There are five ethnographic regions in Lithuania – Aukštaitija, Žemaitija, Suvalkija, Dzūkija and Lithuania Minor. Aukštaitija is the largest and the most archaic region. The main parts of folk costume are: shirts, skirts and aprons (for women), trousers and trinyčiai (for men), vests, sashes, sermėgos, headdresses and shoes. White aprons and headdress (wimples, kalpokas, etc.) are distinctiveness of women’s costume of this region. The oldest form of dance in Lithuania originated in movement of spiral, twisting in “snake”, jumping or tripping, etc. The biggest event for dissemination and popularization of Lithuanian dances is Lithuanian Song Festival from 2003 included into UNESCO list.
Aukštaitija is the largest North-Eastern ethnographic region of Lithuania. The main components of Aukštaitija women folk costume in the 19th century – the beginning of the 20th century were shirt, skirt, vest or jacket, apron, upper warm clothes (sermėgos, fur coats), sashes, different headdresses, jewelries and footwear.
Men folk costume consists from shirts, trousers, trinyčiai (the upper clothe playing the role of a modern raincoat), sermėgos (coats), fur coats strapped with sashes or belts, headdresses, footwear.
The fibers grown by the peasants themselves (linen and wool) were used mostly for clothes. Women and men shirts, aprons, drobulės, wimples were woven from pure linen. Also trousers, skirts, vests fabrics with linen warp occurred. Wool was used for spinning of woolen yarns, manufacturing of fabrics and felted garments. Wool was used for skirts, trousers, vests fabrics, also for coats (sermėgos) and felted men’s hats and caps.
Bought cotton threads started to spread in Lithuania in the second half of the 19th century. They started to be used mostly for warp using woolen yarns for weft. Such fabric structure was liked in skirts, trousers, hand-made vests, etc. Also, red or blue shiny cotton threads of high quality called žičkai were used for the décor of different white parts of clothes.
The shirt cut could be threesome in Aukštaitija: tunic type with continuous detail of front and back (besiūlis), tunic type with shoulders gussets and tunic type with yoke (stonelis).
Fabrics for shirts were woven from linen in plain weave. Women’s and men’s shirts were white, the shirts were decorated with red interweaving in separate places (the bottom of the sleeves, cuffs, clasp, collar). Sometimes, the žičkai were interwoven with overshot patterns, in which motives of stars, cat’s feet, rakes, lilies and stylized clover leafs predominated. Also, the shirts were decorated using narrow decorative bands of white or other color, teeth folded from fabric, decorative seams, details of bought material. The parts of the shirt visible from under the upper garment: collar, clasp, cuffs – were mostly decorated (Figure 1).
One more very popular way of shirts decor was embroidery with white cotton threads using letterhead technique. The floral ornaments – small flowers, leafs and pears – were the most often created using this technique. Shirts with yoke were embroidered with cross stitch using red bought threads. Stylizes floral or geometric ornaments were the most often used.
Cotton fabric was started to be decorated and sometimes sewn for holiday shirts. At first, the shoulders gussets, yokes, collars and cuffs, i.e. visible from under the vest parts of shirts, and later all sleeves or even front and back details were sewn from cotton fabric.
The skirts were long, to the ground, broken down vertically into 3–7 details, the most often into 4–5 details, wrinkled at the waist. The border of waist edge was the most often from linen fabric, fastened with bottom, metal hook or tied with band or thread braid. The bottom was widely bent and fastened from the inside with linen or cotton checkered or striped material. Sometimes, seam pocket was sewn in one skirt side.
Skirts were the most often woven with two, four or eight harnesses using plain or twill weaves. The eight-harness skirts started to be woven in the end of the 19th century – the beginning of the 20th century. Four- and five-harness weaving techniques were also popular (Figure 2).
The skirts of quite various coloring and rectangular proportions of large and middle magnitude checks were worn. Vertically and horizontally striped skirts were not popular in Aukštaitija. The most liked colors of Aukštaitija skirts were yellow, green, red, purple. Light, warm shades predominates in the skirts of this region (Figure 3).
The skirts were decorated by sewing of black velvet or other bought material binding strips at the bottom (Figure 4).
