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Holidays and traditional celebrations in Belarus

Pagan celebrations

Before 990 A.D. belarusians (several eastern slavic and baltic tribes, mostly Kryvichi and their branches, Jatviags, Lits) were pagans. They believed in the God of Sun - Yaryla, celebrated seasons of nature according to sun and moon calendar. The cycles of folk songs that were sang at these celebrations still exist. The main festivities are listed below.

"Spring Greeting"- is a cycle of celebrations designed to "awake' mother EarthDavyd-Haradok.gif (157510 bytes) from the winter sleep which was important for such agricultural people as belarusians. This cycle includes such holidays as "Maslenitsa", "Vialikdzen'" (Easter), "Yur'ya" and others.Each celebration is characterized by specific cycles of "vesnavyia" (spring) songs. The most ancient celebration is "Yur'ia". Yur'ia is in fact christianized name for pagan God-Sun - Yaryla. The typical ritual on Yur'ia (reflected in "yur'iauskiia" songs is calling for Yaryla (Yur'ya), the Sun-God, to bring out the keys and open his mothers (Earth, Nature) womb - to let out the grass, and flowers, and animals. As usual these holidays are also celebrated by specific ritual food - eggs (symbol of life in most of indo-european cultures), pancakes (circle is an important magical shape - it depicts sun).

Kupalle (Solstace, June 21) - is the most loved and charished pagan holiday in contemporary Belarus. The tradition is very ancient. Under different names this holiday is celebrated by all peoples of indo-european group. During the summer Solstice, Yaryla (God-Sun) was reaching its biggest power. Kupalle - is a gedonistic summer celebration of the lands fertillity in the name of a female God - Kupala. It seems like she is considered a lunar Goddess by some pagan sources, although direct translation of the name is "She Who Bathes". Lately it was renamed into a christian celebration of a male saint - Ivan Kupala. There is a whole complex of traditional rituals, beliefs, love and agricultural magic. Supposedly in ancient times Kupalle was celebrated in the night from July 6 to July 7. During the day of July 6 young girls were going into the meadows to collect different   "kupal'skiia" (made on Kupalle) plants and remedies - corn flower, ferns, etc. It was considered that the plants gathered at this time have particular strengths for curing and magic. Part of these plants were used in food. Some plants were used for magical protection and the wreaths of these plants were put on the walls of the houses to protect against bad spirits. Some of the plants were used in the "kupal'skiia" wreaths which were weared on the head by young men and women durin Kupalle celebration. Here is more of the description of Kupalle celebration among ancient eastern slavs from the Saint Petersburg's Naturist Society.

The central part in Kupalle celebration was a fire. This fire was symbolizing life and Yaryla, and was expelling deathj. During the day young men would prepare the place to start ther fire. They would go around the village collecting old things - clothes, broken barrels - and would take them out to the chosen for festivity place. Usually it would be a meadow, a forest glade, a bank of a river. Guys would. Then later the youth would go around the village calling with their special Kupalle songs for the celebration. Special ritual food was cooked on the fire - fried eggs (egg symbolized both sun and life), kulaha (a sort of a puding made of wheat powder), vareniki (dumplings stuffed with berries - blueberries, cherries, raspberies). The oiled wooden wheel would be set on fire to symbolize sun.

KarahodKupalle usually involves youth going into the forests and the meadows, wearing flower and grass garlands and wreaths on their heads (see this modern picture of Katia on Kupala night). There will be many rituals ofl purification practiced - jumping through the fire, bathing in the river or rolling in the grass dew. There would be a lot of dancing in karagods, competing in strength. A popular type of magic practiced on Kupalle night was fortune telling. The girls would put their wreaths on the water and let the river carry them. The one that would come to the bank or get entangled with another mean that there will be a marriage. Also it was believed that if you pick the leaf of plantain growing at the crossroads and put it under the pillow - you are verylikely to dream your future spouse on Kupalle night. One could burn a bunch of flux plants in Kupalle fire and chant:"Flux, give birth", to increase its crops.

It was believed once in a year on Kupalle night near the midnight the fern has a glowing flower - "Paparac'-kvetka". The lucky couple that would find it would live happily and would be able to foresee the future. It was believed that on Kupalle night rivers are glowing with a special light, trees can speak in the human language and even walk from place to place. It was believed that the Sunset on Kupalle night is special. The Sun sets down "playing" - dividing into concentric circles that expand and contract.

