Kūčios – Christmas Eve dinner with many traditional foods and spells – is the most important holiday for many Lithuanian families. Celebrated on December 24, it has pagan origins, but has been highly influenced by Christian traditions over the years. In this post, we will introduce you to the most common meals for the occasion.
On the day of Kūčios, Lithuanians tend to fast until they sit down at the table, which is always meat-free, and consists of 12 meals, while some families even abstain from dairy products, too. The dinner begins with the oldest person of the family (usually, the father or grandfather) saying a short speech or a prayer, wishing everyone health and happiness. In order for those wishes to come true, everyone must taste all of the 12 dishes served. The leftovers remain on the table during the night, as it is believed that the spirits of our loved ones who are no longer with us visit the table once everyone is asleep. Before going to bed though, everyone partakes in the rituals that are aimed at foreseeing the future. We will tell you about those very soon, too.
Christmas Eve table in Lithuania must always have 12 dishes, all of which cannot contain meat. The number has two different explanations. One says that, since Kūčios is of pagan origin, people paid tribute to the 12 months of the year by serving 12 different dishes. Interestingly, historical sources say that in the ancient times, the table would have 13 dishes, as the year used to be divided into 13 months. The other reasoning behind 12 meals explains that they symbolize the 12 Christian apostles. When it comes to the dishes themselves, there are no strict recipes, yet the core ones include herring, potatoes, kissel (a thickened berry drink), mushrooms, and bread. What you will find on every table, though, is poppy seed milk and Kūčia, which gave the name to the holiday itself and was dedicated for the spirits of the ancestors. Here, we share the recipes of those two Lithuanian Kūčios essentials. Both of them are very easy to make and are highly unusual for a foreign taste, so we invite you to give them a try and introduce something new to your Christmas table this year.
Kūčia (serves 6-8)
In photo: Forest Green Linen Napkins
What we’ll need:
– 2 cups whole grains (pearl barley, oats, barley, wheat or a mix of any);
– 2 tablespoons honey;
– 300 gr poppy seeds;
– Dried cranberries or raisins.
Let’s get going:
1 Rinse the grains and soak overnight.
2. Boil the soaked grains until tender, then leave to cool. To make the process faster, rinse with cold water.
3. Scald the poppy seeds with boiling water, strain, and grind. A manual meat grinder is the best for this, but a blender works, too.
4. Pan-roast the hazelnuts, allow to cool slightly, and take off the skins. Chop.
5. Mix all the ingredients together. The amount of nuts and dried berries can vary according to your own taste.
Poppy seed milk
What we’ll need:
– 1 cup poppy seeds (~150 gr);
– 2 liters water;
– 3 tablespoons sugar or honey.
Let’s get going:
1. Place the poppy seeds in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Leave for 30 minutes to absorb the water.
2. Strain the seeds and grind them. Again, a manual meat grinder is the best for this, but a blender works, too.
3. Put the grinded seeds in a pitcher or a big bowl. Add the water. Stir in your sweetener of choice (sugar or honey).
4. Before pouring into glasses or cups, give the drink a good stir, so the poppy seeds rise from the bottom.
Tip: you can vary the amount of sugar and water depending on your own taste. If you are going for a thick drink with strong taste, add less water, and increase the amount for a lighter version. Similarly, if you want more sweetness, don’t hesitate to add extra sugar or honey.
Lithuanians eat poppy seed milk with little lightly sweet pastries called Kūčiukai. They are usualy made of flour, yeast, sugar and poppy seeds. But instead of Kūčiukai you can try dipping some lightly sweet cookies or just enjoy poppy seed milk alone as a drink.
In photo: Thin Black Stripes Linen Tea Towel
Photos by Egle Juzu (IG: @egle.juzu)