The vests of different cuts were sewn in Aukštaitija. The vests folded from the waist predominated. Sometimes, the front details of such vests were not folded, but plane or a little wrinkled. The vests were sewn with closed or quite deep round, square or pointed neckline.
The more beautiful, often bought materials – silk, velvet, brocade – and motley home-made fabrics were used for vests. The half-wool or wool fabric with small transverse or longitudinal pattern using twill, overshot or combined weaving technique were woven for vests. The lining of the vests always was linen fabric of plain weave. The bought material of vests was the most often of bright colors, with large flowers or of one color.
The vests were often encircled with border strip of golden or silver threads (gallon). Metal hooks, buttons, ribbons were used for clasp, sometimes the front details of the vests were tied with metal chain or colorful strip (Figure 5).
White aprons – two-harness of plain or rib weaves, linen, with strips of red žičkai at the bottom were the simplest. The other – four-, six-, eight-harness overshot or damask – were more decorative (Figure 6). The stripes of red žičkai were interwoven into the same as background pattern of ones’ aprons, the other patterns than of the main fabric were picked-up in the other aprons. Sometimes, the bottom of the aprons was decorated with fringes.
White, linen rectangular or square shawls called drobulės woven in twill, overshot techniques or mock-leno weave were worn on the shoulders in the summer time by Aukštaitija women. Drobulės woven in plain weave were also worn (Figure 7). They usually were white. Drobulės were the most often sewn from two details by inserting a crocheted or embroidered perdrobulis, which was left visible when the drobulė was folded not fully in the middle.
Aukštaitija women wore wool or half-wool checkered multi-colored shawls in the cold season. Checks were highlighted with a few colorful threads or narrow colorful threads strips. The most liked colors were green, yellow, red, also black and white (Figure 8).
The waist of trousers was wrinkled with rope or fixed with sewn waist detail of 2.5–3 cm width. The triangle or square piece of material was sewn between the trouser legs in the older simplified model trousers to extend the step. Later, this cut became similar to common construction of trousers. The upper trousers were fastened in the middle with one metal, bony, leather or wooden button.
Holiday and everyday summer trousers were often white. They were woven using four or eight harnesses with twill, overshot and combined weaving technique. Woolen felted fabric called milas was used for sewing of winter trousers. Such fabrics were the most often woven with twill weave.
Fabrics of darker tones or rarer motley were woven for summer trousers, which were sewn also from checkered, striped fabrics of muted colors (Figure 9). The fabrics of one color or with separate brighter threads were also used. The combinations of light colors – white and blue, red and black, brown and dark blue – were liked in some districts. Winter trousers from milas were woven of natural sheep colors in the middle of the 19th century. The most popular colors were grey, black, blue, brown.
Trinyčiai was everyday and holiday upper clothe from thick, dense linen fabric woven the most often using three- or four-harness twill weave (Figure 10). The width of trinyčiai was about 300–320 cm at the bottom, clasp was double-breasted. The length of trinyčiai was up to half of the calves or up to the knees. The older men wore the longer trinyčiai. They were sewn without lining or with lining up to waist. The predominant color of trinyčiai was white.
Sermėga is warm clothe sewn from thick woolen felted fabric milas worn on the shirts. Two types of sermėgos predominated in the 19th century: 1) with divided horizontally front and back details (called durtinės) and 2) with two seams joining front and back details (dvisiūlės) sermėgos. The majority of peasants sewed sermėgos from thinner milas or half-wool fabric.
The mostly liked colors of sermėgos were grey, black, white and brown (rudinės). The lining for sermėgos was sewn to the waist. The lining was from linen checkered fabric of plain weave, in which red color predominated. Blue, green, yellow, black, brown materials were also used.
The sermėgos were decorated with cotton or silk decorative strips of the most often brown, rare blue, yellowish or green color and with embroideries of contrast color. Sermėgos also were decorated with artificial fur strips of the 2–3 cm width called baronėliai and also with decorative strips of black or other color velvet (mašastas) or with the strips of other color, which were sewn on the collar and sleeve flaps. Sermėga collars, cuffs, clasp edges were decorated with colorful decorative strips (Figure 11).
