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Malanka - New Year's Eve

(Gregorian) Dec.31; (Julian) Jan.13.

Malanka is a Ukrainian folk holiday celebrated on January 13th, which is New Year's Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar. Malanka commemorates the feast day of St. Melania. On this night in Ukraine, carolers traditionally went from house to house playing pranks or acting out a small play (similar to "Vertep" -- see above), with a bachelor dressed in women's clothing leading the troop. Malanka caps off the festivities of the Christmas holidays, and is often the last opportunity for partying before the solemn period of Lent which precedes Easter.

Ukrainian New Year’s Eve

ACROSS NORTH AMERICA, Americans and Canadians of Ukrainian origin celebrate Malanka or Malanckyn Vechir, the New Year’s Eve celebrations, on January 13 according to the Julian calendar. It falls one week after Christmas Eve, January 6 by the same calendar, and is an occasion which, with the exception of the religious note of Christmas, resembles it in several ways.

While Christmas is an entirely religious occasion, Ukrainian New Year’s Eve has maintained more of its pre-Christian secular, pagan beliefs, in particular, those pertaining to the supernatural and animalistic. New Year’s Eve perhaps derives its name Malanka from the following folk tale collected by the Ukrainian ethnologist Osip Fedkovich (1834-1888):

Once upon a time there was The Creator Praboh, who had four sons and one daughter. His daughter is our mother Earth, who was named Lada. The first son, who fought with his father God and his brothers and sisters was the chief of hell, the Devil. (Yar-Yarylo) St. George, was the second son and the third was Rai who was later identified as St. John. The youngest and fourth son was Lad or Myr (Peace).

THE SUN ITSELF was called Svyatovydam (All-seeing) and was considered a knight and hero in a golden cloak, with seven swords at his side and an eighth in his hand. He rode around the earth on white horses. The daughter Lada (Earth) had two children, a son which was the Moon (Knias Misyats) and a daughter Spring-May who was later called Mylanka because she was loving (myla) to the whole world. It was she who covered the world with flowers and greenery every May. Because the Evil One did harm to everyone, he as defiant enough to desire to take Malanka (Mylanka) to his underground kingdom. He finally stole her at a time when her brother, the Moon, was hunting. But she was eventually freed by him and under the name of Basil they were married. While she was absent from the world, there was no Spring. Spring finally came when she, Malanka, returned to Mother Earth. So the celebration of Malanka symbolizes the beginning of Spring being released from captivity and on her arrival bringing the flowers and greenery to life again. This tale is clearly similar to that of Persephone in Greek mythology who was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. In Latin she was known as Proserpina. The story may indicate a cultural link between ancient Greek civilization and ancient Ukraine, since Greek colonies flourished on the Black Sea coast 2,500 years ago. In North America it is traditional for Ukrainian organizations such as Business and Professional Clubs to celebrate Malanka with a banquet and a dance.

The Malanka is a carnival .....

The Malanka is a carnival that follows the religious part of the mid-winter holiday season. It is usually celebrated on Jan. 13, which would be Jan. 1, or New Year's Day according to the old calendar. The Malanka is what is called a yearly cycle ritual. For information on yearly cycle rituals, you can go to a 2 vol. republication of Chubyns'kyi's work. It's a bit on the watered down side, but will probably do for your purposes. It is called Mudrist' vikiv and was published by Mystetsvo in Kyiv in 1995. If you cannot read Ukrainian or have trouble getting this book, I would suggest Petr Bogatyrev, "Vampires in the Carpathians. Magical Acts, Rites, and Beliefs in Subcarpathian Rus',"  trans. by Stephen Reynolds and Patricia A. Krafcik. Biographical intro. by Svetlana P. Sorokina. New York: East European Monographs distributed by Columbia Univ. Press, 1998. 188 pp. $35.00 (cloth) It has practically nothing to do with vampires (I assume the title was added to make the thing sell.) It is concerned more with magic than with the yearly cycle, but it is very good and solid and uses a lot of Christmas/New Year's material. My only objection to this book is the price. There is also a video called Rizdvo which came out in Toronto. It has a poupourri of all sorts of stuff, including Malanka type costuming. Now, if you don't want to do all of this research, what adapts best to the western setting is the costuming part of Malanka -- cross-dressing, dressing up as animals, ghosts, sort of the Ukrainian equivalent of Halloween stuff, only done in the period after Christmas. If you look at the tsyhanshchyna part of my wedding article, you will see costumes like the ones used at Malanka. What was done at Malanka and I did not see done at weddings was dressing up as the spirits of dead vegetation, as various witches, goblins, etc. In addition to the masquerading, plays are performed at Malanka, including a Punch-and-Judy slap-stick version of puppet theater (as opposed to the more serious vertep, which usually has a religious theme) and there are various games and fortune-telling. One of the games, where a palianytsia (a semi-sweet bread shaped like a huge donut) is tied to the rafters and people stand on a stool or jump and try to bite a piece off of it might be useful in a western setting. I think the fortune-telling can also be easily adapted. Let me know if you need more information.



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