Forty+ Fun Facts about Lithuania: A Lovely Country That’s Easy to Love
Lithuania is mainly known for being (roughly) a 1/3 of the Baltic States and for fantastic basketball players. Yet there’s so much more to this seemingly quiet little country. This is our list of unique, interesting and fun facts about Lithuania.
When I was looking for interesting facts about Lithuania, I was surprised to find very little. It seems that this lovely country hasn’t been given its proper due. So we’ve come up with a list of unique facts, compiled from reading, researching and speaking to the locals.
We think Lithuania’s pretty amazing, and after reading this, we hope you will too!
Lithuanians Broke the Iron Curtain
Ok, well not exactly ‘broke,’ but they were the first to break away from the Eastern Block, inspiring other countries to follow. It wasn’t easy, by any means.
- March 11, 1990. Lithuania proclaimed independence from Russia.
- September 6, 1991. The Soviet Union accepted their independence; however the last of the Russian soldiers didn’t leave until 1993.
- It wasn’t bloodless. 14 people who were peacefully protesting were killed, and over 160 injured by the Russian seizure of the Vilnius Broadcasting Services.
- Sweden believed in Lithuanian independence and was ready to help, if needed. (From a Lithuanian who saw the ships on standby in Swedish ports.)
- Iceland was the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence on February 11, 1991.
And one of the most important dates for Lithuanians about this time in history is August 23, 1989, when they joined hands in a peaceful protest with Latvians and Estonians.
The Baltic Way stretched for 600 km (about 370 miles) and included roughly 2 million people.
Seriously, can you imagine how powerful that moment was?
It was 50 years after the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, signed in secret and ‘gifting’ Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the Russians (August 23, 1939).
Lithuania also celebrates two independence days: the official Independence Day on February 16, and the Day of the Restoration of Independence on March 11.
Lithuanians Are Super Aerial
Maybe the last thing you’d expect of Lithuania is their love of being in the air. From heroic pilots to food, it’s an integral part of Lithuanian culture.
Two famous Lithuanian heroes are Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, two pilots that attempted a cross Atlantic flight from NYC to Kaunas, Lithuania. They made it across the ocean but crashed before reaching their destination.
Vilnius is the only capital in the world that you can fly a hot air balloon over. I suppose that makes sense, since Lithuania is also #1 for the highest number of hot air balloons per person.
Aerobatic flying is another Lithuanian specialty; Jurgis Kairys in particular. The world champion even has a maneuver named after him: the Kairys Wheel.
Rolandas Paksas was a stunt pilot who went on to become Lithuania’s President. Incidentally, he was also the first European president to be impeached.
One of Lithuania’s most famous dishes, ‘Cepilin,’ is named after the German Zeppelin airship because of its oval shape. Diner, beware: it’s swimming in bacon drip. Your arteries may not forgive you but your tastebuds will.
Pagan Roots & Religion in Lithuania
It’s interesting to see Pagan statues in many places in Lithuania.
Kaunas has statues of Perkūnas, the god of thunder scattered throughout the city. It also has at least 5 Catholic churches and a grand cathedral, which is an interesting contrast.
The Pagan history is quite important to Lithuania and reflects the ancient culture. Interesting sites:
- Pagan Oak Tree Park, Dukstai
- Hill of Witches, Juodkrante
- Hill of Crosses,Šiauliai (an amazing site, all the more amazing for being completely razed twice by Russian soldiers and rebuilt in defiance)
Interesting Traditions in Lithuania:
- Shrove Tuesday. It marks the end of winter and welcomes spring. People put on masks or costumes and visit their neighbors; in the evening an ‘old maid More’ is either a.) burnt b.) put in water or (my personal favorite) c.) put on a sled and sent down a hill.
- Rasos & Joninas Day (Midsummer). The morning of Midsummer, young ladies should wash their faces with the fresh dew. In the evening, there are bonfires, putting wish/spell bags in the water; and looking for fern blossoms.
(In case you don’t know, ferns have no blossoms. But as an excuse to take a romantic walk and canoodle, couples ‘search’ for the fern blossoms in the forest. I like that.)
- Christmas Eve. An empty plate is set for family or friends lost within the past year; and the Christmas Eve dinner is left out overnight to ‘feed’ all friends and family lost.
- Easter Granny. No cute and fuzzy animals, but Velykų Bobute brings eggs at Easter. Bunnies help decorate the eggs* and load her cart. She has a sunbeam whip to urge her small pony forward.
However, and much more importantly, Easter is a sacred time for families in Lithuania- and involves copious amounts of yummy food.
*The Lithuanian style of decorating Easter eggs involves natural dyes (boiled red onion skins) and then scratching a white design into the shell. The process can take a week or more for a detailed decoration.
Interesting Lithuanian Superstitions
- Don’t whistle indoors. It’s bad luck to whistle inside, since it’s believed to call evil little devils.
- Want to get married? Don’t sit at a corner. Apparently only true for unwed ladies, sitting at the corner of a table makes you unmarriageable.
- Black Bread & Salt. Combined, they’re considered good luck. Visiting guests might receive a small token, or newlyweds as well wishes for their future together.
Other Uniquely Lithuanian Facts
There really are a lot of interesting tidbits about Lithuania, but we’re including the highlights here. Please feel free to help us add to our list!
- It has its own perfume, called ‘the Scent of Lithuania’ and includes the aroma of lilacs, amber, red berries and cedar.
- It’s the oldest living Indo-European language in the world and has been tied to Sanskrit. There is also a small region (Telsiai) that speaks the Samogitian dialect.
- White storks are the national symbol of Lithuania and children still believe storks bring babies. For a very good reason, though: Lithuania is home to over 13,000 pairs of storks.
- Lithuanian is spoken in: Argentina, the U.S., Norway and Uruguay, to name a few.
- The Republic of Uzupis in Vilnius has a statue of Frank Zappa as a replacement for a communist statue and a symbol of artistic freedom.
- Basketball, not football, is the most popular sport. It makes sense- many Lithuanians are tall and lanky.
- You can have an ‘authentic KGB’ experience. Called ‘1984. Survival Drama,’ you pay money to be a citizen of a totalitarian regime for 3 hours, in a live simulation. Including the typical guard treatment.
- The Lithuanian word for ‘thank you’ (Ačiū) sounds like the English sneeze word ‘Achoo!’
- The ‘godfather’ of avant-garde filmmaking, Jonas Mekas, was Lithuanian.
Other famous people with Lithuanian backgrounds (2nd/3rd/etc. generations) include:
Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; the director, Robert Zemeckis; Charles Bronson; Bob Dylan; Leonard Cohen; the football player Johnny Unitas; and actor John C. Reilly.
We really hope you’ve enjoyed our list of interesting Lithuanian facts.
What about you? Anything to add? We’d love to hear your thoughts about Lithuania. Let us know in the comments below!
I think our choir culture is also very important! Specially our song celebrations, which united us and kept the spirit of freedom alive even through the Soviet period. You can read more about that here: http://www.dainusvente.lt/en/about-song-celebrations/history
You could also add something about lithuanian book smugglers during the 1866-1904 period, when russians banned books printed in latin alphabet. People were not only smuggling books, but also had hidden schools at homes to teach kids lithuanian language… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithuanian_press_ban
Thank You for this fine article!
Lithuanians have a new (5 year old) nice and very popular tradition of singing the Lithuanian national hymn at the same time all over the world on July 6th:
I have enjoyed learning a small bit about this amazing country, A country is it’s people and beliefs. Lithuanian’s steadfastness against so much humbles. The resolve to keep their faiths, traditions and language can inspire the world. I love the word for thank you…. I’ll think of it every time a little one sneezes and I’ll smile. Thank you for sharing this with the world.
ti was very cool to see. I my self are part Lithuanian so it was cool see this.