The crowns, holiday headdresses of girls were sewn from multi-colored strips, ribbons, pick-up sashes. Beads, sequins, lace and a string of loose ribbons were sewn between the folds. Gallons were the other known kind of crowns in Aukštaitija (Figure 12). They were made from brocade ribbons of golden or silver color of various width. These ribbons were sewn on the solid red, rarer purple or flowering base. Kalpokai were the headdresses of bridesmaids in Aukštaitija. They were made from the cardboard and colorful ribbons, the top was decorated with artificial flowers. Kerchiefs were the everyday headdresses of girls and women. They were usually woven in plain or twill weaves. White kerchiefs of plain weave were often embroidered with white cotton threads in letterhead technique.
Married women worn the hats until the end of the 19th century. They were sewn from linen, woolen, silk, velvet, sometimes even brocade fabric, rarer the hats crocheted from cotton threads were obtained. Winter hats were sewn from fur or wadding.
Antkakčiai were holiday headdresses covering forehead, which women wore together with kerchiefs (Figure 13). Antkaktis was a crown of 3–4 cm width decorating only front part of head at the forehead sewn from silk ribbons, laces, decorated with beads.
The wimple or palmetis was the oldest headdress of married women in Aukštaitija (Figure 14). The wimples were worn until the middle of the 20th century in some places of Aukštaitija. Fabric of everyday wimples was the most often of plain weave, and fabric of holiday wimples was patterned with four- or eight-harness overshot or damask techniques. Strips of red or red and blue žičkai were interwoven into the ends of the wimples.
The men wore felted hats with narrow brim and hemispherical felt caps with a peak (Figure 15). Hats were the most often of natural colors – black or brown, because the wool darkened from the moisture. The largest attention was paid to the additional decor of hats and caps with flowers, feathers, sashes, colorful kerchiefs formed from the fabric. Hats and caps also were decorated with leather belts with buckles of golden or silver color.
Sashes used in Aukštaitija can be divided into braided, overshot and pick-up sashes. The braided sashes were characteristic only for Aukštaitija, the pick-up sashes were less widespread in this region (Figure 16). The sashes were woven from woolen, later from bought woolen threads called skaistgijos with the patterns of firs, rakes, birch leafs, roses, cheese, clover, panevala and other quite compound floral and geometric patterns. The liked colors of braided sashes were green, red, purple, yellow, rarer black and white. The ornaments of red, green, blue wool or skaistgijos were picked-up in the pick-up sashes in Aukštaitija. All sashes were finished with ornamental fringes of thicker woolen yarn lučkai, ribbons or slips of colored materials.
The bast shoes vyžos are braided shoes made of wood bark without heel. They were worn in the 19th century at all times of the year and on various occasions (Figure 17).
Leather shoes called naginės were everyday and holiday footwear in Aukštaitija. Naginės as well as bast shoes were worn on the felt boots in the winter time that they are not get wet (Figure 18).
The shoes with wooden soles and leather top called medpadžiai were manufactured from wood and leather. Wood protect legs from the moisture, leather gives freedom for the legs. Medpadžiai for holidays were manufactured from the shoes with carried away soles. Medpadžiai with heel (without top of the boot) covering the top of the sole were worn for every day.
The leather footwear – high boots, low shoes – always were expensive and splendid footwear by Lithuanian peasants. The women wore everyday strung shoes with high tops of the shoes and with semi-high heels.
Folk dances and singing games are more or less known since childhood in every Lithuanian family. The first acquaintance with this form of national heritage begins in kindergartens, primary schools, and attending children's folk dance groups. Folk dances are popularized in folk ensembles, traditional dance clubs, various festivals and celebrations in smaller towns and cities of Lithuania.
In recent decades, the use of elements of Lithuanian choreographic folklore has become increasingly popular in the mass distribution of original stylized folk dance compositions created by choreographies and composers.
The three Baltic countries are jointly organizing the Gaudeamus Student Song and Dance Festival and the Baltica International Folklore Festival.
