, for instance, is a large barn with a door at each end and individual stalls inside or free-standing stables with top and bottom-opening doors. The term "stable" is also used to describe a group of animals kept by one owner, regardless of housing or location.
The poinsettia is a commercially important plant species of the diverse spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). The species is indigenous to Mexico. It is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.
Dinner starts when the first star appears in the sky. (This tradition is no longer common). Waiting for the star to appear in the sky symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem leading the shepherds to Bethlehem. Instead of a town, the star leads the members of the family to the table for dinner. If it is a cloudy night, the evening meal begins when the head of the house announces it is time to eat. Either way it is determined, the meal usually begins between six and seven o’clock.
The Star of Bethlehem, or Christmas Star, appears only in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where "wise men from the East" (Magi) are inspired by the star to travel to Jerusalem. There they meet King Herod of Judea, and ask, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" We have come to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews. Herod calls his scribes and priests who quote to him that a verse from the Book of Micah interpreted as a prophecy, states that the Jewish Messiah would be born in Bethlehem to the south of Jerusalem. Secretly intending to find and kill the Messiah in order to preserve his own kingship, Herod invites the wise men to return to him on their way home.
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the central West Bank, Palestine, about 10 km south of Jerusalem. Its population is approximately 25,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate. The economy is primarily tourist-driven.
In certain Lithuanian regions apples were placed on the table because December 24 is the feast day of Adam and Eve. The apples recalled our first parents through whose sin mankind fell and that the world was saved through the submissiveness of the New Eve— Mary, the Mother of God—to God's will( Lithuanian-American Community 2002 ).
Adam and Eve, according to the creation myth of the Abrahamic religions, were the first man and woman. They are central to the belief that humanity is in essence a single family, with everyone descended from a single pair of original ancestors. It also provides the basis for the doctrines of the fall of man and original sin that are important beliefs in Christianity, although not held in Judaism or Islam.
If apples are placed on the table, the mother takes an apple, cuts it into as many pieces as there are diners and gives the father the first piece. This symbolizes the fall of the first parents when Eve gave Adam the apple which he took and ate( 2002 ). Then the remaining apple pieces are distributed to those at table.
The reason for there being twelve separate dishes varies between pagan and Christian beliefs. The pagans practiced Kūčios traditionally with nine different foods, because there were nine months in the year according to the ancient calendar. According to the alternative tradition, the thirteen different dishes represented the thirteen lunar months of the year( Dundzila 1990 ). However, under the influence of the solar calendar, the number changed to twelve. Christians have different beliefs but it is not hard to see how the pagan beliefs could have been adapted by missionaries or monks. For Christians, the twelve different dishes served on the table represent Jesus’ twelve apostles.
The evening meal consists of very specific dishes. There can be no meat, dairy, or hot food. ( Ramuva & Vilnius 2007 ) Typical dishes include fish, vegetables, and bread. Silkė is a name for herring, a type of fish, dish which is served with different sauces. The sauces can be tomato, mushroom, or onion based. Ungurys, or smoked European eel, is also a common dish. Other common dishes include boiled or baked potatoes, spanguolių kisielius (cranberry kissel), cooked sauerkraut (prepared without meat), mushrooms, kūčiukai or šližikai (bite-sized hard biscuits) with agounų pienas or aguonpienis (a poppy seed “milk”), cranberry pudding, and multigrain breads with honey and margarine because butter is not allowed being a dairy product.
According to ethnologists, Kūčiukai is the archaic form of ritual bread, that is meant for the souls. They are so tiny because souls have no material bodies; the plentifulness of them is due to the fact that there exists a great number of souls.
