(something I put together a few years ago, with strong borrowings from Vilius’s & Lana’s respective journals)
In Lithuania, remembrance of the dead took place during all annual feast days. Come autumn, when all work was done, Lithuanians carried out special rituals honoring the souls of their dead ancestors.
J.Dlugosh [15th century ] and M.Strijovski [16th century ] wrote that this ritual took place in the month of October and continued from St.Michael’s, September 29th through St.Martin’s, November 11th .Other sources state that the time for honoring the dead was end of October and beginning of November. In ancient writings this ritual is called ” Ilgës”, pangs of love or longings. The name comes from the fact that this ritual went on for a long time, long ritual. In Eastern Lithuania , this ritual was called ” Dziedu” days, old men’s days. This name was related to beggars, who are asked to pray for the souls of the dead.
The ritual traditions of the dead were directly related to peoples’ belief that on that day the souls of the dead return to earth, to their homes. Therefore the souls of the dead were graciously received and treated according to rituals of the ancestors. All 16th and 19th century writings single out hospitality shown to the souls of the dead. According to M.Strijovskis, during this feast people gathered in cemeteries, where women sobbed and lamented over their men, remembering their valor, honesty and good habits. Afterwards the women prepared plentiful suppers. The Kuronians, Ziemgals, Prussians, remembering their dead would go straight from church to a tavern, where they brewed beer, women brought baskets filled with cold, cooked and baked fish, which was eaten without knives. Portions of food and drink were poured under the table.
M.Pretorijus writing about traditions of Westernmost Lithuania said: ” the soul of the dead cannot rest if the table is not set”. Historian T.Narbutas, writes in the 19th century that on the eve of the Day of the Dead, father gathered the family around the table and recited this prayer: ” dear souls of the dead, you are still remembered by the members of my family, you are most worthy of our perpetual remembrance, especially you, my grandparents, my parents, also our relatives, children and everyone whom death took away from our home. I invite you to this annual feast. We wish that this feast is agreeable to you, just like memory of all of you, is to us ”. After a short silence, father asks everyone to sit at the table and eat. Food was eaten in silence.
At the beginning of the 19th century, in the district of Noèia, county of Lyda, Lithuanians prepared twelve different dark foods. People gathered around the table quietly. It was believed that the souls of the dead partook of the meal together with the living members. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, in some parts of Lithuania, an assortment of foods was brought to cemeteries at the beginning of November and left there. Upon returning home from the cemetery, all family members went to wash in the bathhouse. Supper of seven different foods of meat, grains and eggs was prepared and the table was set in a room with windows and doors open wide. The oldest person picked up a candle, circled it around his head and three times around the food then lit it and set it on the table. Everyone spilled a portion of his drink, where no one sat at the corner of the table, saying, ” this is for you, dear souls”. An assortment of foods was also placed on that corner of the table and then everyone began to eat.
In the Dieveniðkës region, still at the beginning of the 20th century, on October’s first Saturday evening, the souls of the dead were feted. Everyone washed up in the evening, started a fire in the cook stove and cooked traditional foods, beet soup, buckwheat porridge, meat, also baked a buckwheat cake. These foods were eaten after midnight, after everyone had taken a nap. The eldest family member poured three tablespoons of beet soup under the table for the souls of the dead. Family eating was begun after this pouring. A portion of each food was placed in a basket and was taken to the beggars. The buckwheat porridge, baked in sheep’s stomach and hen’s or rooster’s right leg or left wing were taken to church as an offering.
In 1998, Mrs.M.Dvynelienë, born in 1900 in this region, told about the autumn of her youth, when all work was completed then celebrations took place. Nine bowls with different foods were set on the table, while a tenth bowl was set at the head of the table, into which three spoonfuls from each of the nine bowls were poured. Then the contents of the tenth bowl were mixed with buckwheat flour and using the mixture, rolls were baked for the dead souls. The number of rolls equaled the number of dead family members. The rolls were given to the beggars, so that they would pray for the dead family members. It was found out from D.Poðka, that in 1823 food allotted to the dead souls is given away to the beggars.
