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Dr. Kerpe shares some of his family’s Lithuanian Easter traditions

Whether your Easter celebration included attending an early sunrise church service, making a special holiday meal or searching for colored eggs in your yard, holiday traditions are essential for healthy families. Research shows that traditions strengthen relationships between generations; give us a sense of belonging; teach family values; and strengthen relationships between ages according to Amy Griswold, Family Life Educator at the University of Illinois Extension.

For Algimantas S. Kerpe, M.D., his Lithuanian heritage features several unique Easter traditions that have given him a secure cultural connection to his own family in Geneva, his immediate family spanning several states from Minnesota to Texas; and finally reaching other extended family residing in Gargẑdai, Lithuania.

This powerful force even attracts other Lithuanians in the Chicago metropolitan area to Dr. Kerpe’s Internal Medicine practice at 2172 Blackberry Drive, Suite 204, and he is occasionally called on by Northwestern Medicine’s Delnor Hospital to be a translator for Lithuanian patients who don’t speak English. As a first generation U.S. citizen, Dr. Kerpe’s parents fled Lithuania during the country’s invasion by Russia during World War II.

In talking about the traditions that Dr. Kerpe remembers growing up, he mentioned that Easter or “Velykos” was centered around church services throughout Holy Week on Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. “I participated in many of these services growing up and even sang as an Altar Boy during Latin Mass,” Dr. Kerpe said.

He went on to explain that each day of the Lithuanian Holy Week had special meaning and rituals like making “Verbos” or small bouquets of local plants to be blessed for Palm Sunday since the climate is too cold for palm leaves. “Holy Thursday, on the other hand, was intended for vigorously cleaning your house,” Dr. Kerpe added with a chuckle. “I believe the concept is
similar to our Spring Cleaning but was done to ensure a year of abundance and health for the family.”

“I also watched my Mom make beautifully decorated Easter eggs called “Margučai” for Holy Saturday, he continued. “Most of my family came from the farm country of Lithuania. They were hard working folks who made use of every kind of scrap available. Some margučai had bright solid colors, and others had intricate patterns that were created when leavers or other materials were pressed into the eggs during staining. The intense colors came from natural dyes made by leaves, fruit, and vegetables.”

The Velykos Feast on Easter Sunday is an elaborate display of foods that had been restricted during Lent. According to The Spruce Eats website,(www.thespruceeats.com), the Lithuanian Easter dinner menu is intended to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and includes foods like eggs, pig’s head or roast pig, roast goose, roast chicken, baked ham or roasted lamb, bread, cheese, sausage, potato sausage, and bacon. Blynai, dumplings, kugelis are made with potatoes, bacon, and onions. Elaborate desserts followed dinner featuring Easter Bread (Velykos Pyragas), Easter Log Cake, Poppyseed Roll (Pyragas us Aguonomis), and the Easter Cake (Kaimak).

When asked which traditions he still practices in own his family, Dr. Kerpe replied that it’s going to church and eating a big Easter dinner. His wife, Melody, and step-daughters, Calla and Carissa, have made Lithuanian Kugelis (a potato casserole) and Beet Soup (hot or cold) before for other family holiday dinners. What’s important, for families of any nationality or culture, is making lasting memories together that include old, new and even blended traditions. For this busy physician, however, Dr. Kerpe admits that his favorite part of any holiday is a well-deserved, post-meal nap!

Hope you had a “Linksmų Velykų!” (Happy Easter)