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Twelve dishes and no booze; a Lithuanian Christmas

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Growing up in Soviet era, I used to celebrate Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s farm in a small village near Prienai. Called Kūčios in Lithuanian (pronounced as koo-chios), the 24th of December is more important than Christmas day, and is the time best suited for bidding farewell to the year that has passed. It is also an exceptionally family-orientated celebration, with a long standing tradition that encourages inviting a lonely neighbor to join in with the diners.

Being an elderly lady who took care of a self-sufficient little farm, my grandmother made sure everyone obeyed the Christmas Eve rules. She’d bring a small stack of hay and spread it on the table, covering it with a crisp, white tablecloth, and the day would be spent preparing the food, and cleaning.

There are no starters, main courses or puddings, as it is customary to prepare a total of twelve dishes, each symbolising one of Jesus’ apostles. All the food must be prepared with local produce, and any exotic ingredients should be avoided. The most popular Christmas Eve dishes include fish, herring, pulses, vegetables, mushrooms, sauerkraut, dried fruit, small bread biscuits with poppy seed milk, and bread.

The main, traditional dish of the night, called Kūčia (koo-cha) is made from poppy seeds, grains, pulses, and hemp seeds mixed with nuts, honey and water. No meat is allowed on the menu. During the evening, everyone can help themselves to any meal they want in any particular order, but they must have at least some of each.

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