Christmas celebration. Aleknaiciai, Pakruojis distr., 198s.

The school in Aleknaičiai was a place of gatherings, various commemorations and festivities for many years. From the opening of the school until the last year of its operation, it was the venue for annual and seasonal celebrations. Most information about the festivities and life in Aleknaičiai and its surroundings that has been preserved dates back to the second half of the 20th century.

During the 61 years of the school’s existence, the school building was mostly used for officially approved celebrations or yearly festivals included in the school’s programme, organised by the teachers and the collective farm secretariat. There were also religious festivals celebrated before and after independence, which continued to be celebrated in secret, at home or in closed circles during the Soviet period. Locals tell about the celebrations of St. John’s Day, the Christian Easter and Christmas, which often took place without the knowledge of the authorities. During the Soviet era, youngsters – locals who worked on the collective farm, had often graduated from Aleknaičiai Primary School and maintained friendly, respectful relations with the school teachers – also came to watch the school’s festive performances. Other village entertainments, such as dances and gatherings for young people, took place outside the school.

Not much information remains about the gatherings held in Aleknaičiai between the two world wars (1922-1940). The nearby village of Vilūnaičiai was known as a centre of attraction and culture and even had a dance hall. Another gathering place for the residents of the area’s villages was the Holy Trinity Church in Lygumai. The locals learned about the dances organised by the youth by word of mouth during the masses held in this church. The inhabitants of the surrounding villages would gather in an agreed place, usually in the house of one of the locals, to dance and play music. The residents of Aleknaičiai were famous for their musicality and may have participated in the festivities of the neighbouring village.

The Aleknaičiai Primary School, opened in the late 1930s, soon became more than just an educational institution – it was also the centre of the village’s cultural life. Local residents remember that during this initial decade, teachers who worked at Aleknaičiai school were “from the community”[1], so the spirit of patriotism was fostered during history and Lithuanian language lessons as well as by teaching the children Lithuanian songs, which they also heard in their own homes. At Christmas, Juozas Šalkauskas used to come to the school dressed as Santa Claus, and at Easter local children would roll eggs[2] in the school. Later, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, Christianity, patriotic songs and symbols were banned by the authorities, but sometimes the pupils still sang the National Anthem at home in a half-voice.

​​The occupation of Lithuania by the USSR (first in 1940 and then in 1944) and by the Germans (1941–1944), as well as the regaining of national independence (1990), led to changes in the school curriculum. The school remained a state-maintained educational institution, and therefore obeyed the structures of the government, forced to follow a compulsory education programme. During the Soviet period, from 1945 onwards, traditional festivals were held according to a programme common for the whole of the USSR, with pupils preparing and performing dances, songs, plays and games with the help of teachers.

At the beginning of the school year, on the occasion of the first of September, the teachers would always prepare at least a short programme of poems or songs acceptable to the Soviet authorities. On this day, the youngest pupils would symbolically visit the school for the first time, accompanied by pupils from the higher grades. The next closest celebration, Teachers’ Day, took place on the first Sunday in October, when teachers from the Pakruojis district were invited to come to the city. Teachers and the chairmen and secretariat of the district collective farms would come to Pakruojis. The solemn Teachers’ Day celebration would begin with speeches, followed by a feast of different meals. On Soviet holidays, such as the October Revolution or May Day, pupils took part in parades, commemorations and processions. The school did not have its own transport, so the whole school community would go to the parades by a truck trailer cushioned with hay bales, or by intercity bus. A big convenience for the teachers was a bus stop located right next to the school, and a local bus to Šiauliai running at least 13 times a day. During the cold season, the only celebration was the New Year’s Eve party, during which the school staff would decorate the “New Year tree” in one of the halls of the school. Every other year, the teacher Stasys Grušas or Stasys Garnelis would dress up as Santa, play the accordion for the children, and bring them small presents or sweets. Each class would prepare a performance, and the children would recite poems to receive gifts. At the end of the programme, a festive feast awaited everyone. The Spring Festival, 8 March, was celebrated at school with parents (in Soviet times, since 1965, it became a day off), followed by a party for adults. Later (probably due to the decline of the village community and the fall of the Soviet system), 8 March was no longer celebrated at schools. At the end of each school year there was a graduation ceremony.

Before the school was closed (2000), in 1999, the pupils of the former school organised a commemorative celebration. The then primary school pupils, together with their teacher Bronė Grušienė, prepared a short performance. The celebration was attended by teachers and adults from the surrounding villages and other regions of Lithuania – Ramonaičiai, Vilūnaičiai, Juknaičiai and Aleknaičiai, Panevėžys, as well as other villages and towns.

The history of Aleknaičiai School is compiled from the stories of local residents, testimonies of former teachers and memories of former pupils, as well as journals left at the school and the book of memoirs about Kazimieras Kalibata, Gyvenimas pagal priesaiką (Life under the Oath). Facts will continue to be collected and added to the history of the school. If you have any questions or find discrepancies, please contact info@akee.lt.


[1] Teachers that were known to and respected by the local villagers, and worked without government appointment.
[2] An old Easter tradition/game popular in Lithuania to this day.