Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Lithuanian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about modern-day Australian funeral traditions and ancient Inca funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Lithuanian Death Beliefs
Traditionally, Lithuanians had various beliefs revolving around death. According to the chapter about Lithuanian funeral customs in Dying and Death in 18th-21st Century Europe, Volume 2, these were some of the most common death beliefs:
- Death came in the form of a woman dressed in white. Also, death sometimes came in the form of a man, child, phantom, or animal.
- The deceased’s soul climbed a high mountain or flew to the skies along the Milky Way.
- Death was near if you heard crackling logs, or house windows, doors, or dishes broke.
- Similar to Romanian death superstitions, death was near if you heard unusual animal sounds, such as dogs howling or crows or hens crowing.
- Dreams about pulling teeth, herding cattle with sheep, or harvesting rye meant a relative was going to die.
Traditional Lithuanian Funeral
Ancient Lithuanians viewed death as a natural part of life. They were open about death and often discussed it even with young children. Children also often helped take care of sick family members. They were accepting of their eventual death and the elderly prepared for it by saving money and having a casket.
When someone passed away, there was a three-day wake at the deceased’s home. They dressed the deceased in nice clothing, lit candles, and watched over them. Mourners brought even numbers of flowers and paid their respects to the deceased. Women, mainly in southern Lithuania, brought bread loaves to give to beggars and ask them to pray for the deceased’s soul. Bringing bread was thought to protect that person from harm and help connect them with the deceased’s soul.
At a traditional Lithuanian funeral service, you would hear a lot of singing, chanting, and praying. It was a community event, and they also hired professional mourners to attend the funeral and weep. Women usually wore white head scarves at the funeral.
On the way home from the funeral, the deceased’s family cut down a small fir tree to display as a symbol of the deceased. While mourning, they distanced themselves from the community and public events, such as weddings and baptisms.
Modern-Day Lithuanian Funeral
Similar to America, death is more taboo and not as openly talked about anymore, but maybe that will change. Children aren’t as involved in death-related matters as they used to be. There is still a viewing, but it’s usually at a funeral home rather than the deceased’s home. However, people don’t bring candles, food, or bread, but rather flowers or monetary gifts.
A modern-day Lithuanian funeral service doesn’t usually have traditional chanting. Some of the rural towns still do funeral chants, but it’s not common in the bigger cities. There’s still praying and music, usually performed by professional musicians. The service also is more personalized to the deceased, and black clothing is more commonly worn today.
The service usually follows Catholic traditions, since 77.2% of Lithuania’s population is Catholic, as of 2011. Some families choose cremation, but burial is still the most popular funeral arrangement. After the funeral, everyone gathers for a post-funeral reception to eat and share memories of the deceased. Often, everyone gathers to remember them on significant days, such as the deceased’s birthday and their death anniversary.