Pradžia / Tauta ir istorija

Pre-Christian meaning of Lithuanian Christmas

You might already know that Kūčios is a celebration of high importance in Lithuania. It is even more important than Christmas. Do you have any ideas about its symbolism?

Neringa Jagelavičiūtė-Teišerskienė
2020 m. Gruodžio 23 d., 18:48
Skaityta: 281 k.
Iillustration by Neringa Jagelavičiūtė, The Winter Solstice, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm.
Iillustration by Neringa Jagelavičiūtė, The Winter Solstice, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm.

All major Lithuanian celebrations are archaic and steeped in pre-Christian tradition. Kūčios is no exception. That is a pagan festival. From an astronomical perspective, December 21-22 is the winter solstice (and vice versa, June 21-22 is the summer solstice). In the Baltic worldview, Kūčios is not a religious but a cosmic event.

It is also useful to discover the role of a reindeer in the mystery of Christmas. From old times the reindeer is the one that brings back the Sun. Its antlers are like a tree of life. The reindeer is the prophet and embodiment of the Sun and light. Lithuanian folk song Elnias devyniaragis (Reindeer the nine-antler) is a famous Christmas season chant (here is a nice one by a celebrated Lithuanian singer Aistė Smilgevičiūtė:

Cave drawings from the Old Stone Age feature images of reindeers. According to Udo Becker, ‘the reindeer was often compared to a tree of life throughout many cultures because of its huge antlers and their capacity to grow back larger each year’ (The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols).

Naturally, we decorate a fir tree or its branch (a branch of a pine tree, sometimes) for Christmas. A fir tree is an evergreen tree of life and symbolizes power, growth, and eternity. Eglė (the Lithuanian name for a fir) plays an important role in Lithuanian mythology (Check out for one of the best-known Lithuanian fairytales, Eglė the Queen of Serpents / Grass-, and water- snakes).

Interested in Baltic culture and mythology? You are not alone! Neringa Jagelavičiūtė-Teišerskienė is an author, artist, and a language teacher whose concept of education encompasses Lithuanian traditions, culture, and historical background. Study Lithuanian and find out more about the archaic culture it represents! More: