The Three Kings Celebration in Vilnius: Its Origin and Evolution in the Twentieth and the Early Twenty-first Centuries

  • Jonas Mardosa
Keywords: Vilnius, Three Kings, folk piety, outdoors fete, maskers, ritual, customs, Christmas tree


The article sets out to analyse the feast of Epiphany (Three Kings’ Day) held on 6 January in Vilnius in the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. In many parts of the world, the first holiday after the celebration of the New Year is Epiphany celebrated on 6 January. The Catholics call this celebration the Feast of the Three Kings, and it goes back to the roots of the New Testament texts. The solemn commemoration of the celebration of Epiphany in Lithuania came from medieval European cities. The mummers of the first decades of the twentieth century were present in the context of Polish religious culture in Vilnius. Due to the ethnic composition of the urban population, Lithuanian groups were rare. According to Maria Znamierowska-Prüfferowa, groups of young people dressed as Kings moved from the suburbs of Vilnius to the centre on the eve of the Feast of the Three Kings. During the Soviet period of 1940 to 1990, church activities outside the territories of churches were banned. The reborn processions of the Three Kings in the city represent a new turn in the development of this feast in post-Soviet times. After the collapse of the Soviet system, the procession of the Three Kings was organised by the actors of the Old Town Theatre in Vilnius, whose activities were linked to the Old Town. The renewed Three Kings’ Day concentrates on an afternoon walk of the Kings in the central street of the former historic Old Town from the Gates of Dawn to Vilnius Cathedral. In the procession, the Three Kings are accompanied by an angel carrying the star at the front of the procession, other angels, and mummers of livestock walking along. Thus, the procession itself preserves the Biblical image of the characters and the content of the rites. At the end of twentieth century, transformations of the Christmas season customs took place so the sense of undressing Christmas trees and the symbolic farewell to them became part of the Feast of the Three Kings as the end of the Christmas season. Thus, city processions as a symbol of the end of the Christmas season in modern-day Vilnius life were revived during post-Soviet times.