ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2015 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 61, No.1 - Spring  2015
Editor of this issue: Almantas Samalavičius

Annual Holidays in Lithuania: Discourse in the Press and the Reality in Daily Life


DALIA SENVAITYTĖ is an associate professor at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, where she teaches courses in ethnology and cultural studies.

This article discusses the features of envisioning annual holidays in Lithuanian periodicals from the mid-nineteenth to the end of the twenty-first century. The reasons for a particular discourse are analyzed, along with the links of holiday discourses with Lithuanian identity. The holidays presented in public discourse and their features are compared to common practices of celebrating popular holidays by Lithuania’s people. This work summarizes the results of research conducted from 2012 to 2014. 

The research results indicate that calendar holidays, as constituent parts of ethnic culture, were drawn into a developing national self-awareness and public discourse relatively late: the beginning of the twentieth century. Discussions in periodicals about holidays during the interwar period become more widespread and especially multifaceted. They associate closely with the actual practice of commemorating holidays. The discourse on annual holidays changes radically during Soviet times. A cycle of holidays forms, but does not correspond with their actual popularity. After 1990, the public envisioning of holidays becomes similar to what it was during the interwar period, both reflecting and forming the popularity of a holiday in reality, as well as the features of celebrating it.


The discourse on annual holidays, just as any other discourse in the media, not only reflects but is also formed by its sociocultural context. The media uphold the dominant ideology as they submit their own predominant discourse for the year, which predetermines interpretations of events1 and signifies what and how to think about one or another matter2 (McCombs, Shaw, 1993, 58-67). 

This article presents the ways annual holidays have been envisioned in Lithuanian periodicals from the late nineteenth to the beginning of the twenty-first century. It also describes the reasons for some discourse and the relationship of that discourse to Lithuanian identity. There are explanations about which holidays are drawn into public discourse and why, as well as how well a holiday presented in public discourse reflects its actual celebration by the people. This discussion is limited to annual holidays celebrated by Lithuanians collectively3, leaving aside annual holidays of importance to individuals or their intimates, such as birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries of important events in a person’s life. Comparisons of data are made from different historical periods of Lithuania: 1) up to 1918, 2) 1918–40, 3) Soviet times, and 4) post-Soviet times. The basis of this article consists of research conducted from 2012–14 that is also summarized.4 

Annual holidays in the periodical press from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century 

Periodicals written in the Lithuanian language appear in the first half of the nineteenth century.5 Another stage in the periodical press coincides with the latter half of the nineteenth century, the period when the modern Lithuanian nation was intensely forming on the grounds of its unique language and ethnocultural identity. Two monthly periodicals, Aušra (Dawn, published from 1883 to 1886) and Varpas (The Bell, 1889 to 1904), along with its supplement, Ūkininkas (The Farmer, 1890 to 1905), which targeted rural readers, became popular during the prohibition of the Lithuanian press in the Latin alphabet in Lithuania Major, when publications were printed in Lithuania Minor or America and smuggled in. They contributed to the formation of a Lithuanian national and cultural identity and the strengthening of self-awareness. These periodicals devote little attention to the traditional annual holidays of Lithuania, despite their tremendous ideological focus on Lithuanian self-awareness, stressing the nation’s relationship to the Lithuanian language, its ancient and noble history, and the ethnic culture of the rural folk who speak Lithuanian. Although the press of that time was active in developing a national identity, it did not use calendar holidays as components of the development of Lithuanian culture. One explanation for this is that the most popular calendar holidays at that time were Christian, which would have linked Lithuanians with Christians from other lands - starting with Poland (whereas, during the period of Lithuanian national identity development, language differentiation was emphasized to define the culture). The holidays did not seem to offer any specific ethnocultural delineation. No one was yet searching for specific pre-Christian traditions that could serve to highlight Lithuanian culture. 

Varpas and Ūkininkas introduced, from the time they began publishing, the tradition of reviewing major topics that had arisen during the previous year in their December issues and deliberating issues relevant to the upcoming year in their January issues. In this way, Lithuania adopted the tradition by which January 1 becomes the datum point as did periodicals of many other countries.6 Nonetheless, nothing is said about the commemoration of New Year’s Day itself. One exception is an 1893 article in Varpas, “How All Sorts of Creatures Greet the New Year.”7 It presents an intensely joyful, albeit ironic, account of a New Year’s gathering that circulated publically. This attests the New Year tradition was widespread and wellknown. One issue of Varpas wrote about a tradition unrelated to Christianity, known in an area of Panevėžys, called kupoliavimas or kupoliojimas8. This celebration involves gathering on a hill on St. John’s Eve and dancing, playing music, singing, and burning bonfires all night long.9 