It was also believed that the witches could spoil things on this night. Different ways to protect yourself and your household were used. You could put garlands of special plants that have magical protective properties on the outside of your house. You can put into your rye burning coals from Kupalle fire. Of course the hands of working women were protected by red ornament on the sleves. Sometimes to be completely safe you have to drive all your cattle through the purifying Kupalle fire. The purifying power of Kupalle fire was so believed that people would dry out on it the shirts of the sick to cure them, or bring little children close to it to expell all bad spirits.

For those interested, you can watch a documentary "Night on Ivan Kupala" to learn more. Also here are some notes about celebration of Kupalle by ukrainians in Canada.

Dzyady - prechristian celebration originating from the cult of ancestors. It is a ritual dinner (a sort of wake) for commemoration of the dead relatives. Usually "Dziady" is also called the day on which the ritual is performed and the same name is used for the commemorated dead persons. Dziady was celebrated during particular days 3-4 times a year (depends on the region). The main Dziady were "asianiny" - on the first Saturday preceeding St. Dzmitry day (October 26).Also Dziady were celebrated in early spring on "radaunitsa", "maslenitsa" and "siomuha". The special ritual food is cooked for Dziady dinner - "kyccia" (fine barley porridge with berries), "bliny" (pancakes), fried eggs, meat. According to the tradition part of the food and drink is left in a special plate and glass for the dead. At this day families are going to the graveyards to take care of the graves. Sometimes the have food by the grave. Then it is customary to pour some vodka on a grave. Unlike Haloween it's a light holiday of commemoration of dead. It does not involve any blood, fake teeth and other satanic stuff.

Kaliady (December 25 - January 7) - prechristian celebration of the end of year. It comes from Latin "Calendae", which is the name for the first day of each month. Another version of the origin of the word is the word "Kola" (the wheel) which is related tothe turn of the year. In the annual cycle of folk rituals and celebrations this holiday was the beginning. Later it was very nicely adopted for Christmas celebration by Orthodox and Catholic churches. Sine the Catholic Christmas is on December 25 and the Orthodox Christmas is on January 5 - Kaliady are now celebrated between these two dates. The ritual food was cooked for three ritual dinners: "posnaia viachera"(Engl.: fasting dinner) with no meat or fat in the beginning, "toustaia"(Engl.: fat) or "miasnaia" (Engl.: "meat") dinner with meat, eggs and sweets on New Year Eve and the last one - "halodnaia" (Engl.: hungry) or "vadzianaia" (Engl.: watery) at the end of Kaliady. During Kaliady there were a lot of fun going on. Folks would dress themselves as animals and fantastic beasts,  carry the sun and the goat's head on a stick and visit different houses  trick-or-treating. They would sing special Kaliady carrols in which the performers greet the house owners, wish them success and plentitude. The youth were playing games, perform in folk theatre plays for public, "skamarohs" would entertain the crowd, play jokes on people.

These are the popular holidays that have roots in pagan celebrations and stand out most.

See also this page on Paganism in Eastern Europe

euphkr.jpg (2090 bytes)  Christian Holidays

Here is the whole calendar of the year cycle of holidays and special days. The main holidays are outlined in bold. Most of the traditional agricultural activity was tied up to particular days. The longterm weather forecasts were often made judging on the weather on particular day. Already the translations of the month names in Belarusian characterise the seasons:

Studzen' (January) - "Cold" month.
Liuty (February) - "Angry" month.
Sakavik (March) - "Juicy" month.
Krasavik (April) - "Beautiful" month.
Traven' (Maj) - "Grassy" month.
Cherven' (JUne) - "Red" month, which could also mean "beautiful".
Lipen' (July) - "Linden-Tree Blooming" month.
Zhniven' (August) - "Harvesting" month.
Verasen' (September) - "Verasok Blooming" month. Verasok is a local plant.
Kastrychnik (October) - "Fires" month. Peasants are burning leaves and grass.
Listapad (November) - "Leaves Fall" month.
Snezhan' (December) - "Snowy" month.

