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Kaziuko mugė – Lithuania’s Saint Casimir’s Fair

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Kaziuko mugė or Saint Casimir’s Fair is a large annual folk arts and crafts fair in Vilnius, Lithuania, dating to the beginning of the 17th century.
It is traditionally held in city’s markets and streets on the Sunday nearest to 4 March, Feast of St. Casimir, the anniversary of his death.
Today, Saint Casimir’s fair also features music, dance, theater performances, and attracts tens of thousands of visitors and many craftsmen from across Lithuania as well as from neighbouring countries.

Casimir Jagiellon (3 October 1458 – 4 March 1484), son of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir IV, was canonized in 1602.
He became known for his piety, devotion to God, and generosity towards the sick and poor. He became ill, most likely with tuberculosis, and died at the age of 25.
He was buried in Vilnius Cathedral and his cult grew. His canonization was initiated by his brother King Sigismund I the Old in 1514 and the tradition holds that he was canonized already in 1521.
Now there are more than 50 churches named after Casimir in Lithuania and Poland, including Church of St. Casimir, Vilnius and St. Kazimierz Church, Warsaw, and more than 50 churches in Lithuanian and Polish diaspora communities in America.
Also women’s congregation Sisters of Saint Casimir was established in 1908 and remains active in the United States.
Surviving contemporary accounts described Prince Casimir as a young man of exceptional intellect and education, humility and politeness, who strove for justice and fairness.
However, early sources do not attest to his piety or devotion to God, but his inclination to religious life increased towards the end of his life.
Later sources provide some stories of Casimir’s religious life. According to some, Casimir refused his physician’s advice to have sexual relations with women in hopes to cure his illness, while other accounts claimed that he contracted his lung disease after a particularly hard fast or that he could be found pre-dawn, kneeling by the church gates, waiting for a priest to open them.
It seems also that he composed a prayer in hexameter on Christ’s incarnation but this text has not survived.
Later, a copy of Omni die dic Mariae (Daily, Daily Sing to Mary) was found in Casimir’s coffin, and the hymn became so strongly associated with Casimir that sometimes it known as Hymn of St. Casimir and he is even credited as its author (although he was most likely written by Bernard of Cluny).
One of the first miracles attributed to Casimir was his appearance before the Lithuanian army during the Siege of Polotsk in 1518. As story goes, he showed where Lithuanian troops could safely cross the Daugava River and relieve the city, besieged by the army of the Grand Duchy of Moscow
Another is about a Lithuanian victory against the Russians. The description lacks specifics, such as date or location, but most likely refers to the Lithuanian victory in 1519 against Russian troops that raided environs of Vilnius, and not the more popular story of the Siege of Polotsk.

Either way, in conjunction with his feast day celebrations, merchants established a fair and in 1827, they received a privilege to hold the fair in the Cathedral Square.
In 1901, after a monument to Catherine the Great was unveiled in the Cathedral Square, the fair was moved to Lukiškės Square while, during the Soviet era, it was held in Kalvarijos Market and in 1991, it returned to the Old Town of Vilnius.
In recent years the fair has expanded into other cities in Lithuania, including Kaunas (in Laisvės alėja and Town Hall Square), Alytus and Klaipėda.
Similar festivals called Kaziuki are also held in several cities in Poland, including Lidzbark Warmiński, Olsztyn, Szczecin, Gdańsk and Poznań, as well as in Hrodna, Belarus, the city where St. Casimir died.

The arts and crafts at the fair include hand-made goods from local craftsmen, such as woven and knitted clothes, footwear, toys, utensils, pots and jugs, jewelry, souvenirs, and paintings.
Traditional foodstuffs include rye bread, bubliks, gingerbread, natural honey, beer, gira, and colorfully wrapped hard candy.
Crafts represented include wood carvers, blacksmiths, potters, weavers and knitters, wicker weavers.
Also Easter palms, “verbos” in Lithuanian, are one of the fair’s specialties.
They are made of colourful dried wild flowers and herbs, with about 150 different varieties of plants used, tied around a wooden stick.
Traditionally, they were taken to churches on Palm Sunday, and now they have become a traditional symbol of spring and Easter.

Another signature product at the fair is the Casimir’s Heart, a heart-shaped gingerbread decorated with sugar patterns and figures (flowers, zigzags, birds, etc.) or even popular given names.
People buy them to give to their loved ones and It is customary to bring back some these to those who could not attend.

Images from web – Google Research

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