How To Celebrate Ukraine New Year's Traditions For 20 Days

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Welcome To New Year's In Ukraine!

Activities for a Ukrainian New Year's include dances from the Carpathian Mountains and music from bagpipes!

Ukraine - New Year's With a Difference

Celebrating New Year's according to Ukrainian traditions means many celebrations enjoyed annually between December 31st (modern New Year's Eve) through January 13th (Malanka, also known as Old New Year's Eve) and on to January 19th!

The Ukrainian New Year's holiday season is a giant undertaking that requires much preparation and work, but manifests joy and cheer when done properly.

With an uncle (in-law) from Ukraine and a Russian language teacher from that country, I learned in high school all about the traditions that these adults had celebrated for years. When they emigrated to America, they brought those colorful celebrations with them.

Come Soon, Spring!

Modern New Year's is the only federal holiday observed in Ukraine. The folk holiday on January 13th, called "Malanka", expresses the wish for spring to come soon.

A Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea
A Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea | Source

Faith-Based New Year's Celebrations

In America, many churches and other houses of worship hold services on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.

In Ukraine during the Cold War, this did not occur. The Bible and the Torah were hidden under floor boards in homes and the floors covered with rugs and furniture, because to have these books was a crime of which the consequence was jail time at the least.

Religious services were held in Ukraine at home in secret, because the leadership of the USSR had turned all the houses of worship into museums. Today however, the churches and other faith-based facilities are open and provide services to a variety of faiths on New Year's Eve and Day. This includes churches of protestants, Greek Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and other Orthodox sects.

The Orthodox and Catholic churches split long ago over many disagreements, but the primary concern was whether to use three fingers together or two fingers together when making the sign of the cross (Reference: Professor Father Matej Matejich, Russian Area literature and history classes, The Ohio State University).

Those who disagreed with tradition were smaller in number and spit away to become the Catholic Church and later, the Anglican Church/Church of England and similar denominations. However, when a Roman Pope dies, the Orthodox clergy still participate in his remembrances.

Major Cities Of Ukraine

Kiev is the capital.
Kiev is the capital. | Source

Only One Ukrainian National Holiday

New Year's on December 31 - January 1 is the only national holiday observed by the government of Ukraine, with the closing of government offices, schools, post offices, and banks. When January 1 falls on a weekend day, the Monday afterward is also a holiday, making for a three-day festival.

Under Soviet rule, especially in the 1950s and 1960s of the Cold War, workers went to the job seven days a week all year long, with rarely a day off. Women who stayed at home with young children and more elderly women spent their days scrubbing the sidewalks and the actual streets in what is today's Ukraine and Russia. Work was Number One in the USSR republics.

In contrast, a three-day weekend today is a vacation!

Two or three days of festivities among families and friends include music, gifts as through it were Christmas, good food, a midnight dinner, and discussing all good things that happened during the year and great things to come in the new year. Midnight January 1 brings shouts of joys, congratulations one to another among those present, more music, and some dancing. However, in Ukraine, there are two midnights.

When Midnight Comes Twice

Midnight congratulations, dancing, and special music (together known as Kolomyjka) can happen twice in Ukraine, because of the long-held tradition of noting midnight on both Moscow time and Kiev time.

Overlapping Holidays

The Orthodox Christmas occurs on January 6 and some families celebrate both Christmases - December and January. This is a little like the Twelve Days Of Christmas around Europe and parts of America and I remember learning to sing the song of the same name in Russian. Indeed, January 6 is Twelfth Night to some of us.

Another significance of January 6 is that it and/or January 14 is the feast day of Saint Melanie the Younger, from whose name the holiday nomenclature "Malanka" is likely derived. Malanka is another New Year's celebration in hopes of a soon springtime advent. Much music and lively dancing attach themselves to this holiday, but caroling and mummers' parades are truly deeply ingrained traditions.

Carolers carry a large golden star with them as they go, representing the sun, although it reminds many of the Star of Bethlehem.

Caroling at Malanka

Nighttime Parade Of Characters

People love to go caroling indoors and outdoors in Ukraine during Malanka and all the way from January 6 through January 19, but especially on January 13 and 14. The tradition is known as a "Koliada", which may include skits about Ukraine's foundation myths.

A zombie bride can be played by a man.
A zombie bride can be played by a man. | Source

Costume Parade

Carolers who perform indoors often wear costumes as if it were Halloween.

People dress as traditional Indigenous Peoples, Gypsies. nurses, witches, traditional goblins, goats, bears in bearskins, the Old Man, the Malanka Death (a zombie bride), and even Nazis on the night of January 13 for a special parade.

Parading door-to-door in the cold weather, the revelers sing and dance, perform skits, and play harmless practical jokes that make everyone laugh.