Date Name of the holiday Comments
January 1 New Year Eve -
January 5 Halodnaia kuccia (Kaliady) -
January 6 Vadohryshcha -
January 18 Apanas St. Apanas is a protector of cattle from frost. Middle of the winter in terms of food stored for cattle
January 24 Aksinnia -
February 2 Hramnitsy -
February 5 Ahafia Sanctified food in church to protect house and cattle against fire.
Saturday before "Miasapusnaia Niadzielia" Dziady (Fat Saturday) First commemorative Dziady
Miasapusnaia Niadzielia Zapuski -
Masliany Tydzen' Maslenitsa -
February 11 Aulas -
Maslianaia Niadzielia Zapuski -
Great Fast ( 7 weeks) - -
March 1 Audakeia -
March 4 Ryhor On St. Ryhor Day winter is melting into a sea.
March 9 Saraki -
Wednesday on 4th day of Great Fast. Hrestsy The type of weather on thuis day would show whether there will be wet or dry summer.
March 1 Aliaksiej -
March 25 Blahaveshchannie Verbny Tydzen' (Willow Week)
Sunday on Verbny Tydzen' Verbnitsa -
April 2 Palikarp On St. Palikarp day peasants often begin to run out of bread and hunger starts.
Thursday on the Vialikdny Tydzen' (Easter week) Chysty Chacver (Clean Thursday) The last day of Christ's life before crucifiction.
Sunday on Easter week Vialikdzen' (Easter) -
April 11 Antsip Is a saint of medicine men
April 15 Andrej Time for sowing hemp
April 16 Iryna Sowing of cabbage.
April 17 Zasim Saint of bee-keepers
Thursday after Easter Vialikdzen' Miortvyh (Easter of Dead) Relatives attend graves of dead in Palesse region
Second Tuesday after Easter Radaunica Dziady celebration
Following Wednesday Hradavaia serada (Hailing Wednesday) Any agricultural works are forbidden or else hail will destroy crops in the summer.
April 23 Yur'ia The greeting of spring
April 24 Aliaksiej Time to sow oats.
April 25 Mark If it rains on this day, then there will be no night frosts anymore.
April 30 Jakub First warm days.
May 2 Barys and Hlieb Sowing of summer wheat and rye.
May 8 Ivan Bahaslou Sowing of carrots, cucumbers, beats.
May 9 Mikola -
May 15 Pahom -
5th Friday after yeaster Hradabojnaia Piatnica Again no agricultural work is allowed to prevent the summer.
May 21 Alena Sowing of flux
May 22 Vasilisk First songs of nightingales.
Thursday on the 6th week after Easter (40th day) Ushesce The protective majical ritual "Strala" was performed.
Saturday on the 7th week. Traeckiia (siomushnyia) Dziady Another Dziady commemoration of dead.
Following Sunday Siomooha (Troitsa - Trinity) -
Following Thursday of traecki tydzen' (trinity week). Dzeviatnik, suhi chacver (Dry Thursday) Agricultural work is forbidden to prevent drought.
Next after traecki tydzen' Rusal'ny tydzen' (mermaid week) Mermaids were believed to come out of water and hide in the wheat field. Then they would stop lonely travelers and tickle them to death.
10th week after Easter Dzesiatooha In some regions people were afraid of thunder on this day.
June 8 Tador If there is a lot of dew on Tador morning - the hemp crops will be good.
June 12 Anoofryj -
June 13 Akoolina-hrachyshnitsa Sowing of buckwheat
June 21 Kupalle -
June 24 Ivan -
June 29 Piatro -
June 30 Symon i Iuada -
July 1 Kooz'ma i Dziam'ian First haymaking time
July 8 Kazan' God Mother -
July 12 Prokl Since St. Prokl Day there are strong morning dews. So it was important to dry the hay until Prokl.
July 19 Makryna If this day is rainy - the rest of the summer will be rainy.
July 20 Iliia -
July 24 Barys i Hlieb -
July 25 Hanna Stuck hay sheafs
August 1 Pershy Spas, makavej Sanctifying poppy field
August 6 Druhi (vialiki) Spas -
August 15 Pershaia Prechystaia Sanctifying of the wheat and rye fields.
August 16 Maly (treci) Spas Sowing winter wheat and rye.
August 18 Flor i Laur Cannot use horses on this day. In some places its a holiday of herdsmen.
August 23 Loopa -
August 25 Varfalamij (Bautramej) If you haven't started to sow on Spas, then you can start on this day.
August 28 Maisej (Moses) Protecting against alcoholism.
August 29 Ivan Halavasek -
September 1-8 Babina Leta (women's summer) A sort of equivalent of Indian Summer in US.
September 1 Symon Birds start leaving South
September 6 Tsooda (tsoody) One can not start fire on this day.
September 8 Dryhaia (malaia) prychystaia -
September 14 Uzvizhanne -
September 26 Ivan Bahaslou Secret marriage arrangements are begun on theseday by svaty (chosen match-makers)
October 1 Pakrovy -
October 7 Siarhej Beginning of winter
October 18 Luka A holiday of icon artists
Saturday before Zmitrau Dzen' Dziady. Zmitrouka. Parent Saturday. Commemoration of dead relatives.
October 26 Zmicer The soil freezes solid.
October 28 Paraskeva Piatnica Crafts are forbidden (making textiles etc.)
November 1 Kooz'ma i Dziam'ian Good for a day of marriage. Threshing-time. Holiday of blacksmiths.
November 7 Tador -
November 14 Zapooski na Pilipauku Beginning of evening gatherings and doing home crafts.
November 15 Beginning of Pilipauka -
November 21 Uvodziny It was believed that the weather on this day determines the weather throughout the winter
November 22 Prakop The roads are covered by snow.
November 24 Kaciaryna -
November 26 Autumn Yury Unlocks jaws to wolfs and they start attacking cattle from this day.
November 30 Andrej -
December 1 Navoom Beginning of teaching to read for peasants children
December 4 Varvara Rivers get locked with ice.
December 5 Sava -
December 6 Winter Mikola Horses are kept indoors since this day.
December 9 Winter Hanna -
December 24 Great (fast) Kuccia Beginning of Kaliady
December 25 - January 7 Kaliady -
December 2 Sciapan -
December 31 Bahataia (fat) Kuccia.  

