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Fewer in the pews but Christmas remains Lithuanians’ holiday No.1

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The Hill of Crosses in Kryžių kalnas, which lies a dozen kilometres outside the city of Šiauliai

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Less than 10 per cent of Lithuanians kneels in the pews for Holy Masses, but Christmas is No1 for Lithuanians on the list of the year’s most important holidays, with the birthday being the runner-up and New Year goes third in the ranking, says  a leading sociologist.

Milda Ališauskienė, chairman of Lithuanian Sociologists Association, conducted a comprehensive research in 2012 on Lithuanians’ perception of the Christian faith.

Only seven per cent go to Masses

«Speaking of the activities during Christmas, every third respondent replied that he or she meets their family members that day; every fifth buys food for Christmas and spends the leisure time in the close family circle. Significantly, 13 per cent revealed they follow the traditional Christmas traditions and 7 per cent confessed of attending Masses on Christmas day,” the sociologist told BNN.

In her words, the trends of religious life in Lithuania are pretty characteristic to those in Western Europe.

“Religion is becoming- or has become – a private matter to people. In a way it is a way of leisure and marks increased consumption,» Ališauskienė emphasised.

Few follow the Script

Meanwhile, Vladas Gaidys, a prominent Lithuanian sociologist and director of Vilmorus, a polling company, noted to BNN that, over 26 years since the restoration of Independence, the pews have gotten emptier and few Catholic churches have been built in the country.

«Though Lithuania tends to portray itself as a stronghold of Christianity, the empty pews suggest a different view. Even on the Christmas Eve, our churches are full from being packed, to my observation. Perhaps just Vilnius Cathedral gets jammed for the Sacred Mass on the evening before Christmas,» the pollster noticed.

He believes that it is «very hard» to say anything «substantially» about Lithuanians’ faith judging about it just from some of the age-old traditions that Lithuanians have and that ,mistakenly, are understood as derived from Catholicism.

«For example, I don’t know any other country in the world where all the people swarm local cemeteries on the Day of the Dead, celebrated on November 1. The holiday dates back thousands of years and has little to do with the Christianity, but, in Lithuania, most perceive it as a Christian tradition. In that sense, we are definitely the most Catholic country in the world. But if we were to assess how many people around follow strictly the Script, then the number can appear frighteningly little,» Gaidys drew comparisons.

«In Lithuania, we have one of the highest rate of suicides and divorces in entire Europe. If the faith played a bigger role in every Lithuanian’s life, we would not see so many of them, I’d say,» the pollster inferred, adding, «There is plenty of Catholics in Lithuania who tractates the faith and the Script loosely. There is an abundance of non-practising Catholics in Lithuania.»

The ruling party’s embrace of Christian roots

The last census put the number of Catholics at slightly over 80 per cent in Lithuania, but the actual number of devoted followers is certainly way lesser.

«I wonder whether the people who turn up for the Mass only on the Christmas eve all can be called Catholics the way the Church defines the believers,» the pollster pondered.

With the Peasants and Greens Union in power, the sociologist says he sees «clear» attempts to bring awareness of the nation’s Christian roots and heritage, but they are far from being so much pronounced like in neighbouring Poland.

«It seems to me the «peasants» are determined to pay more attention to what makes Lithuania. We see what I call “signs” that a stronger emphasis on the Catholic values will be put, in the legislation process, too. . .I really doubt whether Lithuania will follow Poland over the border, where Catholicism is being transposed into the legislation,» Gaidys suggested to BNN. «However, we’re hearing exhortations too to heed our Christian heritage. It remains to be seen whether they will take us.»

The ruling party’s much-talked-about idea to give every Lithuanian primary school pupil the national Lithuanian costume for the 100th anniversary since the proclamation of Lithuanian independence in 1917emanates nationalism, Gaidys says.

Bishop is worrisome

Mindaugas Sabutis, bishop of Lithuania’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, told BNN that, contrary to the insistence that the pews are emptying, the Church has picked up in attendance over the recent years.

