Kūčios (Christmas Eve) is one of the most important celebrations for Lithuanians. During Kūčios Lithuanians used to say goodbye to the old year and celebrate the upcoming New Year. Now Kūčios is identified with the Christian feast – the eve of the birth of Jesus.
The name Kūčios comes from the main dish of this celebration, which is intended for all family members and the souls of relatives. During the ritual evening diner the first mouthful was dedicated to the souls and harvest gods. The kūčia dish was passed around the table and everybody had to taste it.
Kūčia was made from sprouted wheat, peas, beans, poppy, nuts, and hemp. All these seeds were mixed with honey and sweet water. The Kūčios ritual dinner would lead to a productive and fruitful new year.
Kūčios is a family celebration. All family members, even those far away come home to spend time together. It is a holy family duty to come home for Kūčios and strengthen family ties. If somebody died during the year or is not present because of an important reason, an empty seat is left at the table. Candles used to burn in the empty plates.
It was believed that a deceased’s soul would attend dinner with the rest of the family.
Lithuanians also had a tradition of inviting lonely neighbours for Kūčios. If they could not come, they would take some Kūčios dinner to their house.
Preparations for Kūčios used to start early in the morning. It was very important to clean the whole house, change bedding and clothes. Lithuanians also used to go to the bathhouse. This also had a symbolic meaning – protection from any evil or diseases. Up until Kūčios all major work had to be finished, all debts repaid. During the day of Kūčios men would bring firewood to the house, put away tools and clean cattle pens.
For Kūčios the home was decorated with straw. The Christmas tree is not a very old tradition in Lithuania. At the beginning people used to decorate it with apples, nuts, cookies and candles. It was also very important that the fire in the fireplace was not put out during Kūčios.
Women prepared food not only for Kūčios, but also for Christmas. Lithuanians still maintain the tradition of not eating meat during Kūčios.
The Kūčios dinner table was set with hay under the tablecloth. It symbolised the birth of Jesus in a barn.
Hay also had a magic meaning. People would take straw from under the table cloth, if it’s long – you can expect to have a long life, a short one – short life. Thick straw meant a rich and happy life.
Kūčios dinner has to consist of 12 different dishes. They symbolise the 12 months of the year, and according to the Christian traditions the 12 Apostles of Jesus. All dishes have to be without meat, most popular is fish, herring, kūčiukai (small Christmas Eve cookies) with poppy milk, kisielius (a Lithuanian drink from cranberries), dried fruit soup, vegetable salad, mushrooms, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, bread.
Kūčios is the last evening of Advent, so it has to be spent solemnly.