The press runs of the aforementioned periodicals were small. Thus, very specialized periodicals were no less important - calendars. They showed the cycle of actual calendar holidays and, at the same time, strongly impacted public opinion about annual holidays. These calendars, published in the Lithuanian language during the 1800s, followed the traditions of calendars published in Latin in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the 1400s to the 1700s and those published in Polish during the 1700s.10 The calendars designated the most important annual holidays as Easter and the other moveable feasts related to it: Kryžiaus dienos (Days of the Cross), or three days during the sixth week after Easter]; Sekminės, Whit Sunday, or the seventh week after Easter; and Dievo Kūno, aka Vainikai, [Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body of Christ on the Thursday of the ninth week after Easter, also known as Wreath Day, from the tradition of placing wreaths on cows. Another special point of reference for commemorations would be Lent: Užgavėnės or Shrove Tuesday, falling on the seventh week prior to Easter, and Pelenų diena, Ash Wednesday11. The other Christian holidays noted on these calendars were Christmas; Three Kings; Grabnyčios, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2; Kazimiero diena, St. Casimir’s Day, on March 4; Blovieščius, the Annunciation, on March 25, which, however, in Lithuania, is also called Stork Day; Petro and Povilo diena. the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29; and some others12. Like the earlier non-Lithuanian calendars, these publications would not only print calendars but also supplements containing short literary pieces, popularly presenting topics related to farming, medicine, history, and others. 

In 1904, after elimination of the prohibition of the Lithuanian language in the press, but before the reinstatement of Lithuania’s independence in 1918, the most stable periodicals that enjoyed the greatest circulation were Vilniaus žinios (Vilnius News, 1904–09), which followed in the tradition of Varpas; it was replaced by Lietuvos žinios (Lithuanian News, 1909–15); a nationalistic newspaper, Viltis (Hope, 1907–15); and the most popular weekly newspaper of those times, issued by the Christian Democrat Party, Šaltinis (Wellspring, 1906–15). 

The press of those times was not paying much attention to calendar holidays. The development of a national Lithuanian cultural self-awareness, however, received as much attention as before. The difference in the press of these times was simply that publishers now expounded differing ideological positions far more than before.

Šaltinis, the weekly Catholic-oriented newspaper, always greeted its readers with the holidays on Easter and Christmas and printed illustrations respective to those occasions. 13 This newspaper did not forget other Catholic holidays - the Ascension, Whit Sunday, and Žolinė14 among others. The paper also ran appropriate, Christian-type illustrations for the occasion.15 The weekly also recalled farming customs and ran articles analyzing the positive and negative sides of such traditions.16 The Viltis newspaper discussed Lithuanian traditions and holidays, but avoided any talk about Christianity; rather, it searched for the pre-Christian roots of one or another tradition. One example is the article “Kalėdų šventės kilmėˮ (Origin of the Christmas Holiday), clearly reflecting such a search.17 

Vilniaus žinios frequently mentions calendar holidays, but only in passing. However, it ran information about the more important Christian holidays, even submitting lists of them, well wishes for Christmas, and parish mass schedules.18 Articles summarizing the past year would be run at the end of the year. Sometimes, fictional pieces were printed as appropriate for Christmas or Easter.19 The newspaper also covered the festivities held in Vilnius to celebrate Whit Sunday.20 Additionally, it reported on topics of one sort or another involving atlaidai - these are various, ongoing, special church observances or indulgences.21 The newspaper paid special attention to the popular observances/indulgences held in Žemaičių Kalvarija that masses of people attended.22 Lietuvos žinios printed a rather comprehensive article in 1914 describing different calendar holidays (Easter, St. John’s Day, Body of Christ, Whit Sunday, Christmas, and Shrove Tuesday) and comparing the customs of their observances in rural and urban areas.23 

Publication of Lithuanian calendars continued during the period right after the press prohibition was lifted, with their press runs outnumbering those of Lithuanian newspapers. Traditionally, these favored the holidays of importance to Catholics, especially Easter and its associated moveable feasts.24 

Therefore, some of the press of those times chose a freethinking position and tried not to favor Lithuanian Catholicism. Whereas others, especially Šaltinis, did the opposite—they pushed Lithuanian Catholicism by constantly reminding their readers about the holidays important to the culture of Catholic Lithuania and its national identity. 

It is no longer possible to conduct empirical research about the most popular holidays during those times; all that is left now is the material gathered earlier by ethnographers and featured in the press. It can be claimed that Catholic holidays were the most popular and universally celebrated by Lithuanians. The special observances and indulgences held at different parishes were also popular, attracting numerous people, even from distant parishes. Many local traditions, primarily associated with one or another farm task, were celebrated in different areas throughout Lithuania. 

Annual holidays in the periodicals of interwar Lithuania 

From 1918 to 1940, henceforth called the interwar period, a great many and varied periodicals were published in the Lithuanian language within the Republic of Lithuania. The newspapers (which became dailies) selected for analyzing the discourse on calendar holidays represented the official policies of the country. These are Lietuva (Lithuania), the daily newspaper of the government of Lithuania (1919–28) and Lietuvos aidas (Lithuanian Echo), the official daily that replaced the previous one (published in Vilnius in 1918 and Kaunas from 1928–40 as the official newspaper of the Lietuvių tautininkų sąjunga (Lithuanian Nationalist League), a political party, and the government of Lithuania. The choice of other newspapers, which also became dailies, for comparison was in consideration of their representing the most popular political parties of those times, of the duration of their publication and their circulation. These were the Farmer-Populists Union Party newspaper, Lietuvos žinios (Lithuanian News, 1922–40) and the newspaper reflecting the position of the Christian Democrat Party, XX amžius (20th Century, published 1936–40). 

