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Ukrainian Old New Year & Malanka celebration: traditions, rituals and rites

Дата :Січ-13-2018 Категорія: Блог

January 13-14 is the Old New Year in Ukraine. January 14 is popular in Ukrainian culture for meeting and greeting relatives and friends, and visiting the graves of dead members of the family and, of course, visiting churches. The tradition to celebrate Old New Year is associated with the divergence of two calendars: the Julian calendar “old style” and Gregorian – calendar “new style.” This difference in the XX-XXI centuries is 13 days since the New Year, Old Style, is celebrated on the night of January 13 to 14. The beauty of traditions and rituals is still alive in villages, and the Western Ukraine takes the lead in celebrating this day with rites.

This old holiday also coincides in Ukraine with Malanka, a traditional carnival-like holiday from pre-Christian times.


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January 14 (January 1, Old Style) Christian Church commemorates St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea Kappodakiyskoyi. In ancient times, this day was called Vasyliva day and was crucial for the whole year. The eve (now January 13) is called Vasylivym evening.
Basil evening is popular for eating the best and most delicious food that is prepared at home: pies, sausage, meat, pancakes, and drinking beer, wine, and vodka. Mandatory for the New Year’s table are Kutia, pig, or any dish with pork, because St. Basil is considered the patron saint of pigs. There is a belief that if the night before Basil’s day desk is filled with a lot of pork, these animals will multiply in abundance and offer their owners a good profit.

The Old New Year table is served with dishes made with rabbit and rooster to be nimble as a rabbit and rooster – to be light as a bird. Another obligatory festive meal on Vasily day is porridge. Cooking is accompanied by special rituals.

On New Year’s Eve, the oldest of the women brings pantry cereal (usually buckwheat), and the oldest man brings water from a well or river.


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Then they all sit at the table, and the oldest of the women begins to stir the porridge in the pot, saying some ritual words. Then they all get up from the table, and the porridge is put into the oven with a bow. Cooked porridge fetches from the oven and is carefully considered. If the pot is full of nourishing porridge and crumbly, then you can expect a happy year and a rich harvest, and the next morning the porridge is eaten. If you get a cracked pot, it does not promise anything good to the household, and this mess should not be eaten, but instead thrown into the hole for a chance to change destiny.

The rites of the first day of the New Year is aimed at the welfare both in specific areas of peasant activity and throughout the economy as a whole. Rite posivannya, which is held on the morning of Vasily day is done to get a good harvest in the coming year. This ancient ritual is also known by other names: Avsenev, ovsen, Useni. The essence of it is that that the children gather together before dinner, are walked through the huts with a sleeve or bag of grain oats, buckwheat, rye, and other breads while singing a zasivalnu song.


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Children go from door to door and sing Christmas carols in exchange for candies and chocolates. This is very similar to the American Halloween trick-or-treat tradition, though the Ukrainian children do not dress in costumes for Old New Year’s.

On the morning of Old New Year’s Day, January 14, men and boys go around knocking on everyone’s doors. According to tradition, it is lucky for the first person to enter each room in a house to be a man or a boy. Once the man or boy has entered the room, he throws buckwheat or grain onto the floor and recites a rhyme wishing good luck and happiness for the upcoming year. Then as thanks, the men or boys are presented with small gifts such as candies or $1 UAH bills. The last part of this tradition is that you may not clean up the buckwheat grains until the next day, or else you will sweep away your good luck!

Ritual and characters of Malanka

The Malanka feast name comes from St. Melania Day, celebrated on Dec. 31, which by the old Julian calendar falls on Jan. 13.

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The Malanka celebrations mark the arrival of the New Year and begin after sunset on the evening of St. Melania day on Jan. 13, which is also called the Generous Evening (Shchedryi Vechir) in Ukraine. The celebration’s participants dress as the characters involved in the ritual – Malanka, Vasyl, the She-Goat, the Old Man, the Gypsy, the Doctor, the Cat, and others – and hit the streets of Ukrainians villages and towns.

Malanka is usually portrayed by a young man dressed in a woman’s clothes. His makeup is bizarre – the face is whitened with chalk, the eyebrows are darkened with soot, and the cheeks are painted red with beet juice. Malanka is portrayed as a clumsy housewife whose housekeeping efforts make everybody laugh.

“It was a hint to young men that they should choose a good wife, since the New Year and Christmas celebrations were followed by the marriage season,” Kuklina says.

The She-Goat

While the Malanka character is prominent in the masquerade, the She-Goat character also stands out: the goat is a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

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The performers lead the She-Goat on a leash (in Ukrainian the ritual is called “vodyty kozu” – “walking the goat”). The Goat is played by a young man in a mask and a sheepskin coat worn inside out. A skit is acted out in which the Goat starts to hit everybody in the house with its horns. At the end of the skit, the goat is shot and dies. Its death symbolizes the winter period and the death of all the plants, according to Kuklina.

But the climax of the ritual is the Goat’s resurrection. The Doctor and all the people present during the ritual try to bring the animal back to life. The doctor’s unsuccessful methods make everybody laugh – he peeks into goat’s ears, and counts its teeth to determine whether the goat is young or old.

When nothing helps, people even try to milk the Goat. Since it is played by a man, this trick usually “reanimates” the Goat quickly.

“The Goat’s dying and revival is the ritual’s central point, connected to agrarian cults symbolizing nature’s death and resurrection,” Kuklina says.

The Malanka ritual is also connected with the cult of the dead.


“Our predecessors believed that the beginning of a new life is not possible without the consent of the dead relatives,” the ethnologist said.

Tradition’s revival

The pre-Christian Malanka New Year celebrations faded away during the Soviet times as the atheist communist regime suppressed religious and national traditions. But after Ukraine gained independence in 1991, the Malanka celebrations started to revive, especially in Western Ukraine.

Chernivtsi and Vashkivtsi in Chernivtsi Oblast are known as the some of the best places to go to see traditional Malanka celebrations.

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But the citizens of Horoshova, a town of 2,000 people in Ternopil Oblast some 480 kilometers west of Kyiv, claim their Malanka is the biggest in Ukraine. Every year on Jan. 13, the town’s residents prepare a new program of Old New Year celebrations, which thousands of people from the area come to see.
“All residents of Horoshova aged between 3 and 50 years take part in the Malanka celebrations,” says 15-year-old Horoshova resident Viktoria Kozak. “People from the whole district come to see the Malanka Eve events. All our guests like our performances very much.”

Happy Old New Year from Ukraine! 😉

Sources: https://www.eturbonews.com/81866/ukrainians-celebrated-old-new-year-traditions-rituals-and-rites; https://www.kyivpost.com/lifestyle/malanka-one-ukraines-interesting-holidays.html



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