Growing up, I always loved Easter traditions. Easter was one of my favorite holidays. The best part of living overseas is learning new holiday traditions, especially Easter, because we wake up to a basket of chocolate candy, but it is also a sign that spring and warm weather were on the way! As I grew older, and had children of my own, I incorporated our own Easter traditions from Lithuania.
Where did Easter come from?
The first mention of Lithuania was in the year 1009. It was in these years that Pagan Easter traditions were born and eventually morphed into Christian traditions we see today. Lithuania was actually the last country in Europe to change from Paganism to Christianity.
Velykos is the Lithuanian word for Easter. It actually means the souls of the dead.
Easter was originally celebrated on the first full moon of the Spring Equinox. Equinox is when dark and daylight hours are approximately the same in length.
The ancient Lithuanians believed that when the Equinox came the souls rose from the dead. The dead souls would help prepare the ground for new harvest and help bring new life and new beginnings to the villages. There were many variations of how the dead souls appeared. Some believed them to show themselves as animals; others believed that the dead souls came up as snakes emerging from hibernation. A little creepy, right?
Egg-cellent fact: The ancient Egyptians thought the egg was a gift from their most cherished god, the Sun God!
Ancient Lithuanians would often visit graveyards and celebrate the souls of their loved ones rising from the dead during the Spring Equinox. They would visit the graves and take food and gifts… and guess what that food was? Eggs! And the gifts? Decorated eggs!
Why eggs? Many ancient people believed that the egg was the key or circle to life and that it held special powers. The ancient Lithuanians were no different. Some even believed that the yellow of the egg was actually the soul of the snake and had mystical healing powers. Others believed if you were trying to conceive you should eat raw eggs because it was a powerful fertility agent.
Easter eggs were thought to have even more special powers. They were used as gifts and good luck symbols. The Saturday before Easter was dedicated to decorating eggs. The ancient Lithuanians would decorate dozens of beautiful eggs, and many were given away as gifts.
Why do we color the eggs?
The ancient Lithuanians believed that coloring or decorating the eggs gave them even more magical and mystical powers, so the eggs were decorated and cherished by all.
The original egg decorating was done with natural herbs, trees, flowers, and roots. The most ornate eggs were dipped in hot wax to make beautiful designs. They were colored and decorated as a sign to the Pagan Gods on what was needed. For example: if they hoped for a sunny year for the village, they would paint eggs with a sun. If they needed more rain, they would paint raindrops.
The color of the eggs also had meaning. The red eggs represent life. The green eggs represent the awakening of vegetation. Blue eggs represent the sky. Black eggs represent the ground. Yellow eggs represent ripe corn and wheat at the harvest.
Here is a cool video on how the original eggs were hand-decorated in Lithuania, and the video also includes some of the history behind the eggs! During the Soviet Occupation, decorating Easter eggs was forbidden.
Thank you, Easter Bunny! Other eggs were left for children as gifts. They were left in the window sill by the Easter Granny or Velykų Senelė. She was the ancient Easter Bunny. She had a small house in the woods, and all the animals would help her decorate the eggs for all the good children. She would pack her cart with colored eggs and fruits to give to the children. In the dead of night, she would leave colorful eggs on their window sills. Today, in Europe and Lithuania, you see many window sills decorated with colorful eggs.
I’m egg-cited! The single men would visit the single women’s houses and hope for a gift of a decorated egg. Receiving an egg meant they had a possible future together. If the man asked for an egg, and the women did not have one, he would carry her to the chicken yard and they would have to sit and wait until a hen laid an egg so that she could gift it to him. True story!
Egg-superstition: Anyone who has been to Lithuania knows that it is full of superstitions and legends; Easter is no different. Here are some of the superstitions that surround Easter!
Each head of the family should bury a decorated egg at the front of the home to keep the family safe from harm. The family also kept a few eggs hidden in the house to protect everyone from fire during lightning storms.
They would often decorate a tree and hang eggs – this would ensure happiness!
Decorated eggs were always buried in the fields and in the stables to ensure a good harvest and healthy animals.
Egg games: Eggs were used in games – one such game was called tapping the egg. Each family member would pick an egg. Each would tap another family member’s egg to see which one would break. The family member with the surviving egg would have great luck and prosperity for the upcoming year.
The person who taps or touches an egg gets to keep it. The game goes on until all the eggs are collected. The person who collects the most eggs will have the best luck and good harvest for the upcoming year.
Another tradition is the egg-rolling game. The eggs are rolled down a small wooden slide.
Egg-cellent fact: The game of rolling the egg, even done at the White House today, stems from the belief that eggs have magical powers to bring the land back to life after the winter. If you rolled it over dead land, it would come back to life. I wonder if the president knows that?
Anyone that received a decorated egg was to cherish that egg as great luck. So, if you receive an egg, make sure you hide it in your house to ensure the safety of your family.
I almost forgot our favorite thing to do with the eggs – EAT them! Happy Easter from the Veikalas family!
Part of Sunday Traveler: http://www.chasingthedonkey.com/sunday-traveler/