All the publications of interwar Lithuania considered here differentiated the customs for celebrating some holiday between Kaunas (the capital of Lithuania at that time) and the rest of Lithuania in their articles. Without question, such a difference during those times was a comparatively new thing: the newspapers noticed that many residents of Kaunas returned to their homes - the locale from which they descended - over the holidays. The main line of thought in this discourse is an invitation to remember the old-time village customs, because these link Lithuania with the traditional culture that rural Lithuania characterizes. On the other hand, it is possible to believe that new, modern, urban traditions for celebrating calendar holidays were forming in Kaunas that were relevant to the changed lifestyle of city folk and its features. The media, which rapidly become quite widespread during interwar Lithuania, intensively advertised and promoted holiday traditions in one way or another, for example, holiday visiting and celebrating holidays in certain areas of the city or otherwise.25 

Different periodicals present calendar holidays differently and do not ground their links to Lithuanian identity in the same way. The two official publications, Lietuva and Lietuvos aidas, intensively sought the links between these holidays and Lithuanian statehood, whenever they discussed calendar holidays, but especially during the first decade of Lithuania’s independence. The holiday issues of the publications always encouraged people to remember the historical events and dates of importance to the nation. Meanwhile, the XX amžius newspaper emphasized the meanings of the respective Christian holidays much more than the others did. The opposite is true of Lietuvos žinios, which often wrote about calendar holidays but avoided stressing their links to Christianity, characteristically searching for the wellsprings of one or another holiday in the pre-Christian traditions of various countries.26 

The way calendar holidays were envisioned changed during the interwar period. The political and economic situation of the country impacted such changes. When Lithuania regained its independence, there were nearly no discussions about calendar holidays. Later, the discourse on holidays became much more widespread, once the country had politically strengthened somewhat and especially once the economic situation improved. Advertisements promoting consumerism during specific annual holidays were widely disseminated in the early 1920s (primarily for Christmas and Easter). Articles describing such consumerism, along with corresponding advertisements, also multiplied during the latter half of the 1930s.27 The press at this time also began reflecting new traditions that had just begun to spread in society and had not been characteristic of calendar holidays previously (Christmas trees, holiday lights, gifts, and the like). This occurred as much from the newly forming urban lifestyle as the onset of promotions and advertising on ways to celebrate the holidays, merchants offering goods suitable for the holidays, and consumers having the means to acquire such goods. The media advertised various goods and services to make them more popular, encouraged consumerism during holiday periods, and invented holiday traditions of one sort or another by updating old ones or introducing new ones. 

All of these newspapers habitually mentioned three major annual holidays—Easter, Christmas, and the New Year—that were usually mentioned in the context of city culture. Several repetitive story lines are perceptible in their discourses about one calendar holiday or another: 1) greetings from the publishers, 2) advertisements with greetings and announcements, 3) informational articles about relevant past or future events, 4) religious, philosophical, and fictional literary texts adapted to a holiday, 5) analytical articles or reviews that deliberate the political, economic or cultural situation of the country or the world and relevant events of the time, 6) articles discussing and/or analyzing the origin, customs, and symbolism of a calendar holiday.28 

Clear-cut analogies can be seen when comparing the discourse that appeared in the interwar press about annual holidays with the holidays people actually enjoyed: people whose childhoods had coincided with the interwar period were most fond of the holidays that the press of the time mentioned most frequently, starting with Easter and Christmas. Žilvytis Šaknys also obtained similar research results, indicating that the favorite holidays of youngsters during the interwar period were Christmas, Easter, and Whit Sunday.29 

Easter was one of the most frequently mentioned annual holidays in the interwar media. It was always presented as a happy holiday (or one that should be happy).30 The Christian- oriented press, such as XX amžius, devoted considerable space for recalling the meaning of this Christian holiday, as well as discussing how Easter links with spirituality overall.31 Lietuvos žinios searched for remnants of pre-Christian traditions in Easter and wrote about them.32 All the newspapers writing about the holiday would indicate that preparations for celebrating Easter began well in advance of the holiday, as often in Kaunas as in the villages, to assure a better and happier celebration. People spent their money rather freely before Easter trying to upgrade their acquisition of goods, products, and the like. The write-ups about specific customs for celebrating Easter at that time devoted much attention to dying and rolling Easter eggs, which were considered essential to the Easter holiday.33 

Older people who were children during the interwar period remember Easter as one they especially enjoyed, always associating it with springtime and warm weather. Memories of dyeing Easter eggs and other holiday preparations also evoke positive associations.34 The popularity of Easter in those times and its continued popularization by the media contributed in part to the fact that, even today, older people enjoy Easter more than young people do. Easter evokes much more pleasant memories for the elderly, extending well back into their childhoods, than for young people these days.35 

During the Christmas season, the interwar press stressed the links of Christmas to Christianity, primarily through the XX amžius newspaper. It marked much of their coverage of the preholiday Christmas hubbub and sales, the preparation of holiday foods, and gift purchases.36 There were descriptions of social visits and arranging evenings at home for guests during the Christmas season.37 The press of those times paid separate attention to tree decorating and organizing holiday events relevant to Christmas trees, as well as to popularizing the personage of Old Man Christmas, a Santa-type figure.38 There were also presentations of ancient Christmas traditions in the villages of Lithuania, primarily by the Lietuvos žinios newspaper.39 

