Old New Year
January is packed with various religious and folk holidays. Starting with Christmas eve (Svyat Vechir, often called “Rich koutya) on the 6th January, Christmas day (Rizdvo Khristove) on the 7th January, and Old New Years Eve (Shedriy vechir) on 13th January, (often called “Generous koutya”) and the festival of Malanka on 14th January, when Ukrainians celebrate the Old New Year and the feast of St Wasyl. The festive period comes to an end with “Hungry holy evening” on 18th January, (often called Hungry Kutya). On 19th January is the religious festival of the Baptism.
After members of the Ukrainian Youth Association in Great Britain celebrated Christmas, adhering to folk traditions of carol singing (kolyada). Lets consider the traditions of Old New Year. What is “Old New Year” you may ask? How can something be and Old and New at the same time? The reason behind the celebration is that at the time when the Soviet powers enforced the Julian calendar upon Ukraine, Ukrainians and the church continued to follow the Georgian calendar. New Year as celebrated by the Gregorian calendar fell on the 14th January by the Julian calendar. This tradition was upheld, and now Ukrainians celebrate New Year twice.
For Ukrainians the eve of the Old New Year is special. On this day falls the day of St. Malanka, this saint day has been celebrated since 3000BC. Over time these festivals have merged and become one and have adapted the name “Malanka.” According to the legend of Malanka was freed by the strong Vasyl who married her, and so by tradition the festival of St. Vasyl is celebrated on the next day, the 14th January.
It is tradition to prepare 12 dishes on Old New Year’s Eve with a second serving of kytya. Dishes typically found on the table include meat dishes, pancakes with belly pork, Ukrainian dumplings and varenyky. The name “Shedriy vechir” originates from the presence of many rich foods. It is believed that on this day the sun shines on Ukrainian homes, and to cajole it, it is necessary to adhere to all traditions.
On Old New Year’s Eve the whole family sits together, after dinner it is essential to visit a neighbour and ask each other for forgiveness for possible guilt to meet the New Year in peace and harmony. It is difficult to imagine the festival of Malanka without singing (shedrivky) and joyful groups of singers (shedriviky). The feast of St Malanka is presented theatrically, in which the part of Malanka is acted out by a man dressed as Malanka. Amongst the actors are Wasyl, goats, grandpa and grandma, a gypsy girl, and a bear. It is considered a good sign if singers (shedrivyky) come to the house on Old New Years Eve, this is why owners wait for youngsters and invited them in.
The night before new year, girls often have there fortunes told, desiring to know what the future holds for them, when will they meet there match, who will be the man for them, as on such a fairy tale night anything is possible.
On the 14th New Year is celebrated, this is know as the Old or Church New year. On this day Christians celebrate the naming of Jesus and the day of St Wasyl, who is the patron saint of agriculture and hence the first day of the New Year a ceremony of sowing is held, this tradition still upheld in Ukraine today. On New Years day young men go to spread corn, firstly at their Godfathers, relatives and friends. When spreading corn around the men great with poems:
Give a varenyk!
a little porridge,
a ring of sausage.
This is little -
Give some salo.
And this is not all -
Give a piglet
and every grain.
Deep are the roots,
May the corn grown fully eared
May the coming year
Give you more than last year
So that everything is plentiful
In the barn and in the field
I sow, I sow,
Happy New Year
I Greet you!
Often when sowing the following verses are narrated:
I sow, I sow, I greet you with the New Year.
Sown, grow rye, wheat, and every crop.
Happy New Year, good health to you!
As with the singers (shedruvalnyky) and those who sow the seeds, they are given money, food or drink. So that they have happiness and kindness in their homes for a long time to come often the seeds scattered in the house are left untouched for 3 days.
Finally the 12 day festive season between the 7th January and the 19th January comes to a close with Hungry Holy Evening, with traditional kutya and the festival of the Baptism. After 11 days of festivities filled with immeasurable celebration less rich foods are served. 18th January is considered a day of fasting. During the day adults should eat nothing, in the evening kutya is prepared, often the name “holodna kutya” (Kutya of hunger) is used. On the table 12 non-rich food dishes are placed and the holy spirit is invited to join in, it is considered that the spirits return to the earth.
On the 19th January the feast of the baptism is celebrated. (This festival is often called the Vodokhreshennya or Yordan.) On this day in all towns and villages mass is held on rivers, lakes and streams where holy water is blessed. After vodokhreshennya the new wedding season starts, this continues until Lent.
Happy holidays dear readers! We celebrate but we don’t forget the traditions of our ancestors. We continue the traditions and rituals which have been carefully kept and past down from generation to generation. Let us not allow ourselves to become the weak link in a chain centuries long.
Written by Yuliya Chymera
Translated by Martyn Chymera