The Carpathian Connection is honored that the talented author, Mr. Daniel William Evanishen, has offered the following for our readers. Mr. Evanishen was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and graduated from Nutana Collegiate Institute. A free-lance writer since 1980, he is also a publisher since 1991. Mr. Evanishen was a resident of Mohyla Ukrainian Institute, Saskatoon, and has worked diligently to bring Ukrainian folk tales and other tales from the Carpathian Mountain regions to life. His focus is to preserve and share the wealth and diversity of the Ukrainian experience. To date, Mr. Evanishen and his publishing company, Ethnic Enterprises, have published four volumes of folk tales, two volumes of short stories and various other literary works. The following two excerpts ("God and the Devil" and "The Fox and the Crane") are from his book, "The Worry Imps and Other Ukrainian Folk Tales Retold in English"
Below are some names, which can be found in Slavic mythology. Many of these names are mentioned in folk tales, literature and song. Some regions have certain dances that are performed using one or more of these characters as a major theme.
The regions that these particular characters can be found are numerous. Most of the names below are found in present day Eastern Europe, the Carpathian Mountain regions, Ukraine and Russia. Many in peasant society during a former era knew of one, or more of these characters and the folk tales associated with them. Some of these characters are still known today to modern day individuals of many Slavic heritages who reside in remote villages. The notation of (Slavic) after the name of the character is given to denote that this particular character has been found in folk tales of different Slavic heritages. Where a particular heritage is mentioned, that character had a major emphasis in that culture.
Ajysyt The goddess of birth of the Yakuts of Siberia.
Baba Yaga (Jezi Baba) (Slavic) The grandmother of the devil; a terrible man-eating female demon; her mouth stretched from the earth to the gates of hell.
Bugady Musun Siberian goddess, mother of all animals.
Colleda (Koliada) Serbian goddess of the winter solstice.
Dazhbog (Slavic) Also known as Dabog (Serbs) and Dazbog (Poles). The sun god. Son of Svarog (god of the sky), and brother of Svarazic (god of fire). He rode through the sky on his diamond chariot, starting out in the morning as a new-born and ending the day as an old man. Sometimes said to be married to Myesyats (the moon).
Dolya (Slavic) The goddess of fate who lived behind the stove. When she was in a good mood, she was called Dolya, the old lady who brought good luck; when annoyed, she was Nedolya, the poorly dressed old hag of bad luck. Sometimes she appeared as a young woman rather than the gray-haired old woman; in either condition she presided over birth.
Dunne Enin An important goddess in Siberia; she ruled the clan territory.
Elena Heroine that is featured in a popular Russian folktale about the firebird.
Erce (Slavic) The earth mother honored each spring by the pouring of water, milk and flour into the turned furrows of the tilled farm.
Leshy (Slavic) Also known as Lesiye or Lesovik. Spirit of the forest who led hunters astray. He had a long, green beard, and offered no shadow in the sun. He could become small as a mouse or tall as the biggest tree.
Mati Syra Zemlya (Slavic) The goddess of the earth.
Myesyats (Slavic) The moon deity. In some myths he is the bald-headed uncle of the sun-god Dazhbog. In other myths she is a beautiful woman, the consort of Dazhbog and mother by him of the stars.
Perunu (Slavic) Called Pyerun in Russia, Piorun in Poland. The thunder god. He was a chief and creator god.
Rusalki The Rusalki were water spirits and can be found in both Slavonic and Russian mythology. They were the spirits of drowned girls. In south-eastern Europe, they were pictured as beautiful creatures who would attempt to lure passers-by into the water with their magical song. In northern Europe, they were considered unkempt and unattractive creatures. They would grab travelers from the river bank and drag them into the river to drown them.
Svantovit (Svantevit) (Slavic) The god of war. Worship of this god included human sacrifice. Some tales tell that he was the supreme deity and father of all other gods. Worship of this god ceased after Christianity but, folk tales are still told about him.
