In early March, the people of Lithuania hold the Kaziukas Festival celebrating St. Casimir, the patron saint of Lithuania. St. Casimir was born in Lithuanian to a respected ruling clan shortly after the ruling classes adopted Christianity.
During his brief life, people loved him for his virtue, piety. He contracted tuberculosis, and died on March 4, 1483 at the age of twenty-five. They buried his body in Vilnius.
From the beginning, believers appealed to god at his grave and believe he performed miracles, The church considered his fabled appearance in 1518 his first miracle. During a pitched battle with the Russian army, Saint Casimir appeared astride a white horse and urged the army to follow him into the fight. They won.
On November 7, 1602, the Catholic church canonized St. Casimir and his feast day added the calendar of saint’s day. It is celebrated through the Balkans. For Lithuanians, March 4th is also a national holiday.
In Vilnius, an enormous festival takes place on the weekend nearest to his March 4th feast day. Craft and food vendors offering produce, regional treats, and traditional handmade goods pack the capital city streets. Street performers, concerts, and folk dancers perform in the central squares of the old town. On Saturday; crafters, musicians, and locals wearing traditional costumes parade throughout the streets in the Procession of Kaziukas.
Popular craft items include hand painted Easter eggs and palms bouquets called verbos. (More on verbos in a future post). Great street food is an important aspect of the festival. Cast iron skillets overflowing with sausages and sauerkraut, giant kettles of rich chili join stalls selling cured meats, smoked fish, cheeses, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Diners enjoy steins of Gira (kvass, a fermented bread drink) and beer in great abundance.
You too can celebrate Kaziukas with some Grybukai, a popular mushroom shaped gingerbread cookie. Here is a recipe.
· 1/2 c honey
· 1/4 c table sugar
· 2 T brown sugar
· 2 T butter
· 1 large egg
· 1 1/2 t cardamom
· 1 1/2 t cinnamon
· 1/2 t clove
· 1/2 t nutmeg
· 1 1/2 t lemon zest
· 1/2 t freshly orange zest
· 2 3/4 c all-purpose flour
· 3/4 t baking soda
· 1/4 t salt
· 2 T sour cream
· 2 c powdered sugar
· 1/2 c poppy seeds
· Heat honey over medium heat until it begins to boil.
· Remove from heat and stir table sugar and brown sugar, butter, egg, spices and zest.
· In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt.
· Stir in the honey and sour cream. Alternating a little of each to form a dough.
· Knead the dough on a floured board for about five minutes (until dough is not sticky)
· Rest dough for twenty minutes.
· Heat oven to 350°F
· Cut dough into four equal parts.
· With one part make stems by rolling into long coil about ⅜ inch thick. Cut into 1 inch lengths.
· Place “stems” about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
· Bake about seven minutes and cool on wire racks.
Form the caps
· With the remain dough, shape 1 ½-inch balls.
· With the handle of a wooden spoon make an indentation about ½-inch deep on one side of each ball
· Place caps, indented side down, ½ inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
· Bake about 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
Make the icing
· Mix together the powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon water.
· Add another 2 tablespoons water a little at a time, beating well in between, until the icing is combined.
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