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Lithuanian Christmas Eve table with kuciukai Kucios.JPG
Lithuanian Christmas Eve table with kūčiukai

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 Evening or entire day before 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 republic in Northeastern Europe

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 ).

Ember days 3 days set aside for fasting and prayer in each season

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.

Stable building for horses and other livestock

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.

Poinsettia species of plant, Poinsettia

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.

Star of Bethlehem celestial phenomenon that according to the New Testament revealed the birth of Jesus to the Wise Men

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 City in Bethlehem Governorate

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 Biblical figures

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.

Number of Dishes

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.


Kuciukai not yet soaked in the poppy seed milk Kuciukai.jpg
Kūčiukai not yet soaked in the poppy seed milk

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. [1]

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:

(Vanseviciene 2001c)


On Christmas Eve a greater attention was given to animals. This was to assure their health, fertility and breeding success:

See also


Arūnas Vaicekauskas, Ancient Lithuanian calendar festivals, 2014, Vytautas Magnus University, Versus Aureus. ISBN   978-609-467-018-3, ISBN   978-609-467-017-6

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