Friday, January 9, 2015

Happening Now! Ukrainian Christmas

Wood cut of carolers. Source: Infoukes
The holiday season is in full swing in Ukraine.  Christmas Day was January 7, according to the Julian Calendar, which is followed by both Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholics. New Year's is celebrated on January 14.  The season continues until January 18, the celebration of the Epiphany.    Then, winter sets in.   Many Ukrainians greet each other on Christmas with the saying "Krystos narodyvsa," which means "Christ is born," and answer with "Slavimo yeho,"  "Let us praise Him".   The  Christmas holiday is more religious than the celebrations in the United States, but its roots go back into pagan times.
Caroling is an important part of the Christmas celebration.  Villages and city, all are full of caroling.  Some cities, like Lviv have parades of carolers, carrying symbols of the holiday.

Christmas parade in Lviv, Ukraine.
Musician playing the tsymbaly, accordion and violin in Beatlya, Ukraine

The carolers are groups of people who go from house to house, a little like trick or treating in the United States, they ask for treats, but the have to perform in order to get them.  There are at least three members in a caroling group.  One carries the star, which is mounted on a pole.  One is the bag carrier, who collects the treats and gifts,  and one is dressed as a goat.  Often there are musicians playing the violin, tsymbaly (hammered dulcimer) and in some areas a traditional long horn. 

Carolers knock on the window of a house, asking permission to come in and sing.

The groups approaches a house, knocks and ask permission to sing.  After they come in, they sing for each member of the household.  Then the put on a skit featuring the goat.  The goat, a symbol of fertility, has pagan origins.  In the skit, the goat dies and then is revived, symbolizing the end of winter and the coming of spring.  The carolers finish up by reciting short poems, wishing each member of the household a good holiday.  Gifts are given, and they proceed to the next house.

Christmas carolers, from an old Christmas card.
There are two types of  Christmas carols in Ukraine, Koliadky, which are sung on Christmas eve and Christmas day, and shchedrivky are sung on the Epiphany.  Koliadky and shchedrivky are the oldest carols. "The Carol of the Bells" is a shchedrivka, originally about the end of winter, with wishes for a prosperous new year. In these ancient carols, pagan elements have been replaced by Christian themes.  Other carols are about Ukrainian history, especially the princes of Kiev, who lived in the 9th and 10th century.  Read more about the Carol of the Bells

Christmas Carolers, painting by Oleksandr Leschenko
The holiday celebration continue into the new year.  New year's eve and New Years day celebrate Malanka, the Feast of St Melania.  Her story is reenacted in many Ukrainian villages.  It is also the Feast of St Basil.

Malanka in Vaskivtsi, in the Bukovina region of Ukraine.
In the United States and Canada, Malanka is celebrated like New Year's Eve.

The holidays end with the Epiphany or Jordan. This holiday commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River.  People attend church and bring home small containers of holy water, which they keep in their homes for the next year.
Epiphany observances in Kiev, Ukraine.  Source: The Guardian.

Some Ukrainians believe that a dip in  icy river on The Epiphany prevents illness.