Older people, whose childhoods occurred during the interwar period, associate Christmas primarily with a Christmas tree and the toys decorating it - this was a brand-new attribute of Christmas the press popularized at the time. In part, the press also associated the holiday with the newly popularized Old Man Christmas. The foods specifically liked with this holiday and their preparation, as well as anticipating Christmas, also evoke pleasant memories.40 Now, when people try to uphold suitable holiday traditions, they pay a great deal of attention to preholiday preparations, holiday dishes, and the like.41 Other newspapers of the time often ran articles about the features of the Christmas holiday season (i.e., visiting and receiving guests, holiday evenings and spending time together, dining at restaurants, and the like); respondents, however, do not reflect these in their remembrances. 42 Undoubtedly, such results were influenced by the fact that the respondents were children during the interwar period and the ways adults celebrated the holidays were not relevant to them. Furthermore, the corresponding Christmas traditions were much more widespread in the city of Kaunas, where only an insignificant part of the respondents resided during the interwar period.

Publications of the interwar press devote much attention to the New Year as a reference point for assessing the events of the preceding year and forecasting the upcoming year, along with write-ups of New Year’s Eve celebrations, home visits for the season, and the like.43 Correspondingly, the New Year ranks third in popularity, not only in terms of its coverage by the interwar press but also in the childhood memories of older people.44 

The interwar press payed far less attention to other annual holidays. They are usually only mentioned superficially in short informational articles about events relevant to one or another holiday, just past or soon to come. There were mentions or brief writeups about special locales. Shrove Tuesday receives attention as a point of reference for Lent. Parties to celebrate Shrove Tuesday in the city and the old-time Shrove Tuesday traditions in the villages received write-ups.45 Reports on St. John’s Day mostly talk about it as an atlaidai church observance in honor of St. John or a name-day celebration for people named John. The press also writes about celebrations held by different public organizations to commemorate St. John’s Day, providing the most coverage of how it was organized at Rambynas Hill in western Lithuania.46 A discussion about All Souls Day in the press deliberates life after death, presents a newly organized observance of this day in the Kaunas Municipal Cemetery, and reports on the newly disseminating traditions regarding the upkeep and decorating of gravesites and lighting candles. 47 The interwar press also wrote about the newly introduced Mother’s Day, describing the observances held by different organizations to honor mothers.48 It might be expected, therefore, that the respondents born during the interwar period would name annual holidays of significance to them, in addition to most of the popular holidays already discussed, which would include one or another atlaidai church observance, with the youth preferring one of the atlaidai observances most closely linked to the Gegužinės nature outing in May, on Mother’s Day, and on St. John’s Day/ Summer Solstice (especially those celebrating at Rambynas Hill). Correspondingly, the research results gained by Ž. Šaknys also indicate that youth regularly celebrated Shrove Tuesday and St. John’s/Summer Solstice during the interwar period.49 

Annual holidays in periodicals during Soviet times 

During Soviet times, public discourse could only reflect Communist Party ideology. The official organ chosen for the Lithuanian Communist Party’s Central Committee, as well as the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR, for analyzing calendar holiday representations in Soviet times was Tiesa (Truth), a daily newspaper50

Calendar dates underwent essential structural changes from the very beginning of the Soviet era. The newly constructed calendar year, as with the entire culture of those times, reflected Soviet ideology and substantiated the Soviet worldview. The press visualized everything in any way relevant to the Soviet sphere in an uplifting manner, joyfully and only from a point of view favorable to the Soviet system regarding actual events at the time. Events not favorable to the image formed by Soviet propaganda would not be discussed at all. If the press happened to hint about ongoing hardships, these would be unmasked as actions by internal or external enemies. The past—prior to Soviet times—was visualized negatively and set in opposition to a positive socialist history and present. Various strategies were undertaken to interlink all the nations under the Soviet Union into one “magnificent Russian nation.” One of them was an emphatically pronounced formal and even demonstrative coexistence of national cultures within the Soviet Union. The goal was to eradicate national substance step-by-step, while retaining “national form” for a time. Another active strategy to eradicate differences among nations (Lithuania being one of them) was the battle against Christianity and religion in general. First, the new annual holidays, specifically those without a religious context, were brought into service in the battle against religion. This was expected to help unify all the citizens of the Soviet Union and create a new identity for the “New Soviet Man (or Person).” 

Soviet propaganda changed little during the different periods of the Soviet era (depending on the strategies selected by Communist Party ideologists on how to entrench, uphold, and expand the Soviet regime).51 The model of Soviet annual holidays introduced during the Stalinist era (with a few minor exceptions) grounded the public discourse on holidays. This was supplemented with Soviet calendar dates relevant to the “New Soviet Person of Lithuania,” which were meant to justify the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

Annual and five-year plans structured the Soviet period. The structure of the ritual year had two special annual holidays—along with the New Year, which formally denoted the beginning of the calendar. These two holidays were May 1, or May Day, and the annual commemoration of the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia.52 The form and course of these Soviet Union holidays were essentially the same. The date of a holiday would be set “from above,” with consideration for its historical and political significance. Meanwhile, the beginning of a holiday celebration would be announced to the public by issuing an order. 