Svarazic (Svarozic, Svarogich) (Slavic) The god of fire. He was the son of Svarog and brother to Dazhbog. He was pictured wearing a helmet, carrying a sword and on his chest was a bison's head. Human sacrifices were made to him.
Triglav A three-headed god of war of the Slavs in Poland.
Veles (Volos) (Russia) God of the flocks and herds.
Xatel-Ekwa (Hungarian) The sun goddess who rode through the sky on three horses.
Xoli-Kaltes (Hungarian) The dawn goddess. A young woman who baked men who came to court her.
Yarovit (Slavic) God of all victories.
Ynakhsyt (Siberia) Goddess of all cattle.
Ziva (Siva) (Slavic) Goddess of all life.
Zorya (Slavic) There were three Slavic dawn goddesses. There was Utrennyaya, the morning star; Vechernyaya, the evening star; and the midnight star was Zorya. All have the same duty, to guard a chained dog from eating the constellation Ursa Minor, the little bear. If the chain should break and the dog became loose, the universe will end. Due to this the Zoryas are guardians.
Zvezda Dennitsa (Slavic) Goddess of the morning star. The wife of the man in the moon.
The following folktale has been told for generations in the village of Hajtovka, which is located in Eastern Slovakia. Hajtovka is a small village (population was approximately 116 people during 1970) near the Poprad River and the Polish boarder. This folk tale is still told in Hajtovka and its beginning origins are unknown. During time stories passed from individual to individual evolve and change. This folktale is a good example of this progression as through time it has become actually three stories combined into one tale about a specific subject. This folktale was re-told by a present day resident of the village of Hajtovka.
Down the hill from the cemetery and along the Poprad river in Hajtovka is a large rock formation, which is called "The Devils Rock." This rock is a large limestone outgrowth that is seen above ground. There are a few of these outgrowths in this area. One of the more famous which is classified as an ecological reserve are the formations found in the village of Udol which is the village next to Hajtovka. The explanation the residents of Hajtovka gave to this rock centuries ago tell of a folktale regarding this rock formation. It is said that this rock was carried by the Devil himself as he flew through the air. The Devil was carrying this rock as he planned to drop it on Lubovna Castle, which is not far from Hajtovka. While the Devil was flying over Hajtovka midnight neared. The church bells in Hajtovka began to ring at midnight and were very loud. When the Devil heard the sound coming from the church he lost all of his powers. The Devil then dropped the rock from the sky in Hajtovka where it is located today near the Poprad River. There also is a part of this rock, which dropped in a low valley below the church behind a grove of trees. During the centuries many children have asked their parents where they came from. The children in Hajtovka are told that they were found at this rock behind the grove of trees by their grandmothers. Their grandmother then took them home to live with their parents and that is how they came to live in Hajtovka. There is another story also about this rock. It is told that an old servant wanted to find out how the children came from this rock. It was said he was not normal in his mind. This servant would go to the rock and look for a "door". He thought since the grandmothers came to get the children, they must live inside of the rock. He visited the rock once a day to try and find the door in the rock. He could not figure out how the children came out of the rock to be brought to the village and therefore, kept looking for a door in the rock until the day he died.
Various customs and stories abounded within Eastern Europe and still do to this day. Some of these are common and some are unique depending upon region and heritage. Since many heritages lived side by side, it was not uncommon someone of one heritage to end up with practices of another. Most customs were in reference to the human condition and the events that take place within individuals lives. The customs and stories were offered to the author by immigrants and their children who remembered seeing their parents and grandparents practice these customs. The heritage of the person relating their particular story is offered to give readers a better idea of which heritage celebrated these customs and what they were meant to define.