Everything served at the meal should be made from ingredients available in Lithuania during the winter. This is because the people whose lifestyle produced the Kūčios traditions made do with food prepared in the summer and fall: dried, pickled and otherwise preserved for the winter. The meal is traditionally served with water, homemade cider, or fruit juice. Everyone is expected to eat some of each dish served; whoever skips a Kūčios dish will not survive to see the next Christmas Eve. Leaving the table before everyone has finished eating is also considered unlucky; the first to rise while another is still eating will be the first to die. The meal is eaten leisurely but solemnly, there is little conversation or joking.( Ramuva & Vilnius 2007 )
In the past rituals used to be widespread and now are not as common, the rituals used to predict the future and welfare of family members such as these:
After the meal, everyone leaves the table to go to sleep or the midnight mass, known as the Shepherds’ Mass. The food is left to stand overnight. It is believed that the spirits of deceased relatives or loved ones will visit the home during the night and the table set with food would make them feel welcome. It was believed that the baby Jesus allows the souls of all the departed to return to earth to visit their families.
The evening of Kūčios is filled with many traditions for either predicting the future or assuring success in the year to come. These traditions predate the Christians coming to Lithuania and, as such, are all pagan beliefs.
On Kūčios, as during many other Lithuanian feasts, much attention is paid to wedding themes. Many of these rituals involve the maidens in the house. There are several rare marriage charms:
On Christmas Eve a greater attention was given to animals. This was to assure their health, fertility and breeding success:
Arūnas Vaicekauskas, Ancient Lithuanian calendar festivals, 2014, Vytautas Magnus University, Versus Aureus. ISBN 978-609-467-018-3, ISBN 978-609-467-017-6
Christmas in Poland is a major annual celebration, as in most countries of the Christian world. The observance of Christmas developed gradually over the centuries, beginning in ancient times; combining old Polish pagan customs with the religious ones introduced after the Christianization of Poland by the Catholic Church. Later influences include mutual permeating of local traditions and various folk cultures. It is one of the most important religious holidays for Poles, who follow a somewhat strict traditional custom. Christmas trees are decorated and lit in family rooms on the day of Christmas Eve. Other trees are placed in most public areas and outside churches. Christmas in Poland is called "Boże Narodzenie", which translates to 'God's Birth'.
Romuva is a modern reinstitution of the traditional ethnic religion of the Baltic peoples, reviving the ancient religious practices of the Lithuanians before their Christianization in 1387. Romuva claims to continue living Baltic pagan traditions which survived in folklore and customs. They also share similarities with ancient Hinduism. Romuva is a polytheistic pagan faith which asserts the sanctity of nature and ancestor worship. Practising the Romuva faith is seen by many adherents as a form of cultural pride, along with celebrating traditional forms of art, retelling Baltic folklore, practising traditional holidays, playing traditional Baltic music, singing traditional dainas or hymns and songs as well as ecological activism and stewarding sacred places. The community was organized and led by krivių krivaitis Jonas Trinkūnas until his death in 2014. He was buried according to the old Baltic traditions. His wife Inija Trinkūnienė was chosen as the new krivė and her ordination was held on May 31, 2015 in Vilnius on the Gediminas Hill. She is the first woman to become krivė in the long pagan history.
Danish cuisine originated from the peasant population's own local produce and was enhanced by cooking techniques developed in the late 19th century and the wider availability of goods during and after the Industrial Revolution. Open sandwiches, known as smørrebrød, which in their basic form are the usual fare for lunch, can be considered a national speciality when prepared and decorated with a variety of fine ingredients. Hot meals are typically prepared with meat or fish. Substantial meat and fish dishes includes flæskesteg and kogt torsk with mustard sauce and trimmings. Ground meats became widespread during the industrial revolution and traditional dishes that are still popular includes frikadeller, karbonader and medisterpølse. Denmark is known for its Carlsberg and Tuborg beers and for its akvavit and bitters, but amongst the Danes themselves imported wine has gained steadily in popularity since the 1960s.
Dutch cuisine is formed from the cooking traditions and practices of the Netherlands. The country's cuisine is shaped by its location in the fertile North Sea river delta of the European Plain, giving rise to fishing, farming, and trading over sea.
Ukrainian cuisine is the collection of the various cooking traditions of the Ukrainian people accumulated over many years. The cuisine is heavily influenced by the rich dark soil (chornozem) from which its ingredients come and often involves many components.
Jewish cuisine is a diverse collection of cooking traditions of the Jewish people worldwide. It has evolved over many centuries, shaped by Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), Jewish Festival and Shabbat (Sabbath) traditions. Jewish cuisine is influenced by the economics, agriculture and culinary traditions of the many countries where Jewish communities have settled and varies widely throughout the whole world.