For the aforementioned reasons, the visualization of calendar holidays in the press of Soviet times became entirely different from that of the interwar period. The most popular holidays — Christmas and Easter — which had been given the greatest amount of attention by the interwar press, were now completely ignored. One clear exception (constituting some continuity with the discourse up to the Soviet period) was the New Year holiday, although now devoid of any Christian content. 

The New Year (as with the most popular Soviet holidays) provided an additional opportunity for the Party’s propagandists to praise the advantages of Soviet governance and the achievements of the Soviet period.53 Certain New Year symbols were also popularized; these, however, were no longer linked with Christmas, which was eliminated from the public discourse of those times: a decorated holiday (not Christmas) tree, Old Man Winter (not Santa Claus), and the like.54 Much attention was given to the children of Communist Party activists at the schools, the clubs of factories, collective farms, and other organized New Year celebrations. 55 Later, the attention also included the adult evenings earmarked for New Year celebrations held at different factories and elsewhere. Advertisements relevant to the popular holidays of interwar Lithuania virtually disappeared from the publications of the Soviet era. 

The press began picturing the new Soviet holidays at once, as if their celebrations were comprehensible in and of themselves. People were encouraged to prepare for the upcoming, one or another, Soviet holiday in advance, as soon as the date approached, to work toward the holiday in an improved way. Corresponding articles were published proving that the determination to work better had been implemented. As the holiday approached, publications offered write-ups about the essence and meaning of the holiday, as well as the historical circumstances of its origin. Once the holiday passed, there were detailed write-ups in Moscow and Lithuania about the celebrations held in towns and small townships. All the grand Soviet holidays would start with speeches by important government officials, who always expressed their gratitude to the Communist Party and its leaders. 

May Day was pictured as especially outstanding. The meaningfulness and global nature of the holiday was stressed continuously.56 The press reflected ongoing preparations for the holiday that, for all practical purposes, would happen from the very start of spring. All the jobs done in springtime were symbolically dedicated to the big upcoming day.57 Numerous articles were published—at the holiday’s approach, during its time, and immediately afterwards—about the celebratory events (military parades, demonstrations by workers, and the like).58 The tone of these articles would be overly exuberant, showing intently how the holiday spirit had flowed during the events and how enthusiastically people had celebrated.59 

The annual commemoration of the Great October Socialist Revolution would be given a great deal of coverage in public discourse. 60 The press reflected the preparations underway for these commemorations as early as the very beginning of the year. All work planning and performance were associated with the important day. Before and during the holiday, there was rejoicing at the achievements of the Soviet people and Soviet order. Greetings from high Party officials would be published. Once the holiday had passed, articles appeared on the events held to celebrate this holiday: military parades, ceremonial gatherings, and such. 

Annual commemorations of Lenin’s Birthday on April 22 took on greater significance during the so-called period of “mature” socialism. This went hand-in-hand with collective, voluntary work to assist some worthy effort, like a city cleanup, for example. Victory Day on May 9 was also noted. Another day that emerged as special was March 8 that, little by little, began to be associated, not only with women workers, but women in general, considering it Women’s Day and often related to women and mothers or even young girls.61 

Nothing was written about the Lithuanian holidays discussed in the interwar press—not until 1988. It happened then because of the changing economic and political situation, the start of the fall of the Soviet Union, and the decreasing influence of the Communist Party. The overall discourse in Tiesa changed as sharply as the depictions of the featured holidays did. Discussions then turned to historic dates important to the Lithuanian nation (not the Soviet Union). Little by little, the traditional Lithuanian calendar holidays were also remembered. 

Empirical research shows that members of today’s older generation most enjoyed and celebrated Christmas and Easter during Soviet times, which, along with the New Year, related to the old as much as the new tradition.62 A sizeable proportion had also participated in the Gegužinės nature outings and some celebrated St. John’s Day/Summer Solstice.63 Thus, the actual celebration of the holidays no longer corresponded with the official discourse on holidays. Valdemaras Klumbys noted64 that, during the Soviet period, people spoke and behaved in public according to public requirements, but pragmatism determined their actions in practice. The efforts by Soviet propaganda to exchange the traditional annual Lithuanian holidays for new Soviet holidays ran up against the power of tradition. Furthermore, the traditional holidays were consciously or unconsciously understood as a way of resisting the occupiers and their forced ideology. Nonetheless, the propagandistic public discourse had some influence on the popularity of a given holiday. Some respondents from the older generation indicated their favorite holiday during Soviet times was May 1st. In their memories, these respondents associated this holiday primarily with spring as well as processions, spending time with friends, and simply being with people. Some people who had enjoyed this holiday lost the sentiments they felt toward the holiday in their youth, claiming their outlook on it had changed in the post-Soviet period. 

Nonetheless, others said, perhaps timidly, that this holiday remained dear to them, because it brought back good memories.65 Among the annual holidays popularized during Soviet times, March 8th also received a positive response from people. Although it never became one of the “favorite” holidays, it was and is liked by the older generation, now as much as during the Soviet period. It brings fond memories to women about a chance to receive flowers; for many, it was a day to spend with friends and colleagues, and similar memories. However, people never liked the annual Day of the Great October Socialist Revolution that had been popularized during Soviet times. The propagandists did not succeed in generating any important meaning for this holiday or positive associations among the people. 

