Crowds moved slowly through the city’s narrow streets and over its wide avenues. All the while folk music and the loud voices of vendors praising their produce sailed over people’s heads.
Lithuanians and foreigners alike attending the traditional St Casimir’s Fair for the first time could not help be amazed by the magnitude of the event. The otherwise relatively quiet streets of Vilnius suddenly resembled the crowdedness of London’s Oxford Circus during rush hour.
All along Gediminas Avenue, and throughout large parts of Vilnius old Town, market vendors had lined up their stands and were selling traditional produce and hand-made goods. Visitors carried large woven baskets they had bought at the fair which they gradually filled up with all sorts of Lithuanian delicacies, such as dark bread, honey, mead, cheeses and all sorts of cured meat.
The St Casimir’s Fair, or Kaziuko mugė, is one of the oldest traditional events in Lithuania and dates back to the beginning of the 17th century. The large annual arts and crafts fair was traditionally held in Vilnius, but in the last few years the event has sprung up in other Lithuanian cities, and even in Belarus and Poland.
All throughout the Soviet times the fair was held in Kalvarijos Market, outside central Vilnius. It was only after 1991 that the fair settled back to the Old Town of Vilnius where it had started. Since 1991 the fair has spread out over Gediminas Avenue and through the winding streets of Old Town.
Many of the stands on the fair, as in other years, were dedicated to Easter palms. These bright, decorated sticks are traditionally taken to church on Palm Sunday. They are made out of dried flowers and herbs. Visitors had the choice to get either small and modest palms or extravagant ones as large as a small child.
22-year old Monika strode along Gediminas Avenue holding three of the more modest looking palms: “I am still looking for a fourth one. I am getting one for everyone in my family.” She explained she liked all the traditional food on the fair. “Yesterday, on my break from work, I had some balandėliai. It was nice to sit outdoors and eat whilst there was live music playing.”
At the foot of Gediminas Avenue where it meets the Cathedral, a large green chair stood. If seated on the chair, that has been part of the fair for many years now, one could overlook all of the festivities.
Although the Kaziuko mugė is an arts and crafts fair by origin, it can no longer be seen separate from the large quantities of food being prepared and eaten, nor from the many cultural street events and music being performed. All over the fair you would run into musicians playing upbeat folk songs, street artists, and dancing people.
On Lukiškės Square a proud chef was handing out soup from a giant pot holding 290 liters. In front of the Cathedral, meat was prepared on a barbecue in a hollowed out tractor. People in the fair walked around wearing necklaces on which large ring-shaped rolls were dangling. When they would run into a friend they’d let them take a piece from their necks.
Even though a large share of those attending the fair were native Lithuanians, you could not walk far without hearing a foreign language though the Lithuanian chatter. Tourists moved in little groups through the fair crowds tasting all that is good in Lithuania: from its unfiltered beers to its strong tasting bread.
“This fair really is an interesting sight, and the people here are surprisingly friendly,” said Nina, a 29-year-old from the Netherlands. Before coming to Vilnius she had no idea that the fair would be happening during her visit. “Now I am most excited for the traditional dancing. I hope I can join in at one point as well.”
The fair that started on Friday and finished on Sunday had over half a million Lithuanians and foreigners attending.