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Why Ukrainians carol on Christmas: interesting facts

Yulia PoteriankoNews
A good group of carolers had to know several dozen songs for all life situations

What can't you imagine a traditional Ukrainian Christmas without? Of course, the first things that come to mind are kutia and uzvar. Even if you don't have all 12 Lenten dishes on the table, you should have kutia. The history of this dish is longer than the history of Christianity as a religion, and its meaning (it is a symbol of wealth) has not changed.

Another important attribute of the holiday is carolers, groups of people who go from house to house and sing ritual songs for a small fee. This tradition also dates back to pre-Christian times, says folklorist Olena Chebaniuk, who explained to BBC Ukraine where carols came from, what their meaning is, and how our ancestors used to sing them.

A magical ritual

Back in pagan times, carols were considered a form of household magic. Our ancestors believed that sincerely spoken good words could come true. And if you express such a wish at a time when the line between the world of the living and the world of the dead is the thinnest, as, for example, during the winter solstice, that is, on Koliada, and even in a group, it must work. This is how special songs, in which people wish for prosperity and health, as well as describe everyday scenes that should ensure this prosperity, emerged.

After the baptism of Rus', the traditions of Koliada were merged with the new holiday of Christmas, which was new to these lands. The church did not reject pagan traditions but absorbed them, increasing its popularity. Therefore, over time, the Child of God, the Savior, became one of the heroes of carols and Christmas carols. He helps a peasant plow the land, Saints Peter and Paul drive oxen for him, and the Mother of God takes lunch to the field. In the eighteenth century, carols containing elements of biblical stories began to be collected in "bohohlasnyky" collections and published in printing houses.

How carols are sung in Ukraine

Depending on the region, the composition of the company that goes from one house to another caroling may vary. But as a rule, young men take on this task. During the Christmas fast, they learn the songs they will sing because good carolers should know as many lyrics as possible and sing personally for each family member they visit. The hostess and the host had a different song for children of different ages, grandparents, and a separate song for the deceased if someone in the house had passed away in the past year. There are even special carols for cattle. The survival and prosperity of the family depended on it, so they were also honored with wishes for good offspring and good health for the whole year. On their way from one house to another, separate songs were also sung. Thus, the repertoire of a good ensemble could include up to eight dozen carols in total.

Before the holiday, carolers would appoint a leader: in some regions, he was called a "bereza." It was quite common for the company to have musicians who played tambourines, violins, bells, etc. to accompany the carols. Sometimes dancers were also included in the group, and someone dressed up as a "goat" and entertained the owners with pranks and jokes. The most responsible person was appointed a "horse". He collected treats and gifts in a bag to be passed off as carols.

An indispensable attribute was a large homemade star. It was lavishly decorated with colored paper, ribbons, and foil. An icon or a candle could be placed in the center of the star. Nowadays, a flashlight is often attached to this place.

Caroling starts on different days and usually ends on Epiphany. In some regions, on Christmas Eve, very young boys go singing from one house to another and perform short songs with jokes and requests for treats. In other regions, the visits with singing begin after the morning church service on Christmas Day. The company has to visit every house. It is considered a good sign for the owners to welcome carolers to their doorstep, so they always open the door.

In the Hutsul regions, where the tradition of caroling is best preserved, groups of carolers divide up the corners of the village in advance. If someone wanders into someone else's territory, a conflict can arise. In some regions, however, it is believed that the more carolers visit a house, the better the year will be, so there is no such competition.

Hosts who do not show generosity in exchange for carols may be ridiculed. Such songs should also be in the repertoire of the boys' group. Although in general, all the hosts tried to give their guests a good gift because stinginess could discourage the whole family from having good luck for the whole next year.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA told you when to present a dinner to godparents on the Christmas holidays and what to put in the basket.

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