Public discourse about annual holidays after 1990 

The Lithuanian press finally became independent of the single official line of Communist Party propaganda after the 1990 reinstatement of Lithuania’s independence. Printing of the most varied publications ensued, reflecting different opinions by different authors. A great variety of Internet media also appeared, as use of the Internet spread. This medium has its own specific way of talking, presenting news, and affecting public opinion.66 Compared to the Soviet period, public discourse relevant to annual Lithuanian holidays changed sharply again during the post-Soviet period. The discourse became quite varied, geared to a specific publication, the specifics of informational sources and purposes, and so on. 

This article analyzes public discourse on annual holidays for this period by employing data from the Dabartinės Lietuvių kalbos tekstynas (The Corpus of Current Lithuanian Language),67 because the number of different media sources and the amount of information accessible to the public is especially plentiful at this time.68 An explanation of the frequency with which an annual holiday is mentioned in Lithuanian language texts was undertaken on the basis of the Corpus. Furthermore, the Corpus permits one to establish the most popular contextual nouns to appear in published texts. 

Research shows that Christmas is the most frequently mentioned annual holiday in Lithuanian language texts from the end of the 1900s to the start of the year 2000.69 Research also shows that Christmas is in reality the most popular annual holiday in Lithuania over this span.70 The contextual nouns most often associated with Christmas, as per the Corpus data, are “holiday,” “family,” and “childhood,” which correlate quite closely with people’s associations with Christmas. People know Christmas as a family holiday.71 The mention of Easter, as per Corpus data, markedly lags references to Christmas. Nevertheless, Easter is the second most frequently mentioned annual holiday. The contextual nouns most often associated with Easter are: “holiday,” “Christ,” “God,” and “spring.”72 These only partially correspond with the associations people actually have with Easter. People associate this holiday with springtime, which is often why they like it; God and Christ are not mentioned as primary associations.73 Third place among calendar holidays by frequency of mention is the New Year. Its main contextual nouns are “Christmas” and “holiday.”74 Unquestionably, this reflects the link between Christmas and New Year. Nevertheless, people give Christmas priority and consider it more important and meaningful than New Year’s Day, despite the close association between the two and the popularity of the New Year and its celebration.75 

The public discourse in the various periods often also mentions All Souls Day, Palm Sunday, Shrove Tuesday, and St. John’s Day/Summer Solstice. The latter two appear in public discourse more and more frequently and, little by little, are currently becoming popular among young people.76 

It must be noted that, based on the data from the Corpus of the Current Lithuanian Language, the holidays relevant to Lithuania’s statehood—February 16th and March 11th —are also mentioned quite often in Lithuanian language texts. But only a substantial proportion of the older generation actually remembers and notes these holidays; they are not especially popular among young people.77 


Calendar holidays, as constituent parts of ethnic culture, were drawn into the sphere of a developing national self-awareness during the formation of a modern Lithuanian identity and into public discourse relatively late (the exceptions were the calendars, written in Lithuanian, issued as early as the 1800s to remind readers of the most important Christian holidays). The Lithuanian press only begins to discuss calendar holidays to a great extent after 1904. Henceforth, two major ideological lines of thought begin to form in public discourse, each viewing Lithuanian calendar holidays differently. The publications with a Christian orientation accent the essence and meanings of the annual Christian holidays and consider Christianity an especially important part of Lithuanian identity. The other newspapers begin to search for the pre-Christian roots of Lithuanian holidays as well as a Lithuanian identity. 

The same two ideological views on annual holidays are also pronounced in the press of the Republic of Lithuania from 1918 to 1940. 

A third position begins to appear in line with the state’s discourse about annual holidays: people are encouraged to remember the events important to Lithuanian statehood, whenever the official press notes one or another annual holiday. Additionally, the business-promoted commercialization of holidays becomes more and more pronounced in public discourse during the interwar period. 

The discourse on calendar holidays changes fundamentally during the Soviet period. New holidays are introduced in an effort to form a Soviet people who have no nationality of their own. The most important of these are the commemorations on May 1 and the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. The popular Christian holidays were entirely eliminated from public discourse. The New Year holiday, which has no religious connotation, was the only one mentioned, and it served to eliminate the function of Christmas.

The discourse on annual holidays radically changed again after 1990. Discussions returned to the holidays formerly part of interwar public discourse. The holidays most frequently discussed are now Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, and the holidays denoting Lithuanian statehood, which receive a good deal of attention. Lithuanian identity and Lithuanian “traditional” holidays are connected with either Christianity, pre-Christian tradition, or both.