«Indeed, emigration has hit us hard, too, but the depth of faith of Church goers we see has deepened. The people have become more conscientious, I’d say. And their reception of the gist of Christmas and the Script has been deeper,» Sabutis underscored.

Reminded of the deepening secularisation in Europe, the bishop insisted that the «empty space of faith» is being filled with the other content.

«The Christian faith in Europe is being challenged constantly. Despite the attempts to push it out of the public life, it is still alive. If Europe lets the foundation built on Christianity languish, some bad and trying times may await us ahead,» the bishop warned.

Europe’s Christian roots

Arvydas Anušauskas, a Lithuanian Conservative parliamentarian and a well-known historian, who often end up nowadays being in Lithuanian media’s focus because of his marriage to a woman twice younger his age, told BNN that Christmas celebrations are change-proof in his life.

«I don’t think that something as sacred and quintessential as Christmas can be subject to change amid the flow of time. I’ve been following the Christmas traditions since my childhood years. They were handed over to me by my parents and the gist of the celebrations of Saviour, faith and hope has remained intact ever since,» the legislator said. He, however, did not want to say whether he attends the Sacred Christmas Mass.

«It is too private,» the MP said.

The lawmaker, however, noted that Lithuania has given in to all-engulfing Christmas commercialization.

«Before, the period of Christmas discounts used to be shorter, it seems to me. These days, the festive period has become pretty long, not without the retailers’ clout,» he noted. «Before, especially after the restoration of Lithuanian independence, the holiday used to be more spiritual and deep.»

Asked whether Lithuania can ward off the Christianity-adverse Western influences, when, for example, in Brussels, the holiday season is not being specifically associated with the birth of Jesus but rather is left, faith-wise, neutral, Anušauskas told BNN it is «frightening» to him as the roots of Europe are Christian.

«Undoubtedly, the processes affect us here, but I can just hope that Lithuania will cherish the Christmas traditions it has as long as possible. What is happening in Europe is not good, I am convinced. Many things are put in danger and the fallout is unpredictable,» the MP said.

New Christmas traditions at companies

Though Christmas is widely seen as a family holiday, nevertheless, more companies are engaging their workers through Christmas parties.

«It is a great opportunity to improve the microclimate at the workplace and express gratitude to the workers for their hard work throughout a year,» Viktoras Malinauskas, owner of a company in Lithuanian capital Vilnius, told BNN.

Though most workers believe that an envelope with some cash inside makes the best Christmas present, some Lithuanian employers argue that pecuniary bonuses today are not the most effective measure of the stimulation and acknowledgement.

What marks a new trend many employers tend to reward each worker with a modest Christmas gift instead of throwing out a big Christmas party with the participation of a costly singer or band.

JSC «Metalistas», a metalwork company in Panevėžys, for example, came up with an extraordinary idea as to how reward its workers this Christmas – it has published a culinary book and handed it to every worker.

«We noticed that namely culinary unites us all. All the recipes in the book were told by our workers,» Rita Gasparavičiūtė, the company’s communication specialist, said.

The metal processor has already put out books with the salad, desert and appetizer recipes and, now, with the book with the entry recipes out, the series is complete.

«Each book has been a big surprise to all and the people were proud to be in it and part of it,» Gasparaviciute noted.

Besides, «Metalistas» takes its workers to the local theatre every year, where the employees not only enjoy the performance but where the best workers also receive rewards – golden, silver and bronze badges- for their outstanding professional achievements.

One of the largest road builders in the country, Panevėžio statybos trestas, has also rid of the usual tradition of inviting a famous singer or band for the company’s Christmas party and instead gives every worker a small but meaningful gift for the occasion.

The workers’ children, meanwhile, frolic at the company’s fairy-tale-like party, with Santa Clause giving out lots tons of Christmas knick knacks.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.4461


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