At the beginning of this century, on All Souls’ Day [ a.k.a. Vëlinës ], special bread rolls were baked for the beggars. Giving the rolls to the beggars, each roll was assigned a name of a dead family member, with a request of prayers for the dead. Others would dispense the bread rolls to the dead souls, before putting the rolls into the oven. The first roll went to mother’s soul, second to grandfather’s and so on. A special roll was baked for a soul which no one remembered. In other regions a cross was scratched on the top of the roll.
In northern Lithuania, in the forties a Feast of the Graves, [ a.k.a. Kapðventis ] was celebrated, an autumn holiday by the entire village. A part of donated money was given to the parish priest, and with the remaining money, ritual food was prepared for the priest. Everyone prepared for this feast, invited family and friends. A table covered with a white tablecloth, topped with a burning candle was set in the cemetery.
In Lithuania, the belief that souls of the dead came for a visit during All Souls’ Day, lasted a long time. Some said that the souls visited their family homes, others said that they came to cemeteries and even others that the souls congregated in churches.
The most ancient version is that the souls return home. In the region of Žeimelis, tables would be set with foods in the evening, in rooms with doors and windows ajar to allow the souls of the dead, easy entry. In the towns of Kupiðkis and Panevëþys, on the eve of All Souls Day, everyone expected visits from the souls of dead family members, therefore white and soft beds were prepared. Blessed candles were placed and lit on either side of the pillow and the family knelt near the bed awaiting the arrival of the soul of their dead family member. They would hear cracking in ceilings or floors, which meant that the dead souls had arrived.
The Samogitians had a long standing belief that on the Eve of All souls Day, all souls of the dead were released from Purgatory and away from suffering. Thus all roads to churches are traveled by the souls, to pray there, or the souls return home to visit their families. Seeing flickering candles, the souls gathered and prayed near wayside crosses. Souls of dead children, those buried in diapers and unable to walk, roll on the church floor.
Traditions of honoring the dead took shape in the middle of 19th century: joint visits to cemeteries, decorating of graves, lighting of candles, prayers and support of beggars. In the region of Varëna, it is known that candles were burning in churchyards around 1880 – a symbolic grave was laid and covered with burning candles. After the parish priest blessed all the candles, people carried them away, placing a candle on their family grave. It was thought that those souls who did not ascend to heaven, roam about in perpetual darkness and for this reason lighted candles were placed on grave sites to light the way for them.
In the forties, in several Lithuanian churches celebrations of the dead took place during eight days. From 1966, after publication of the traditions, the eight day practice became a national commemoration octave in all the Lithuanian dioceses.
In the village of Margonys, region of Varëna, today on all eight nights bonfires are lit in cemeteries and all country folk pray for the dead buried in that cemetery. On All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, year after year, Lithuanian gravesites are decorated with most beautiful flowers and burning candles.
The beliefs of All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days are:
1- on the day of All Souls, the souls of the dead come to visit the living, asking that the living pray for them.
2 – one time before All Saints’ Day, a homemaker swept the house and sprinkled with sand. In the morning sees the floor covered with small footprints, but there are no small children in the house. Therefore she understood that souls of dead children had come into the house.
3 – if mother went to the cemetery at midnight on All Souls’ Day, she would see her dead children.
4 – on All Souls’ Day, churches are filled with souls of the dead. That day, the souls are not burning in hell. They are happy. However some, whose mothers are wailing, these souls arrive wet, soaked by earthly tears. No need to cry for the dead.
5 – on the Eve of All Saints’ Day, one does not go visiting or walking through villages because all roads and the country side are filled with souls of the dead. There can also be some mean souls.
6 – on All Souls’ Day and in the evening no ashes or garbage should be taken out, because the souls can be witched by these items.
7 – if it rained on the night of All Souls’ Day, there will be numerous deaths the following year.
8 – if the sun did not shine on All Saints’ Day, the following year will be filled with misfortunes.
9 – if on All Saints’ Day, trees are still fully covered with leaves, it will be a year of black death.
10 – if a child is born on the eve of All Souls’ Day, when in life he attends a funeral meal, he will see evil souls