1 S. Hall. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: SA GE Publications Ltd., 1997.
2 M . E. McCombs and D. L. Shaw. “The Evolution of Agenda-Setting Research: Twenty-Five Years in the Marketplace of Ideas.” Journal of Communication. 1993. Vol. 43 (2). pp. 58–67.
3 As well as usually understandable as “traditional” holidays.
4 T he research was funded by Grant No. VAT -30/2012 from the Research Council of Lithuania. The author presents the results of her research analyzing the press during different historical periods in the following articles: D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių pristatymas Lietuviškoje periodinėje spaudoje XIX a.–XX a. pr. [Presentation of Calendar Holidays in the Lithuanian periodical press from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century].” Res Humanitariae. 2013, XIII . pp. 267-285. D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas tarpukario Lietuvos periodikoje [Discourse on Calendar Holidays in the press of interwar Lithuania].” Soter, 2013. No. 45. pp. 115-138; D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. I dalis: 1945–1964 metai [Discourse on Calendar Holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part I: 1945–1964. Lituanistica. 2013, No. 2. pp. 101-121; D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. II dalis: 1964–1990 metai [Discourse on Calendar Holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part II : 1964–1990. Lituanistica. 2014, No. 2. The actual popularity of holidays is discussed in the article: D. Senvaitytė. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai [Popularity of annual holidays in Lithuania and its contexts] (manuscript).
5 They were published irregularly. Their content was usually based, not on original texts, but on translations from Prussian periodicals. The Christian holidays are mentioned, but the discourse on holidays is minimal.
6 D . Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių pristatymas Lietuviškoje periodinėje spaudoje XIX a.–XX a. pr. [Presentation of calendar holidays in the Lithuanian periodical press from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century].” Res Humanitariae. 2013, XIII . p. 271.
7 Varpas, 1893, No. 1.
8 [Translator’s note: from the word kupolė, which is a flower, Melampyrum pretense, with clusters of blue and yellow blossoms on its stalk referring to the gathering of wild flowers and grasses to weave into wreaths.]
9 Varpas, 1889, No. 6.
10 D . Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių pristatymas Lietuviškoje periodinėje spaudoje XIX a.–XX a. pr. [Presentation of calendar holidays in the Lithuanian periodical press from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century].” Res Humanitariae. 2013, XIII . p. 273.
11 Ibid, p. 273.
12 Ibid, p. 274.
13 D . Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių pristatymas Lietuviškoje periodinėje spaudoje XIX a.–XX a. pr. [Presentation of calendar holidays in the Lithuanian periodical press from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century].” Res Humanitariae. 2013, XIII . p. 280.
14 [Translator’s note: the direct translation references a “grass” or “greens” day, since it was the day to bless plants; however, it also refers to the Catholic Feast of the Assumption of Mary, observed on August 15.]
15 Ibid., p. 281.
16 Ibid., p. 281.
17 Viltis newspaper, December 25, 1913.
18 Ibid., p. 275.
19 Ibid., p. 277.
20 Lietuvos žinios newspaper, May 26 (June 8), 1911, No. 60.
21 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių pristatymas Lietuviškoje periodinėje spaudoje XIX a.–XX a. pr. [Presentation of calendar holidays in the Lithuanian periodical press from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century].” Res Humanitariae. 2013, XIII . p. 278.
22 Lietuvos žinios newspaper, July 7 (20), 1911, No. 77.
23 Lietuvos žinios newspaper, February 18 (March 3), 1914.
24 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių pristatymas Lietuviškoje periodinėje spaudoje XIX a.–XX a. pr. [Presentation of calendar holidays in the Lithuanian periodical press from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century].” Res Humanitariae. 2013, XIII . p. 282.
25 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas tarpukario Lietuvos periodikoje [Discourse on calendar holidays in the press of interwar Lithuania].” Soter, 2013. No. 45. p. 132.
26 Ibid.
27 There were somewhat fewer of them at the beginning of the decade, when Lithuania was still smarting from the consequences of an economic depression. The respective periodicals also illustrated the circumstances of the economic crisis. Ibid., pp. 132-133.
28 Ibid., p. 131.
29 Ž . Šaknys. “Jaunimo kalendoriniai papročiai tūkstantmečių sandūroje: Tradicijos ir naujovės [Calendar customs of youth at the crossroads of the millenniums: Traditions and novelties].” Lietuvių katalikų mokslo akademijos suvažiavimo darbai [Lithuanian Catholic Academy of Sciences Conference Reports], 2003, Vol. 18, pp. 165- 176. It is notable that Whit Sunday was a popular holiday specifically among youth (primarily because Whit Sunday associates with Gegužinės, a holiday traditionally celebrated in May by fun outings in nature). This holiday, however, was not especially popular with children.
30 Furthermore, when talking about Easter, the plural form of “holiday” is usually used in Lithuanian: people do not write about the “Easter holiday,” but about the “Easter holidays.” Ibid., pp. 126-127.
31 I bid., pp. 126-127.
32 Ibid., p. 129.
33 Ibid., p. 128.
34 D. Senvaitytė. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai (manuscript).
35 I bid. It is notable that, although Easter indubitably links with Christianity and the press stresses the appropriate link, the respondents do not talk about the religious connection, almost never talk about going to church and the like, when they discuss their childhood memories of Easter.