When a child was born, the first thing was to check to see that the child was perfect. Any defects were corrected if possible. If a child’s ears were too large or if they stuck out, the midwife or woman in attendance would pin his or her ears back to make them look more normal. After this was done, the child was "blessed" with holy water and wrapped as much as possible in linen to a point where it was more or less "tied up." It was felt that the child would not harm itself in this way, as it was not used to being "free" yet. If the child were to have suffered any defects, it was said this was due to the mother seeing something unpleasant or being afraid or "shocked." If the child were to be born with red marks, it was thought that the mother had seen fire and been frightened by it while still pregnant. It was also thought that if a mother had seen someone who was blind, or lame a short time before giving birth the child would also have that condition later in life. If the child were healthy plans would be made immediately to have the child baptized. If the child seemed ill or weak, one of the women in attendance would baptize the child in case of emergency with the rest of the service being performed later when the child was stronger by a priest.
When a child was taken to be baptized before it left the house the father would say a prayer over the child that it would return home safely again. After the service in church the child would be brought home and placed on the doorstep to the home with the door closed. On the other side, the woman would stand and the eldest would say through the closed door to the newly baptized child "you left this house a devil, now that you are baptized enter our home as an angel and may your life be long and healthy so that you may serve God."
The Jewish wedding would traditionally start with the signing of the marriage contract or Ketubbah. TheKetubbah is a document that outlines the rights and obligations of the bride and groom. After signing the contract the groom goes before his bride and gazes into her face. Having confirmed that she is the woman he chosen to marry, he lowers a veil over her face. This is a symbolic representation and retells the story of Jacob who was tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. The wedding ceremony is held under the Huppah (wedding canopy). The Huppah is supported by four poles, which are held by friends or family during the ceremony. Custom for this wedding is that all of the immediate family is part of the wedding group. Sisters and brothers of the bride and groom may be attendants and grandparents sometimes according to some customs have a place in the procession. During the service there are many rituals that have specific meanings. The ring is placed on the bride’s right index finger due to the fact that this is the finger of intelligence (it is the finger that points to the words when reading the Torah). After the service is completed the groom breaks the glass with his foot. This custom is done to remind those present of the destruction of the Temple and also, another custom has this to imply that the broken glass shows how fragile life is.
It was a custom, even in America, for a potential groom to give his future bride a little gift to show that she belonged to him. These gifts were different and varied depending upon the financial condition of the future groom. Many times, it may only be a piece of ribbon for his bride’s hair, but at other times it could be a gift of jewelry, or even a new piece of clothing. Before the young bride was to be married, her mother and other female relatives would help her to dress and style her hair. It was not permitted for the groom or any of his male relatives to see her on the day of marriage before she arrived at the church for the ceremony. Many times, before she left the home for the church, the bride’s mother would stand before her and while she knelt, the mother would pray over her daughter that her new life would be on of peace and happiness. It was custom in some families to give as a gift a beautiful pysanka to both sets of parents as they were losing something precious and this gift was to make up for their loss. Another custom was the bridal dance where the bride would stand in the middle of a circle and the groom would try to "get her back." This custom dance was not only limited to the Ukrainian heritage but to other Slavic heritages as well.
There were many customs regarding death for the Rusyn people. Some of the more common are still followed today. When someone died in the home, the first custom was to open the nearest window to let the "soul" leave the home to travel to its next life. Another custom was to cover any mirrors in the home. An interesting custom was a prayer being said over the deceased while binding the jaw with a piece of linen so that any evil spirits would not "enter" the body and thereby take it over to live in the world. While the body was prepared it was custom to call the priest to offer prayers and rites of the church. As the priest entered the home custom dictated that they greet him with a lighted candle and lead him to the deceased. Some customs dictated that items of particular favor were placed in the coffin. This could be a favorite prayer book, a violin if the deceased was a musician, a favorite piece of jewelry or other items. It was considered important for those who were very religious to place an icon of the resurrection in the hands of the deceased. This was to show God the deceased individuals hope in the resurrection. During the 40-day period between death and this final day when according to church rites the soul of the deceased would be judged, nothing in the home that had been the deceased individuals would be touched. It was believed the soul of the deceased was still among the living, visiting places that he or she knew and loved. It was custom not to talk negatively about the deceased during these 40 days for fear that the soul of the newly departed would bring bad luck and hardship upon the family.
