Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Ukrainian New Year and Old New Year

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The Ukrainian New Year and Old New Year Photo: Olena Yanykh.

Ukrainian New Year traditions have a long history, our ancestors had celebrated the feast in March, September, January and now it is celebrated twice.

The old and popular celebration of the New Year is celebrated in all countries. People of different nationalities and ages await it with bated breath.

March, September, January

In the beginning New Year was solely a spring party. The winter was over, then came the new year. In that time March represented birth of new life. This is evidenced by our ancestors' ancient custom to organize a dinner in March (funeral feast, trizna UKR., Ed.) in memory of deceased relatives. The ancestors of the Ukrainians chanted the end of the winter and burned a straw-man, which reflects the relationship between nature and human life. This trizna still exists, and it is associated with Easter celebrations.

In the 15th century the church adopted the Greek Byzantine ritual, where the beginning of the year was 1 September. And with the introduction of Pope Gregory 8's new calendar system all European nations moved the celebration of the New Year on 1 January. In Ukraine, came this tradition thanks to Tsar Peter the first in 1700, who had borrowed it in Holland. But, as in the past, people lived by the Julian calendar. Because of this, the Ukrainian New Year's Eve does not coincide with the Western European. Not before 1918, the Gregorian calendar was introduced on Ukrainian soil.

Since the traditionele folk festival had deep roots in rituals, neither could nor wanted people to abandon ancestral rites and continued to celebrate the Christmas (7 January in Ukraine, ed.) and Epiphany (19 January in Ukraine, ed.) – Ie, not on 1 January but on 14 January. That's how the Ukrainians got the Old New Year.

Didukh in the house – distress is leaving the home

(Didukh – Ukrainian Christmas decoration, a symbol of the harvest, prosperity, wealth, ancestors immortality, family talisman. Ed.)

The Ukrainian peasantry preserved until the beginning of the 20th century Christmas traditions of pagan-Christian origin. At that time, the common view was that on New Year's Day it is as if God opens the night sky, and you can ask for anything. For a long time lived the belief that the nature of the feast had an effect on the fate the rest of the year.

By New Year our ancestors decorated their home with a Christmas tree or didukh (depending on the owner's income). They made didukh from the first sheaf. In a lush wreath are tied several bundles braided straw. The base was made with a branch of the straw, so didukh could stand. The top looked like conical sheaves with many spikes. In the living room (svitlytsia in Ukr.) didukh was set the day before the rich Kutia. (Kutia – Christmas food: porridge that was cooked on whole wheat grains and in recent years - on rice added honey or sugar, with the addition of poppy, raisins, nuts, milk and even jam. Ed.) Didukh symbolized a common ancestor.

The occasion was to prepare not only food and drink but also body and soul – prayer and fast for forty days. The day before New Year's Eve was called «generous» and «rich». Meat and homemade sausages, steaks, fried fish, marinades and steamed cabbage, pancakes – there was so much food on the table. Besides Kutia there should also be made pies. The owner of the house hid himself behind a bowl of pies and expressed the hope that next year the family would have the same delicious food.

On New Year's Eve was performed many different rituals. For example, the householder took an ax and went to the tree, turned against it and said: «If you bear fruit – you will not be felled. If you do not bear fruit – you will be felled». Then he three times slightly touched the trunk with the ax. The result of these actions should be plenty of fruit the following year.

Among people, there were many New Year's characteristics like guesswork organized by the girls. In the Poltava region on New Year's Eve they even tried to look at the clouds, if they came from the South, it was believed that there would be a good harvest in spring cereals, if they came from the north - so in winter cereals.

Goat and Malanka

The Orthodox Church honors the day before New Year's Eve Holy Roman Melanie, and 1 January in the old style - the memory of St. Vasil the Great, so these days are called «Malankas» and «Vasil». In Boykivshchyna (Boykivshchyna – a historical and ethnographic region on the northern and southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains around 8,000 km². The name comes from the region's population – boyki. Ed.) for the party they still bake special bread – «Vasili». Everywhere they adhered the common practice of welcoming the saint's namesakes.

In the morning schedruvalniki (boys and men who have grain in pockets or small bags, ed.) went from house to house with songs, threw grain on the floor and wished a good harvest for the owners. There was also a strong emphasis on who first entered the house. It was believed that it should be a person of male sex, who they called «polaznik».

For their parties they prepared popular folk music with the presentation of the «Goat» and «Malanka» where it was mostly men who participated. The goat – a symbol of fertility – was represented by a man in a sheepskin jacket inside out, and with a model of the animal's head. The role of the imperfect hostess Malanka was also played by a man dressed in women's clothes.


Long time passed and the national customs began gradually to pull back into history, and 1 January became for the Ukrainians a happy fashionable party. But 14 January is an integral part of the entire annual ritual cycle, reflecting the diversity of the traditions of the Ukrainian New Year celebration, an echo of the mythical and religious beliefs of generations of ancestors, and therefore bears a deep symbolic meaning.

Translation by Joergen Deleuran

Read 3180 times Last modified on Friday, 16 February 2018

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