lenin.gif (4264 bytes)   Soviet Holidays

red_star.gif (90 bytes) February 23 - Soviet Army Day. On this day I think in 1919 the Red Army have won its  battle near Narva (now Estonia). There was a military parade in the Red Square, official festivities with giving and receiving different awards etc. Since every man in the USSR has to go through military training it has eventually became a sort of one-way Valentine's Day when women are celebrating men.

red_star.gif (90 bytes) March 8 - International Womens Day. No demonstrations on this day. But there were concerts and parties. It has eventually became a sort of one-way Valentine's Day, when men are supposed to adore women in all possible ways. In highschool boys would give presents to girls on these day, while girls would present boys with gifts on February 23. So these two holidays started with some political cause and transformed more or less into romantic occasions.

red_star.gif (90 bytes) May 1 - International  Day of Solidarity of Proletariat. Usually had a demonstration in each town or city with flowers and baloons. The purpose was to celebrate labor and working people of different professions.

red_star.gif (90 bytes) May 9 - Victory Day. Celebration of the WWII victory. It is celebrated each year around Belarus with the central event in Minsk - the march of WWII veterans.

red_star.gif (90 bytes) October 7 - Constitution Day. Was in fact a farce just like the celebration of election. Nobody really was electing or deciding there. But it was a day of work - at least something.

red_star.gif (90 bytes) November 7 - Celebration of October Revolution. It happened on October 25 1917 according to an old russian calendar and on November 7 by western calendar. Some years after the revolution, the same calendar as in Europe and America was adopted by decree in the USSR. Anyway, this was the day of a military parade on the Red Square and sometimes in the capitals of other repub;ics. You would see powerful belarusian MAZ trucks pulling out their SS20 missiles. As a child I was excited to see all this stuff.

red_star.gif (90 bytes) December 31 - New Year's Eve was probably the most favorite holiday. It was celebrated pretty much same way as in US. parties, carnavals, decorated spruce tree, gifts, lchampaigne, ots of candies! "Ded Moroz"(Father Frost) is our version of Santa Claus. He always arrives on a sledges with three horses in it. He is accompanied with his beautiful grand daughter - "Snegurochka"(She is made out of snow and ice, and has to leave North during the summer). Of course during soviet times the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was congratulating people on TV with the finishing of another year of five-year economical plan seconds befor the main clock on Moscow Kremlin Tower would start beating midnight.

red_star.gif (90 bytes) There were many other professional celebration days - like the Day of Aviation, The Day of Militia (Police), The day of Medical Doctor and so on. There were also ideological dates - the birthday of V.I. Lenin - widely celebrated in school. The day of death of V.I. Lenin would also be refected in TV programming and such.

National Holidays

belflag.gif (174 bytes) March 25 - is celebrated by some Belarusians as a national Independence Day. On this day in 1918  the first Belarusian state - Belarusian Democratic Republic - was created.

References used in this file:

"Etnahrafiia Belarusi" Encyclopedia ("Ethnography of Belarus")
Publishing house "Belarusian Soviet Encyklapiedyja" named after Piatrus' Brouka
Minsk, 1989. 575 pages.
ISBN 5-85700-014-9

And here you can read more about Religion in Belarus

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