Christmas traditions vary from country to country. Christmas celebrations for many nations include the installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, setting out cookies and milk, and the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas carols may be sung and stories told about such figures as the Baby Jesus, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost. The sending and exchange of Christmas card greetings, observance of fasting and special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve, the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmas is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St Nicholas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's, and the Feast of the Epiphany.
Christmas wafer is a central European Christian Christmas tradition celebrated in Poland, Lithuania and in some parts of Slovakia during Wigilia, or the Christmas Eve Vigil.
Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24. The term is often applied to the whole of Christmas Eve, extending further to Pasterka - midnight Mass, held in Roman Catholic churches all over Poland and in Polish communities worldwide at or before midnight. The custom is sometimes referred to as "wieczerza" or "wieczerza wigilijna", in Old Polish meaning evening repast, linked to the late church service, Vespers from the Latin.
A twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper is traditionally prepared in many Central European and Northern European cultures, especially those that were formerly part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. The meal consists of twelve meatless dishes representing the twelve months of the year. The tradition of the supper can be traced back to pre-Christian times and connected with remembrance of the souls of deceased ancestors.
Christmas dinner is a meal traditionally eaten at Christmas. This meal can take place any time from the evening of Christmas Eve to the evening of Christmas Day itself. The meals are often particularly rich and substantial, in the tradition of the Christian feast day celebration, and form a significant part of gatherings held to celebrate Christmas. In some cases, there is a ritual element to the meal related to the religious celebration.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as The Eve, is an Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve with dishes of fish and other seafood.
Traditional Estonian cuisine has substantially been based on meat and potatoes, and on fish in coastal and lakeside areas, but now bears influence from many other cuisines, including a variety of international foods and dishes, with a number of contributions from the traditions of nearby countries. Scandinavian, German, Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian and other influences have played their part. The most typical foods in Estonia have been rye bread, pork, potatoes and dairy products. Estonian eating habits have historically been closely linked to the seasons. In terms of staples, Estonia belongs firmly to the beer, vodka, rye bread and pork "belt" of Europe.
Church teaching places the origin of the Eucharist in the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, at which he is believed to have taken bread and given it to his disciples, telling them to eat of it, because it was his body, and to have taken a cup and given it to his disciples, telling them to drink of it because it was the cup of the covenant in his blood.
Serbian Christmas traditions are customs and practices of the Serbs associated with Christmas and a period encompassing it, between the third Sunday before Christmas Day and Epiphany. There are many, complex traditions connected with this period. They vary from place to place, and in many areas have been updated or watered down to suit modern living. The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić, which is the diminutive form of the word bog ("god"), and can be translated as "young god". Christmas is celebrated for three consecutive days, starting with Christmas Day, which the Serbs call the first day of Christmas. On these days, one is to greet another person by saying "Christ is Born," which should be responded to with "Truly He is Born," or in Serbian: „Hristos se rodi“ [ˈxristɔs sɛ ˈrɔdi] – „Vaistinu se rodi“ [ˈʋaistinu sɛ ˈrɔdi].
Badnjak, refers to a log brought into the house and placed on the fire on the evening of Christmas Eve, a central tradition in Croatian Christmas celebration, much like a yule log in other European traditions. In Croatian the name for Christmas Eve is derived from the term badnjak. The log is cut with great ceremony on Christmas Eve morning, which for Roman Catholic Croats is December 24. The cutting, preparation, bringing in, and laying on the fire are surrounded by elaborate religious rituals, with many regional variations. The log is kept burning throughout Christmas Day.
Christmas is celebrated throughout December and traditionally until St. Knut's Day on January 13. The main celebration and the exchange of gifts in many families takes place on Christmas Eve, December 24. The Lucia Day is celebrated during Advent, on December 13.
A meal is an eating occasion that takes place at a certain time and includes prepared food. The names used for specific meals in English vary greatly, depending on the speaker's culture, the time of day, or the size of the meal.
Christmas in France is a major annual celebration, as in most countries of the Christian world. Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday in France being celebrated on December 25, same as the United States and other countries.