A sure sign of spring for Lithuanians is the celebration of St. Casimir’s Day, on March 4th. St. Casimir is Lithuania’s patron saint, a descendant of the Gediminaitis dynasty, which included the grand dukes Kęstutis, Algirdas, and Vytautas the Great. Rejecting worldly goods, he lived a life of piety and good works, and died of tuberculosis on March 4, 1483, at the age of 25.
His tomb in Vilnius became the focal point of pilgrimages, associated with miracles and blessings. Thousands gathered every year on this date to pray to their favourite saint. After services at the cathedral, the gathering of pilgrims from all over Lithuania gave rise to the traditional St. Casimir’s Fair (Kaziuko mugė) in Vilnius’ Old Town, with many vendors selling handmade crafts in the streets.
The best-known items sold at St. Casimir’s Fair have always been Vilniaus verbos. It is said that they were first displayed in Vilnius city processions by various artisanal guilds in the Middle Ages. The term is somewhat confusing and difficult to translate appropriately. Lithuanian instructions refer to bouquets of flowers, but they are actually miniature arrangements.
In Lithuanian verbos mean palm fronds or branches, associated with those laid before Christ as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Originally a simple juniper branch or a switch from any early-budding tree (used to “whip” household members who slept in on Palm Sunday), it grew in complexity and became a folk art phenomenon, spreading from Vilnius to all of Lithuania. Verbos are stalks or sticks decorated with a great variety of dried flowers and grasses braided together (and attached with string) in various designs, to be taken to church on Palm Sunday and used as decorations (and as talismans) in the home, passed on through generations.
Another popular St.Casimir’s Day tradition is the muginukas (Fair cookie), a heart-shaped honey or gingerbread cookie decorated with names and patterns in icing, for gifting to loved ones or those who could not attend the fair.
This year due to the pandemic, the fair will go online, with artisans selling their wares at www.craftson.lt from March 4 (2pm local time in Lithuania) onward.