36 D . Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas tarpukario Lietuvos periodikoje [Discourse on calendar holidays in the press of interwar Lithuania].” Soter, 2013. No. 45. p. 117.
37 Ibid., pp. 118-119.
38 Ibid., p. 122.
39 Ibid., pp. 119-122.
40 D. Senvaitytė. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai (manuscript).
41 Ibid.
42 Ibid. It is notable that the respondents did not mention any religious connection when talking about their childhood memories of Christmas, the same as when talking about Easter in their childhoods. Almost all of them did not talk about going to church and the like during Christmas.
43 Ibid., pp. 123-124.
44 D. Senvaitytė. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai (manuscript).
45 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas tarpukario Lietuvos periodikoje [Discourse on calendar holidays in the press of interwar Lithuania].” Soter, 2013. No. 45. pp. 125-126.
46 Ibid., pp. 129-130.
47 Ibid., pp. 130-131.
48 Ibid., p. 131.
49 Ž . Šaknys. “Jaunimo kalendoriniai papročiai tūkstantmečių sandūroje: tradicijos ir naujovės [Calendar traditions of youth at the crossroads of the millenniums: Traditions and new customs].” Lietuvių katalikų mokslo akademijos suvažiavimo darbai, 2003, Vol. 18, pp. 165-176.
50 Other official periodicals represented identical ideology; therefore, they are not additionally analyzed here.
51 E.g., after the XX Communist Party Congress in 1956 and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Resolution, “On overcoming the cult of personality and its consequences,” which Tiesa (Truth) newspaper published on July 3, 1956, the name Stalin and quotes by Stalin disappeared from public discourse. Instead of singing the praises of this leader, attention was directed toward a visualization of the “prospering” Soviet economy.
52 It must be noted that May Day was regulated by law as a state holiday of the Republic of Lithuania during interwar Lithuania as well. However, the discourse in the press relevant to this holiday was not popular. This holiday was usually mentioned in a negative context.
53 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. I dalis: 1945–1964 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part I: 1945– 1964].” Lituanistica. 2013, No. 2. 101-121.
54 I bid., pp. 106, 115-116, D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. II dalis: 1964–1990 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part II : 1964–1990].” Lituanistica. 2014, No. 2, p. 121.
55 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. I dalis: 1945–1964 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part I: 1945– 1964].” Lituanistica. 2013, No. 2. p. 115.
56 I bid., pp. 107-109. D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. II dalis: 1964–1990 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part II : 1964–1990].” Lituanistica. 2014, No. 2, pp. 123-124.
57 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. I dalis: 1945–1964 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part I: 1945– 1964].” Lituanistica. 2013, No. 2. pp. 107-109.
58 Ibid., pp. 108-109, 117.
59 I bid., pp. 109, 117. D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. II dalis: 1964–1990 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part II : 1964–1990].” Lituanistica. 2014, No. 2, pp. 128-129.
60 D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. I dalis: 1945–1964 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part I: 1945– 1964].” Lituanistica. 2013, No. 2. pp. 110-111, 117-118. D. Senvaitytė. “Kalendorinių švenčių diskursas sovietinėje Lietuvos periodikoje. II dalis: 1964–1990 metai [Discourse on calendar holidays in the periodical press of Soviet Lithuania. Part II : 1964–1990].” Lituanistica. 2014, No. 2, pp. 124-125, 129.
61 Ibid., pp. 121-122, 128.
62 D. Senvaitytė. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai (manuscript). New Year was more popular among young people. Persons born during Soviet times considered the New Year as the most meaningful and important holiday of the year (even after Soviet times). See Ž. Šaknys. “Jaunimo kalendoriniai papročiai tūkstantmečių sandūroje: tradicijos ir naujovės. [Calendar traditions of youth at the crossroads of the millenniums: Traditions and new customs].” Lietuvių katalikų mokslo akademijos suvažiavimo darbai, 2003, Vol. 18, pp. 165-176.
63 D. Senvaitytė. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai (manuscript).
64 V. Klumbys. “Visuomenės nuomonės veikimo sąlygos sovietinėje Lietuvoje [Conditions for affecting public opinion in Soviet Lithuania]. Lietuvos istorijos studijos (Lithuanian history studies), 2007, Vol. 19, p. 135.
65 D. Senvaitytė. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai (manuscript).
66 Most references, as per Google search data (accessed on 2014 May 05), related to Easter (1,620,000), New Year’s Day (1,030,000) and St. John’s Day/Summer Solstice (456,000). Next in line were Christmas (424,000), Shrove Tuesday (293,000) ,and All Souls Day (232,000). The Google search system submitted markedly fewer results for all the other holidays.
67; accessed on 2014 May 05.
68 Most of the links corresponding with Google search data (accessed on 2014 May 05) related to Easter (1,620,000), then with New Year (1,030,000) and St. John’s Day/Summer Solstice (456,000). Next came Christmas (424,000), Shrove Tuesday (293,000), and All Souls Day (232,000). The Google search system submitted significantly fewer results for other holidays.
69 Senvaitytė D. Metinių švenčių populiarumas Lietuvoje ir jo kontekstai (manuscript).
70 Ibid.
71 Ibid.
72 Ibid.
73 Ibid.
74 Ibid.
75 Ibid. Also Ž. Šaknys. “Šventė Vilniuje: Naujieji metai lietuvių, lenkų ir rusų šeimose [Holiday in Vilnius: The New Year in Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian families].” Lituanistica. 2014. Vol. 60. No. 2(96). pp. 107-108.
76 Ibid.
77 Ibid.