The biggest event for dissemination and popularization of Lithuanian dances is "Lietuvos dainų šventė" (Lithuanian Song Festival) – a traditional festival of songs and dances. The origins of the song and dance festival tradition go back to the middle of the 19th century in Central Western Europe. The first song festival was held on June 25 1843 in Switzerland, in the city square of Zurich. It was attended by 80 choirs and 2100 singers. The largest song festival in the world took place in 1928 in Austria, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Franco Schubert. Then 200 thousand German choir singers from all over the world gathered in Vienna. Unfortunately, eventually, the tradition of song festivals in Western Europe faded.
The tradition of song festivals came to the Baltic countries through the Baltic Germans – first to Estonia (1869, Tartu), Latvia (1873, Riga), and later to Lithuania (1924, Kaunas). Mass gatherings of nations during the events of the Song and Dance Festival promoted a sense of community and unity of nations and created preconditions for the future separation of the Baltic nations from Russia and the creation (and restoration) of independent states. The road to the restoration of the independence of the Baltic States is often referred to as the "singing revolution". In 2003 UNESCO declared the tradition of song festivals a masterpiece of the oral and intangible cultural heritage.
Recently, folk dance nights and other social events of folk dances with live musicians have become popular in Lithuania. It is gratifying that such parties are also held in some schools. People of all ages gather to dance Lithuanian folk dances, characterized by simple choreography, for their own pleasure without a mandatory program of the event and wearing casual clothes instead of expensive national costumes. This gives great hope that Lithuanian folk dances will not be forgotten.
The traditional Lithuanian song festivals held every five years are an inexplicable phenomenon of popularity these days. As soon as one is over, the next one starts planning immediately. Many national groups count their lives from one this festival to another.
The upcoming Lietuvos Dainų šventė (Lithuanian Song Festival) in 2024 will commemorate her 100th anniversary. During this period, the event became more and more popular, bringing more and more people together. Today's Song Festival unites close to 40 thousand participants from Lithuania and Lithuanians from all over the world. According to organizers, the Lithuanian Song Festival is a universal national cultural phenomenon and a constant purposeful creative process, the spirit of which is equal to the old Greek Olympic Games.
The oldest written knowledge of ritual games of Baltic tribes reaches us from a variety of travelers in the beginning of the 10th century. It is believed that the oldest form of dance originated in ritual actions. It was movement in a circle, usually around a ritual object (tree, fire, field or other sacred place), as well as movement in a spiral, twisting in a "snake", jumping or tripping, moving according to the song being sung, using various symbolic related to the respective ritual (bread, drink, herbs etc.).
The sacrificial function itself constituted a religious dance. Over time, rites increasingly lost their religious meaning and became a pastime through customs. The nature of these dances was in keeping with the farmer’s life cycle. Relevant dances were performed on the occasion of various work finishes, family life events, and celebrations.
Over time, traditional custom dances began to change under the influence of other nations’ dances. However, the prevalence of foreign dance in Lithuania was reported back in the 17th century, although it may had started since the 14th century due to the openness of the country to international relations. Whilst in the 19th century the quadrilles became popular in many regions of Lithuania because of their similarity to some ancient Lithuanian dances, especially to singing games and sutartinės which included an opposite movement in couples, successive movement in contraposition, patterns of “a cross”, couples changing places, etc. Waltz firstly was mentioned in 1862, and it became a traditional dance in Lithuania. However, it was not as popular as polka which was performed as early as the mid-19th century in the North Eastern Lithuanian rustic areas. Prior to the emergence of this polka, some sutartinės displayed the same way of dancing. Additionally, the motif of a spinning couple and the rhythm of polk is charasteristic to other ancient Lithuanian dances and singing games. The majority of Lithuanian couple dances are based on the motives of polka.
At the beginning of the 20th century, with the strengthening of national consciousness and perception, there was a desire and affair to get rid of the influence of the outside world and appear with one's own authentic folklore. During the interwar years of independence, physical education teachers collected old folk dances, games, and songs, stylized them, and restored them.
In 1935 the Lithuanian folk dances "Kubilas", "Blezdingėlė" and "Kepurinė" were danced at the international exhibition in London and caused extraordinary success.
In June 29, 1937 the festival organized by "Jaunoji Lietuva" in Kaunas is considered to be the first dance festival. 448 dancers, selected from various parts of Lithuania, danced several folk dances according to the general drawing of the square.