What Do the Carpathian Mountains Have In Common with Malanka?

Carpathian Mountains
Carpathian Mountains | Source

Carpathian Mountains Span Romania and Ukraine

show route and directions
A markerCarpathian Mountains -
Carpathian Mountains, Romania
[get directions]

B markerChernivtsl, Ukraine -
Chernivtsi, Vinnyts'ka oblast, Ukraine
[get directions]

C markerChernivtsl, Ukraine -
Chernivtsi, Chernivets'ka oblast, Ukraine
[get directions]

Dedicated organizations make sure the holiday is preserved and plan all year for it, like Mardi Gras or the Rose Bowl Parade.

Malanka Organizations Provide Meals, Music, and Dancing

Malanka runs parallel to Mardi Gras in activities and is similarly the last big party before the church season of Lent. Dedicated organizations make sure the holiday is preserved and plan all year for it, like Mardi Gras or the Rose Bowl Parade.

The song and dance performed at midnight to welcome the New Year comes from a band of Ukrainians who lived in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine and Romania.

These people are the lively Hutsuls or гуцули (goo-tsoo-lee) and they seem to have brought Ukrainian Easter Egg art to Romania, where it took on a slightly different variation. These decorated eggs are seen in variations all over Southeastern Europe, Southwestern former USSR republics, and Russia.

The Music Of Malanka

Musical instruments used for Malanka celebrations include a version of the alpine horn, hammer dulcimers, fifes or piccolos, bagpipes, occasional Indigenous Peoples' animal skin drums, and Jew's Harps.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hutsuls of 1902.Hutsuls of 1934.
Hutsuls of 1902.
Hutsuls of 1902. | Source
Hutsuls of 1934.
Hutsuls of 1934. | Source

Malanka and the Orthodoxy

Most Hutsuls belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

The кoлoмийкa (kolomyjka) song and dance of Malanka.
The кoлoмийкa (kolomyjka) song and dance of Malanka. | Source

The Trees Who Listen

Dried cherries are a staple during the winter in Ukraine, as cranberries were for Native Americans. During Malanka, some people go outside and ask their fruit trees to produce more fruit, in the traditional belief that the trees can understand human speech during this holiday. This is like the belief that animals can speak on Christmas Eve.

The cherry tree who listened.
The cherry tree who listened. | Source
The stove may get up and dance during Malanka.
The stove may get up and dance during Malanka. | Source

The Dancing Kitchen Corner

Another local belief is that the platform in the kitchen on which the cooking stove sits and on which the residents can sleep at night, comes alive and wishes to dance. Therefore, no one can sleep on the night of January 13 and must celebrate the New Year and Malanka.

Many families whop keep the holiday traditions select one of the daughters of the household to play "Malanka", a clumsy oafish girl who drops things and falls a lot. This is a general reminder for the year to be careful.

Outside, a high school or college-aged man appears dressed as one of the woman of the town and parodies her as celebrants try to guess who she is.

Sometimes, two men in bear skins or huge bales of hay representing fur will perform a simulated bear fight in the center of town. In the same place, some towns build a bonfire,. people stuff their clothing with worn out masks and costumes to look like hunchbacks and jump over the fire.

So many activities occur all around the country, that they cannot all be recorded; and new ones are invented regularly.

Veseli Vujky - Ukrainian folk music band from Kiev

Foods Of the Season

New Year's celebration food have become eclectic, especially int he diaspora in the growing Canadian pockets of Ukrainian celebration. A traditional menu might include any of these foods:

  • Borscht
  • Cabbage Rolls
  • Pampushki - Potato balls stuffed with meat and then fried.
  • Pierogi - Meat filled, apple filled, others.
  • Palianytsia - A semi-sweet bread that is often shaped like a donut. Ukraine was the bread basket of the USSR, producing most of its wheat.
  • Pork Cracklings
  • Potato Pancakes
  • Several types of fish and pork dishes.
  • Several types of cakes.

Traditional bread
Traditional bread | Source

© 2015 Patty Inglish

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Comments 4 comments

MsDora profile image

MsDora 11 months ago from The Caribbean

Another very interesting article! These Ukranian events and their meanings tell us that it takes different things to make different people happy. I like that there is a lot of dance (except for the kitchen utensils).


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 11 months ago from North America Author

@MsDora - Happy New Year! I like the bit about the trees listening to people talk. :)


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 11 months ago from USA

Fascinating. Your interests are so diverse. I had a childhood friend from the Ukraine who share a bit of her cultural heritage with me long ago.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 11 months ago from North America Author

@FlousrishAnyway - I bet you had a lot of fun with the friend! We made Ukrainian Easter eggs in our classes and learned some recipes.

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