Back to My Roots: My First Lithuanian Wedding
Hey everyone, and welcome back to Into the Forests I Go, my online space to explore living in Lithuania as an American expat.
I've been away on a self-initiated summer break - playing host to two friends two weeks apart, attending my second Joninės, or Rasos (Lithuania's summer solstice celebration), meeting with traveling family members, celebrating birthdays, the NATO summit and President Biden's visit, and on and on. This summer has been full of connections and new experiences.
But there's one recent experience I'm excited to share with you:
I finally attended my first Lithuanian wedding this past weekend.
What had I been told about Lithuanian weddings up to this point?
Well, people have always made sure to tell me that they may last well into the morning, that they're huge cause for celebration with alcohol, dancing, and inimitable joy.
Perhaps the best part of this wedding, though, is that it took place in the exact town my ancestors were from - Anykščiai.
A full circle moment, indeed.
But between all the nature and camping, I have a feeling this wedding was a bit different than others - just a hunch.
The ceremony took place under a huge canopy of trees overlooking a gorgeous river bend while waving kayakers floated by, and even though the officiant spoke in Lithuanian, I got so much joy out of recognizing some words and seeing my friends so happy. (And tipsy: on the way to their wedding, a hunter saw them and had them drink three shots of vodka each. By the time they saw me, they were ready to get hitched!)
Our own trek out to Anykščiai became something of an adventure, shuttling some musicians along with us - people who I quickly realized could become friends. Then, we scurried to Vilnius to pick up an American friend from the airport and headed back to Anykščiai with camping gear in tow. It was - well, it was a lot of driving. But it was worth it!
And it didn't take too long for me to realize I'd been to these wedding party grounds before. One time last summer, we were hanging out with the bride in Anykščiai when she took us to her uncle's land - which also happened to be hosting a metal festival. Y'all can probably gather that metal isn't my cup of kombucha, but it's popular here and in Northern Europe. Why? I don't know - maybe the darkness of winter lends itself to music that makes me want to claw out of my body. I prefer the Beach Boys when it's snowing, but I'm weird. Reverse psychology, you know? I digress.
Beyond my initial culture shock, I immediately recognized that this would be a great place to return on another occasion - everyone was welcoming, chill, and down to talk to two Americans, despite their rough exteriors.
So there I was, back in Anykščiai and back on these grounds - with another American in tow.
I can't speak to other Lithuanian weddings or wedding parties, but with this one, it was clear that the hosts really just wanted their guests to have a good time at their own pace. Whereas for some people, a big wedding with all the stops might be the goal, the goal of this wedding was clearly freedom and enjoyment. (Sounds a lot like my own wedding!) Eventually, the band came out - yes, some of the musicians from our car - and rocked our faces off with a hand-selected setlist. If there's one thing that brings people together, my bride friend clearly intuited that it's Classic Rock hits. A highlight for me was after playing "Sweet Home Alabama," - which already blew my mind, as it was! - one of the band members said, "That one goes out to our new friends, Steve and Eva, from Texas!"
It was one of those "You're not in America anymore, kid!" moments, and it genuinely cracked me up.
Absolutely surreal and absurd. Sometimes I have to wonder how I even got here - in Lithuania, in Anykščiai - town of my ancestors - filled to the brim with sparkling water, jam sessions, homemade deer sausage, and laughter.
I do not lead a straight and narrow life, and I think I like it that way.
On our way back from the wedding, we stopped in Anykščiai proper - back to Sinagogo gatve, back to where my bones feel right - and I can't help but think that I really was made to come here. Sure, I made the decision to do so of my own volition - and chose Vilnius over all other options - but the more I return to Anykščiai, the more time I spend in nature, the more I realize weddings in Anykščiai and Panevėžys brought me to this Earth in the first place, the more I realize I'm exactly where I need to be.
And that's pretty cool.
How about you? Have you ever been to a Lithuanian wedding? Did it also go into the early morning hours? I probably shouldn't expect tent camping at my next one, huh? Regardless, I was happy to be invited, to spend time with my Anykščiai friend, and have, well, another adventure.
And as per usual, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of this page to receive a bi-weekly email from me on whatever's on my heart that day! And as always, I'll see you next time here at Into the Forests I Go - iki pasimatymo - see you soon!