Long ago, when the Turkish controlled Hungary there was a brave warrior called Hunyadi Janos. The Turks ruled over most of Hungary and parts of Europe for two centuries. After Hunyadi died the nobility thought his sons would not make good kings because of the family's reputation of honesty and dislike of the rich nobility. Hunyadi had two sons; the eldest was strong and a great warrior as was his father. The nobility put Matthius, the youngest son, in prison and sentenced Laszlo, the oldest, to death. Laszlo had a very strong body and neck with long thick hair. When the nobles tried to cut off his head they couldn't. They tried a second time, which was against all laws. If he didn't die with the first try, he was supposed to be released. A revolt almost started, as the people loved the Hunyadis. The nobles decided to hide what they had done and released Matthius from jail to be made King. Because he was a timid man, they decided they could do whatever they wished.
During these days, the rich were abusing the peasants. To seek the truth of what his people were treated like, Matthius would dress so that no one would recognize him. One day he went to work in the fields. At the end of this day of long labor, when he asked for his payment, he was brutally whipped. On the following morning he went back as King and gave the same whipping to the man who had cruelly whipped him the day before. Matthius would do many things such as working in the fields and over time his life was in danger of assassination by the rich nobles. He trusted no one but his Kuvaszok. He bred the best bloodlines and treated them with kindness and love. The dogs were always at his side and protected him. These dogs always sat at the foot of his throne and would sleep at the foot of his bed. These dogs were his most trusted bodyguards. They watched over the castle, guarded his livestock and in times of crisis, he took them with him to fight wars. Matthius was to become the most powerful, loved, respected and honest King in Hungarian history. When Matthius died, the people were heard to chant in their mourning "Matthius is dead and so is all truth and honesty from now on."
Young Polish girls who wish to find a husband set this day aside. On the Eve of St. Andrew’s Day and into the next morning, fortunes are told. The results of these fortunes are taken very seriously. Fortunes could be told in many ways but some are as follows.
The most popular is by melting wax and pouring it into a bowl with cold water. The hardened wax is then picked from the water, raised to a light, and then the girls try to see the similarities of it a potential husband. Depending on the shapes, fortunes are told the following year. If nothing meaningful is found, there is the chance a girl will dream of something important dealing with her future. In another tradition of telling fortunes, girls stand in a circle leaning over a bowl of water with a floating walnut shell containing a lighted candle. Each girl puts a piece of paper with the name of a potential husband inscribed on the edge of the bowl. Whichever name the lighted candle sails to and burns, a marriage proposal would be in her future. During this day another story is told that a girl counts to the fourteenth post on a fence to see what her future husband may look like. If the post is strong and fresh, she can expect a lean, strong young man, if short and fat, her chances of gaining an older not as desirable husband could be in her future. In a game to predict marriage on St. Andrew’s Day, a ribbon, kerchief and a rosary are put separately under three plates. Blindfolded, a young girl turns around three times while other girls rearrange these plates. If the kerchief is drawn, it denotes marriage; if the ribbon is drawn, she will remain single for yet another year but if she were to draw the rosary, her choices were not considered good, she would either spend the rest of her life as an unmarried woman, or she would enter a convent and become a nun.
In the beginning there was no land, only Heaven and water. One day while God was on the water in His boat, He saw a raft of foam with the devil on it.
"Who are you?" asked God.
"I will tell you if you take me in the boat."
"Please, come into my boat."
"I am Aridnyk."
They rode quietly for some time, and the devil finally said, "It would be good if there were some land." "It shall be so," said God. "Dive to the bottom of the water and bring a handful of sand. From this I shall create land. And when you take the sand from the bottom, be sure to say: "I take this sand in the name of God." When Aridnyk reached bottom he grabbed sand with both hands, saying, "I take this sand in the name of Aridnyk." When the devil returned to the surface, he found that his hands were empty. God told Aridnyk to go down again. This time when he took the sand, he said, "I take this sand in His name." He also hid some sand in his mouth. When he returned to the surface he found in his hands only the sand that was stuck under his fingernails.
