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  • Writer's pictureOlga Jarrell

Коляда́ | Pagan Christmas Ritual

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

'Kolyada' is an ancient pagan winter ritual, which was later incorporated into Christmas. The word is still used in many modern Slavic languages such as Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Czech, and Serbian. One theory states that “kolyada” is the name of a cycle of winter rituals derived from the Latin word calendae (“calendar” - календа́рь). Some claim it was named after Kolyada, the Slavic goddess of winter, who brings up a new sun every day.

In modern Slavic languages, “kalyada” means the tradition of strolling, singing, and having fun on Christmas Eve. It specifically applies to children and teens who walk house to house greeting people, singing carols 'kolyadki' (коля́дки), and receiving candy and small money in return. The action is called 'kolyadovaniye' (колядова́ние).

Carols were always very popular in Russia. They are intended to celebrate the birth of Christ, and to wish happiness and prosperity to the host.

Image: Денисова Дарья. Рождественская ночь

Usually, people get together in groups of 5-7 to go caroling. They wear colorful clothes and scarves, costumes, and animal masks, among which a bear and a goat characters are the most popular. In the group, different people have different roles. One person carries a decorated 8-pointed star on the pole. Some other has a sack for treats. The third person has a bell that tells people to expect the company. There also must be a person in the group who wears a costume of a coat that is said to bring wealth. Traditionally, there are three major kolyada rituals during the holiday season: on Christmas Eve, 13th of January, and January 18th (the night before the last day of Christmas).

Image: © Анна Силивончик

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