Lithuanian Tradional Crafts Fair Reaches Apogee

Dateline: VILNIUS, Mar 04, BNS

A traditional Lithuanian folk crafts fair dating back to the beginning of the 17th century is now at its apogee at two main Market places and in the down-town Vilnius.

As the fair was traditionally held on St. Casimir's Day on March 4, its is popularly referred to as Kaziukas Fair or Little Casimir's fair. Today it is rather more like a festival of folk art and crafts, music and dance attracting tens of thousands of people and craftsmen from all over the country.

Traditional palms [called "verbos", hence "Verbu Sekmadienis" - GK] made of colorful dried flowers and herbs which believers take to church on Palm Sunday in Vilnius district are the fair's badge.

The Vilnius palms originate from a lily with which traditionally St. Casimir is portrayed. The son of the king of Poland and the Great Duchy of Lithuania, Casimir, ruled in 15th century and was canonized and designated by the Vatican as a patron saint of Lithuania.

Saint Casimir's Day

Saint Casimir's Day is celebrated on March 4th. He is Lithuania's only saint and his feast day was very popular among the people. When Lithuanians heard priests speak in church about other saints, it was hard to picture where they had lived, their living conditions and surroundings. The people accepted the saints, loved them, took them to their hearts, but they still remained distant.

Saint Casimir was different. He left his footsteps on the Lithuanian soil, his body was buried in Vilnius where the people could visit him and pray at his casket. Lithuanians believed that St. Casimir understands their prayers and indeed answers them. Was he not the son of a Lithuanian king? Did he not travel across Lithuania, did he not see her people and hear their complaints?

St. Casimir was so cherished by Lithuanians that stories of his life and miracles had gone beyond the church walls and spread through the population, became tales and legends. The saintly prince's special devotion to the Blessed Mother was also very dear to the Lithuanians because Lithuania is Mary's Land, known for its many shrines dedicated to her and sincere veneration. Especially the young were attracted to St. Casimir's youth and high regard for chastity. On June 11, 1948 Pope Pius XII named him the special patron of all Lithuanian youth. Thus, St. Casimir became the patron of youth not only within Lithuania, but in all the world's countries where Lithuanian young people reside.

St. Casimir was a true Lithuanian by birth. He is descended from the famous and respected Gediminaitis clan. The great Lithuanian dukes Kestutis, Algirdas, Vytautas the Great and others belonged to this family. St. Casimir's father was Kazimieras Jogailaitis who ruled Lithuania (later along with Poland) from 1447. His grandfather was Jogaila and his grandmother, Jogaila's fourth wife, Sofija the duchess of Alsenai (a pure-blooded Lithuanian) who grew up in the Vilnius region.

Kazimieras Jogailaitis married the daughter of Emperor Albrecht II, descended from the Hapsburg family. They had six sons and six daughters (one of whom died very young). Casimir was the second son, born on October 3, 1458. He was renowned for a life of great piety, good works and virtue. Upon contracting tuberculosis, he died at the age of 25 on March 4,1483 in Gardinas. He was buried in Vilnius.

Shortly after his death, people came in large numbers to visit the holy prince's tomb and pray for intercession with God. His body was associated with numerous miracles and blessings from God. The process to canonize (declare a saint) St. Casimir was begun soon after his death in 1521, but for various reasons was delayed until November 7,1602 when Pope Clement VIII officially proclaimed St. Casimir's feast on the church calendar. It was believed that Casimir had been canonized by Pope Leo X (before 1521) and that Clement VIII merely officially confirmed the fact. His feast day - March 4th - was the date of his death.

People appealed to their saint at times of various misfortunes. His first miracle is considered to be his apparition in 1518 at the Dauguva River during the war with Moscow. A large Russian army had assembled and threatened the city of Polotsk. A rather small force of Lithuanians stood to defend the city and fortress. The Lithuanians had to cross the swollen Dauguva River. Unable to find other help, they prayed to the saintly prince to intercede. St. Casimir is said to have appeared to the Lithuanians astride a white horse, wearing a white cloak. He urged the army to fight and rode first into the roaring river. The Lithuanians followed his example, fought fiercely and defeated Moscow's troops. The news of the prince's miraculous apparition and the victory spread throughout the country.

The miracle was investigated by bishops of that time and confirmed as authentic. The very fact that St. Casimir came to help in a battle against Lithuania's eternal enemy Moscow elevated him even higher in the eyes of the Lithuanians. The saint became a symbol of the fight against the Russians and Russian Orthodoxy.

Such veneration, so closely linked to anti-Russian feelings, did not go Unnoticed by Russia which often occupied Vilnius. Whenever the Russians approached the city, St. Casimir's relics were hidden and taken outside the city; after the danger had passed they were again returned to the church. The Russians made every effort to prevent St. Casimir's veneration, they banned his feast, but were unable to squash the people's enthusiasm. Thousands gathered annually on March 4th to pray at the tomb of their beloved saint.

The names and titles of Moscow's leaders have changed but it appears Their opinion of this Lithuanian saint has remained constant. The last time St. Casimir's casket was transferred from the Cathedral of Vilnius, it was taken to the church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Antakalnis (a suburb of Vilnius) in 1953. This is where it remains to this day.

The first church named after St. Casimir was built in Lithuania in the middle or the end of the 16th century near Ukmerge. It was built by the Jesuits. At approximately the same time, a church in the saint's honor was built in Vilnius. In Lithuania there are some twelve churches named for St. Casimir.

Respect and love is shown this Lithuanian saint not only in Lithuania but outside her borders as well. Many churches are named after him. His name was also given to a congregation of nuns established in 1907 in Paterson, N.J. Some Lithuanian cities incorporated the saint's likeness in their coat of arms (for example, Kretinga, Darsuniskis, Kvedarna, etc.).

Wherever Lithuanians live in foreign lands and have parishes, we find churches or at least chapels bearing St. Casimir's name. The first Lithuanian church in the U.S. was built in 1862 in Shenandoah, PA and named after the saint. The parish was organized jointly by Lithuanians and Poles, but the Lithuanians were later pushed out and the parish was left to the Poles. St. Casimir, the patron saint of youth, is cherished by Lithuanian young people both in Lithuania and abroad.

Various youth organizations - Ateitis, Scouts, Knights of Lithuaniań®ave Chosen him as their special patron.

For the celebration of St. Casimir's Day on March 4th, many pilgrims came to Vilnius from various Lithuanian places. After services in the cathedral, the people lingered for a while. This gave rise to the so-called Kaziuko muge (Casimir's Fair). Thousands of sellers, buyers and visitors came to these fairs. They were held outdoors. The most typical Kaziuko muge merchandise was Vilniaus verbos. These are various dried flowers and grasses braided together into Typical Lithuanian designs and tied to short sticks; they are taken to church on Palm Sunday and later used to decorate the home.

Another typical Kaziuko muge product or muginukas, was a heart- shaped Honey cookie, decorated with colored sugar flowers, zig-zags, dots and birds. Popular men's and women's names were written on the cookies. People bought and gave them to selected loved ones. It was a custom to bring some back for anyone who had to remain home.

For Lithuanians, March 4th is not only St. Casimir's Day but a national holiday as well. When it is commemorated at home, the family can discuss this popular Lithuanian saint, his miracles, life and piety. For every member of the family a muginukas can be baked with the name inscribed on a heart-shaped cookie decorated with colored sugar designs. The cookies can be baked out of gingerbread dough or the recipes included here.


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