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TRADITIONS - New Year in Ukraine



New Year is one of the most popular calendar fests. This day has been celebrated annually for centuries by people different in their ethno-national traditions and religious beliefs.


"For Ukraine, the tradition of celebrating the New Year has a particularly difficult and long history: our ancestors at different times celebrated the New Year in March, September and January - and now 2 times".

"New Year in Ukraine" - painting by Ольга Пілюгіна


Among the Ukrainian peasantry until the beginning of the XX century the New Year traditions of mixed pagan-Christian origin were preserved. New Year holidays were considered to be a magical time when all sorts of evil forces awoke and became dangerous. It was believed that the souls of deceased relatives were present at the holidays, whom they also feared and tried to please. There was an idea that the sky opens on New Year Eve and anybody can ask God for anything. For this night, as well as for the holiday of Ivan Kupala, there are legends about burning money and treasures. For a long time there was a belief that the nature of the New Year holiday affects the fate of the whole year. On this basis, customs, rituals, prohibitions and restrictions were formed, which clearly reflected the worldview of the farmer, his uncertainty about the future, fear of the forces of nature.

"Celebrating of Malanka" - photo by Юлія Клєцова


The traditional New Year rites of Ukrainians are a number of winter holidays, among which the twelve-day period which starts on December 25 (Christmas), January 1 (New Year) and January 6 (Baptism) in the old style. Around these dates of the church and civil calendar over the centuries has formed an extremely rich set of customs. Ukrainians celebrated the last day of the old and the first day of the new year as the holidays of Melanka (Malanka) and Vasyl. Unlike Christmas and Baptism, these days were not important in the religious calendar, so church motives are not noticeable in their rituals.


Traditional meals for New Year Eve


The evening of December 31 was called generous, or rich, and a rich festive table was prepared for it. At the same time resorted to various magical rituals. For example, the owner approached the tree with an ax, addressing him: "If you bring fruit - I will not cut down, if you do not bring fruit - I will cut down" - and lightly touched the trunk with an ax three times. The consequence of these actions was to be a bountiful harvest of fruit. To get rid of the caterpillars in the summer, they went around the garden barefoot three times and so on.


Divination by С. Кожин, 2008


There were numerous New Year signs and divinations. In Poltava region on New Year Eve they looked at the clouds: if they came from the south, they believed that there would be a good harvest in the spring. They tried to find out that night which grains would be the most productive next year. Bunches of wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc. were left outside for this purpose. It was believed that the culture on which the hoarfrost fell is better. Divination about marriage was brightly playful.


"Didukh" by Ольга Гуляєва

In Ukraine, the traditional holiday symbol for the New Year for a long time was not a green Christmas tree, but "didukh". It was made of balls or the first sheaf. Dozens of bundles, separately braided with straws, were tied in a lush wreath. Branches were made at the bottom so that the "didukh" could stand. The top of the New Year wreath resembled a cone-shaped sheaf with ears. The branches of the "didukh" - they were ruled by bundles gathered together, branching from above, respectively - were framed with colored ribbons, paper or dried flowers, each to your liking. He was placed in the living room on the eve of Christmas. He performed his ritual role during all the Christmas holidays. Didukh symbolized a common ancestor.



New Year (Spring)

When did Ukrainians celebrate the New Year?


At first, the New Year was a completely spring holiday for our ancestors. Since in all ancient peoples the celebration of the New Year usually coincided with the beginning of the revival of nature and was mainly timed to March - the beginning of agricultural work, the ancient Slavs associated the beginning of the new year with the arrival of spring. Winter is over - so the new year has come. No historical sources can say exactly how the New Year was celebrated in pagan times in Kyivska Rus, but it was most likely associated with the appearance of the new moon and celebrated on the eve of the vernal equinox, called the "New Summer". The fact that March symbolized the beginning of a new year and a new life is evidenced by the ancient pagan custom of holding a gala dinner in March - "tryzna" - in honor of deceased relatives.


March 1 in Kyivska Rus


With the arrival of Christianity in the Kyivska Rus’ lands and the introduction of the Julian calendar, March 1 in our lands is officially established as New Year's Day, which, according to church tradition, corresponds to the date of creation of the world. This day is popularly known as the day of the reverend martyr Evdokia or, as the peasants say, "Yavdokha" (now it is March 14). According to folk tradition - this is the first day of spring, the first day of the new year.


September 1 in the XV century


This chronology was maintained until in the 15th century the Rus’ Church adopted the Greco-Byzantine church rite, together with which the beginning of the church and civil year was considered September 1. According to the decision of the Council of Nicaea, the Byzantine Orthodox Church declared September 1 the official day of the New Year celebration. This decision is motivated by the fact that at this time Jesus Christ, after baptism and temptations by the devil in the wilderness, began to preach the Kingdom of the Lord, thus testifying to the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. The date was chosen because the first sermon of Jesus took place during the Jewish harvest festival, which is celebrated from September the 1st till the 8th.


January 1 after 1700


Tsar Peter I brought the tradition of celebrating the New Year to Kyivska Rus on January 1, 1700, borrowing it from Holland and other Western European countries. And, as before, the chronology continued to be conducted according to the Julian calendar, which was preserved throughout the Russian Empire until 1918. Because of this, for a long time the New Year on the lands that were part of it did not coincide with the Western European.


Christmas Tree in Kyiv


It was not until 1918 that the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Ukraine, and the New Year began to coincide with the European one. Instead, the Moscow Orthodox Church refused to switch to the new style, so all fixed church holidays and the New Year continue to be celebrated on the Julian calendar.


January 1 became a merry secular holiday for Ukrainians, which united us with the rest of the world: not only one common date, but also a tradition of celebration. In turn, the New Year on January 14 remains an integral part of the annual ritual cycle of Ukrainians and most fully reflects the tradition of Ukrainian New Year celebration, which echoes the mythical and religious beliefs of ancestral generations and has a deep symbolic meaning.

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