MELANIA’S DAY: UKRAINE HOLIDAYS & TRADITIONS… NATIVES HAVEN’T HEARD OF
Bright and various Ukrainian folk traditions and Ukraine holidays reach their roots into ancient times. New Year and Christmas holidays in Ukraine are not the only ones that are celebrated in January. The season of a year free from fieldworks, harvesting and many household chores is rich in different celebrations aiming to cheer the folk up during the cold winter days and unite families around the festive table.
One of the Christian holidays unknown to the wide public is Melanky Day, celebrated usually on January, 13th and 14th. Not all the Ukrainians even know about this holiday due to a period in Ukrainian history when for more than 70 years people were banned from keeping the traditions and Christianity as well. The borders between features of different nations became blurred; therefore modern Ukrainian nation cannot revise its own traditions. It is especially true about the big cities, as villages of central and western part of the country (like regions Halychyna and Bukovyna) still honor the past. Yet the growth of interest to ancient rites raises the importance of keeping folk traditions nowadays at least as a matter of entertainment.
Background of the Ukraine holidays
Malanka (Melanka, Melanky, Malania) or “Melania’s Day” commemorates the name day of a Christian saint Melania the Younger which is celebrated on January, 13. It partly coincides with the day of another saint – Vasyl the Great whose name day usually falls on January, 14. That is why the day is traditionally called The Fiest of Melania and Vasyl. Vasyl the Great was a patron of shepherds and the dinner should be rich on this day. That is why the fest is often called Schedry Vechyr (Eng. – The Generous Evening). Many natives are not familiar with this or many other Ukraine holidays.
On festive night according to tradition carolers went from house to house singing and wishing luck, they played pranks or acted out a small sketch (similar to nativity scene) together with a man dressed in women’s clothing holding a star and leading the crowd. They visited their relatives, neighbors and friends and greeted them on the day.
Modern celebrations united pre-Christian and Christian rites. Usual holiday traditions include cooking special dishes as well as dressing into animals and folk-heroes Malanka and Vasyl, and some other secondary heroes. On this day a young man dresses like a lady Malanka and goes through the village accompanied by the young masked as beasts (often goats and bears) and some fairy-tale heroes. Sometimes there can be even many men dressed in women clothes which make the parade funnier. They sing festive carols and get treats (candies, sweet bread, fruits and money) for their talent. In the old times dressing represented some important magical-religious functions, but later this ritual turned into a joyous masquerade. Curious people in funny masks often follow the procession to have fun watching the reaction of the young citizens seeing this event and singing songs together with them. To add a waggish fact about this event it is worth to mention that the men disguised as lady Malanka may kiss any people (men and women) passing by and that should not be considered offensive. This is surely an interesting one of the many interesting Ukraine holidays.
Traditional dishes of the day include krovianka (also called Malanka) – a sausage made of porridge with pig lard and baked festive bread representing main heroes of the day. Housewives used to prepare many treats like pen-cakes, dumplings, patties and cakes with curd, sweets and honey-cakes to welcome the guests coming to sing corals in the evening. As well as on Christmas Eve it is traditional to prepare kutia on Melanky Day. Schedra (generous) kutia is made with addition of butter, cream or milk.
Fortune telling is one of the most important magic rituals on Melanky Day. It helps the girls not only to get to know their fortune, but also to entertain themselves during the cold winter evenings.
The pre-Christian slavs divined during all the holidays. After the baptism of Rus fortune telling and especially turning to pagan gods became a sin, as Christianity teaches us that there is only one God. Nowadays the Church calls on the Christians not to turn to dark forces, not to deal with them and not to divine. At first divination was kept in secret, as when it was discovered the guilty person could be killed with a stab or loose the head and the remains of the body could be burned.
An interesting fact is that those who dared to divine made it privately and removed the crucifix as a sign that they are not with God at this moment, men also untightened all the knots on their clothes, boots and belts, women loosened the braids.
A vast number of different divinations reached our times. Some were connected with guessing the physical appearance of a future husband, another ones with a date of a wedding or place where the chosen one lives, some told about the future conditions of life in a marriage. We will revise the most unusual of them.
- A girl runs out onto the street and asks the first man she meets about his name – that is supposed to be her future husband’s name. The appearance of the stranger also matters: some features of a person (like physical traits) are significant for a lady’s fortune.
- Another variation of this rite is to find out the character of a man by a first animal a girl meets when walking onto a street (a dog foretells a vicious husband; a sheep symbolizes a soft and gentle temper, while a cat represents a sweet but sly personality).
- Hutsul girls used to feed a cat with dumplings: that girl, whose dumpling the cat eats first, will get married earlier.
- Three small piles of grain poured near the gates in the evening represent the view of a future married life: if they are ruined in the morning, life will be stormy; if they remain the same, life will be calm and peaceful.
- Another divination implied going out to the yard in the night blindfolded and marking the ninth pole in a fence with a ribbon. In the morning the shape of the pole showed the life path – straight and smooth or rough and curly.
Some rites were performed with the help of special attributes put under a pillow before going to sleep and usual saying was “Come into my sleep my intended groom (bride) and show yourself”. The person whom a fortune-teller saw in a dream was about to be the future spouse.
Of course, such kind of a fortune telling (as well as any other) may not be taken serious and ladies do it nowadays more for fun than anything else.
Melanky fest in Chernovtsy founded in 2011 is a unique holiday uniting Ukrainian, Bessarabian, Hutsul, Moldavian, Romanian traditions in a bright, memorable and joyous celebration gladly welcoming all the interested tourists to take part in various theatrical actions and competitions. They include some up-to-date events called Peryberia. The annual carnival with many costumed groups showing their acting skills and fabulous characters moves the streets of the city. Participants try to impress the public showing ridiculous, colorful, frightening sometimes shocking personages from ancient and modern history, politics and arts. Melanky fest in Chernovtsy attracts Ukrainian tourists as well as foreigners. It brings joy, solemnity and patriotism to the viewers and helps the folk to keep unique traditions started by the ancestors. One of the many interesting Ukraine holidays.
Greet a Ukrainian lady
Knowing the traditional Ukraine holidays and the holidays of your lady’s country will hint you additional topics for a pleasant conversation and will show her that you care. The old folk traditions are kept only in some part of Ukrainian families. However the whole Ukraine celebrates the fest of an Old New Year on January, 14. So, for sure, you won’t make a mistake if you greet a Ukrainian lady on this day.