St. Casimir's Day

St. Casimir's Day

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: March 4
Where Celebrated: Lithuania
Symbols and Customs: Casimir Fair, Heart-Shaped Cookies, Palms


St. Casimir is the patron saint of Lithuania and Poland. He is especially popular in Lithuania because he is the only Roman Catholic saint that the people of that country consider to be Lithuanian. He is buried in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. His feast day, March 4, is widely celebrated in Lithuania. The activities that take place on that day reflect the pride Lithuanians take in their culture and their love for their patron saint.

Casimir was born in Cracow, Poland, on October 3, 1458. His grandfather, King Wladislaus II Jagiello, is credited with converting Lithuania from Orthodox Christianity to Roman Catholicism. His father, King Casimir IV, served as King of Lithuania and later become the King of Poland. His mother was Princess Elizabeth of Austria. The couple had six sons and six daughters, of which Casimir was the second oldest son. Though raised in Poland, the children had strong ties to Lithuania.

Young Casimir was given a fine education with strong religious overtones. His tutors included Father Dlugosz, the Polish historian, a Roman Catholic canon, and even an archbishop. This exposure to Roman Catholic piety deeply affected the young boy. His parents placed him in the care of Father Dlugosz when he was nine years old. Even at this young age, Casimir demonstrated considerable religious devotion. At the age of thirteen, Casimir journeyed to Hungary, where he had been offered the crown if he would lead the Hungarians in their fight against the invading Turkish Muslims. The military campaign was a failure, however, and Casimir returned to Poland.

Casimir's reputation for piety grew as he became a young man. He was known to have a special devotion to the Virgin Mary. It is said that he would kneel in prayer outside the doors of locked churches, praying there for hours during the night, even in bad weather. He also gained a reputation for his chastity and for his devotion to fasting.

In 1479, when Casimir was twenty-one years old, his father left Poland and returned to Lithuania to help put the country's political affairs in order. Casimir served as the ruler of Poland in his father's absence. The people acclaimed him a just and prudent leader. During these years, Casimir's father tried to arrange a marriage for him, but the young prince refused all offers, preferring to remain single. In 1484 he journeyed to Lithuania, where he became extremely ill. He died at the court in Grodno on March 4, 1484.

Not long after Prince Casimir's death, people began to pray at his tomb. Some of these people claimed that miracles happened to them after asking for Casimir's help. His most famous miracle occurred in 1518, when the Russian army attacked the Lithuanian town of Polotsk. It is said that St. Casimir appeared before the Lithuanian troops on a white horse, and led them on the charge across the Dauguva River. Inspired by this miraculous apparition, the Lithuanians fought off the Russian invasion.

In 1521, the Roman Catholic Church began the proceedings to officially declare Prince Casimir a saint of the church. These proceedings finally came to a close on November 7, 1602, when Pope Clement VIII proclaimed Casimir an official Roman Catholic saint.

The basis of saint day remembrances-for St. Casimir as well as other saints-is found in ancient Roman tradition. On the anniversary of a death, families would share a ritual meal at the grave site of an ancestor. This practice was adopted by Christians who began observing a ritual meal on the death anniversary of ancestors in the faith, especially martyrs. As a result, most Christian saint days are associated with the death of the saint. There are three important exceptions. John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus are honored on their nativities (birthdays). Many who suffered martyrdom are remembered on saint days in the calendars of several Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sects.

In addition to serving as the patron saint of Lithuania, Casimir has also become the patron saint of youth. Pope Pius XII assigned St. Casimir this position on June 11, 1948. St. Casimir is often depicted holding a lily, a traditional Christian symbol for chastity or purity.


Casimir Fair

Hundreds of years ago, many Lithuanians journeyed to Vilnius to celebrate St. Casimir's Day near the saint's tomb. Once there, they stayed a day or two to shop in the big city. Open-air markets sprang up to cater to these tourists. These markets provided the pilgrims with souvenirs of St. Casimir's Day, such as PALMS and HEART SHAPED COOKIES , as well as Lithuanian handicrafts, food, and other useful items. These fairs became known as Kaziuko muges in Lithuanian, or "Little Casimir Fairs." Nowadays Casimir Fairs can be found in many towns in Lithuania. They feature Lithuanian handicrafts, folk music, and folk dancing. They are usually scheduled for March 4, or the weekend closest to that date.

Casimir Fairs also take place in towns outside Lithuania that host people of Lithuanian descent. In the United States, churches or scouting organizations often take on the responsibility of hosting a Casimir Fair. These events usually feature Lithuanian foods, books, music, and handicrafts. Many Lithuanian Americans attend these fairs in order to reconnect with their cultural heritage and with other members of their ethnic community.

Heart-Shaped Cookies

Lithuanians make heart-shaped cookies called muginukus on St. Casimir's Day. The recipe for these cookies calls for honey instead of sugar as the main sweetener. Other ingredients include flour, eggs, butter, cream, cinnamon, and cloves. The dough is chilled, rolled out flat, and cut with heart-shaped cookie cutters. After the cookies are baked, they are decorated with colored sugar. Typical designs include flowers, birds, dots, and zigzags.

An old custom encouraged bakers who set up shop at Casimir Fairs to add a commonly used Lithuanian name to each cookie. People who attended a Casimir Fair often bought cookies with the names of friends and relatives who couldn't come. Upon returning to their residence, they distributed these souvenirs to those who had remained at home. These days Lithuanian families often bake their own mug- inukus. They make sure to embellish at least one cookie with the name of each family member.


One of the most commonly seen items at Casimir Fairs are verbos, or palms. Artisans make the palms by twisting together grasses and flowers to form the outlines of typical Lithuanian designs. Then they attach these geometrical designs to short sticks. Alternately, herbs, grasses, and flowers can be twined around or glued to very thin sticks.

Lithuanians save their St. Casimir's day palms and carry them to church on PALM SUNDAY . Afterwards they bring them home and use them as household decorations.


Bindokiene, Danute Brazyte. Lithuanian Customs and Traditions. Chicago: Lithuanian World Community, 1998.


Catholic Encyclopedia

Lithuania Embassy

Lithuanian Customs and Traditions
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
References in periodicals archive ?
The fair is traditionally held close to St. Casimir's Day, which is March 4.