Festivals in Families in Vilnius and Sofia

  • Rasa Paukštytė-Šaknienė
Keywords: family, festival, Christmas, New Year, Easter


In recent years, the focus of discussions in contemporary society has been shifting towards family and family-related themes. Family discourse has become one of the major topics in analysing questions of ethnic and cultural identity in both the humanities and social sciences. One of the ways to answer these questions is to analyse holidays that bring family members together and the place these holidays occupy in the structure of the ritual year. For these purposes, comparative research of two different states of the European Union, Lithuania and Bulgaria, was carried out. Using the results of fieldwork conducted in Vilnius from 2012 to 2016 (as part of the projects “Social Interaction and Cultural Expression in the City: Leisure, Festivals and Rituals 2012–2016” and “Contemporary Festivals in the Vilnius Family 2012– 2014”) and in Sofia (as part of the project “Contemporary Festivity in Bulgaria and Lithuania: From Traditional Culture to Post-Modern Transformations 2014–2016”) I tried to compare calendar holidays celebrated in the families of different cities in 2015. Although Vilnius and Sofia are capitals of member-states of the European Union, their different history, geographical situation, ethnic and religious compositions, size (Sofia with population of 1,211,000 in 2012, and Vilnius with 543,060 inhabitants in 2015), and many other factors should have led to different family rituals in these cities. However, a comparison of festive customs and traditions of people belonging to the dominant ethnic and confessional groups (Bulgarian Orthodox and Lithuanian Catholic) revealed many common features. I tried to reveal them by examining traditions of family celebration of Christmas Eve, Christmas, the New Year, and Easter placing emphasis on the dominant symbols of each holiday, the places where celebrations are held, the food served, and the gifts exchanged. In most cases, only the names of the dishes served during the festivity, the ways of cooking, and ingredients were different. Also, among the Bulgarian people, the popular beliefs associated with these holidays are still more abundant than among the Lithuanians. Among all the holidays, it is possible to single out Christmas Eve, which is equally important in the families in Sofia and Vilnius. An Orthodox Christmas Eve dinner in Sofia is as important as a Catholic Christmas Eve dinner in Vilnius. Meanwhile, the Orthodox and Old Believers of Vilnius give priority to Christmas and not Christmas Eve. The second important family festivity in both countries is Easter, and less religious respondents distinguish the New Year. Diachronic analysis of the ritual year shows the same situation in the attempts to preserve the traditional ritual year during the socialist era in both countries. When analysing Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Easter, and only partially the New Year, both in Bulgaria and in Lithuania, the words “tradition” and “family” are commonly referred to. As festive customs transmitted from generation to generation in both cities, it allows us to talk about the “double ritual year” of the socialist period. One year existed in the closed family space, and the other existed in public and was controlled by ideological structures. At the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century, the contrast between family and public holidays disappeared, but family holidays remain a priority.