God took the few grains of sand from the fingernails of Aridnyk and created some land, but He could only make a small island from the bit of sand He had been given. When night fell, they lay down on the island to sleep. When God was asleep, the jealous devil tried to push Him into the water and drown Him. Aridnyk pushed and the land grew beneath God as far as the devil pushed him. He pushed God one way and the land grew, then he pushed the other way, and the land grew; it grew wherever He was pushed. The sand in the mouth of Aridnyk also grew and grew, as the land God blessed grew and grew. The sand in his mouth grew so much that it forced his mouth open, and his eyes bulged and he could not breathe. He spit, and wherever Aridnyk spit, mountains grew and grew, each taller than the previous one, until they reached the sky. They would have pierced the sky had God not later cast a spell on them. Since then the mountains have not grown.
Finally Aridnyk slept. When God awoke, He returned to Heaven. Aridnyk followed. The angels sang in their multitudes, welcoming God back to Heaven. Aridnyk was upset to see this adoration for God and none for him. "How might I also have such a welcome?" Aridnyk asked God. "Wash yourself and, with the wash water, sprinkle the ground behind you." As soon as Aridnyk did so, there sprang up so many little devils that there was no room in Heaven for all of them. God saw this and commanded Saint Ilya to make a storm of thunder, lightning and much rain. Saint Ilya was happy to do so, and his storm raged for forty days and forty nights. There was so much rain that the fiery little devils began to be swept away, and they fell to earth. When there were only a few devils left in Heaven and the angels began to fall, God ordered Saint Ilya to stop the storm. Since then, bright little fires have darted about the heavens, and they still sometimes fall upon the earth.
Notes on the story: Page 67
Stories of God or the Saints on earth are common in Ukrainian folklore. Often the stories predate Christianity, and God and the Saints take the place of the original characters. The Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine are where the Hutsul people live, and their lives are full of stories such as this. The name Aridnyk is from their dialect.
Once upon a time Mister Fox and Miss Crane were friends. They would always pass the time of day when they met by the lake or in the field. One day Mister Fox asked Miss Crane to come to his house for lunch.
"Please come, Miss Crane," he said. "I will prepare a delicious meal."
Miss Crane accepted the kind invitation and went to visit Mister Fox. Mister Fox had made an excellent kasha, which he brought to the table on a platter.
Miss Crane bent over the platter but, with her long beak, she was unable to get one bit of kasha. She bent her head this way and that, but could not pick up anything at all.
Mister Fox licked away until the kasha was all gone and, when the platter was clean, he said, "It was good of you to come and visit me. I hope we can do this again very soon."
"Thank you for everything, Mister Fox," said Miss Crane. "Tomorrow you must come and visit me for lunch."
"Thank you, Miss Crane," said Mister Fox. "I will be there."
Next day Mister Fox arrived at her home to find a delicious smell of cooking in the air. "What a lovely aroma that is," he said. "We are indeed going to have a fine meal."
When Miss Crane served the food she put it in a long thin pot with a narrow neck. "Help yourself, Mister Fox. Do not be shy," she said.
Mister Fox tried to put his paw into the pot, but it would not go in far enough. He tried to put his long nose in, but all he could do was peer into the pot and sniff the food. Miss Crane put her long beak down into the pot and had the meal all eaten up in no time at all.
When the food was all gone, Miss Crane said, "It was good of you to come and visit me. I hope we can do this again very soon."
Mister Fox was so embarrassed and angry that he left without saying a word.
From that day to this, Foxes and Cranes have not been the best of friends.
For more Ukrainian Folk Tales please visit Mr. Evanishen’s Webpage:
First Published in the Summer, 1999 issue of Contact, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, British Columbia Newsletter
Storytelling is an art that is in sad neglect these days. In the old days, people constantly told stories and folk tales, but these days, not many people even know the stories any more. In the past in Ukraine, people told folk tales as a normal part of their lives. For the most part, the parents in any given family were away working in the fields, and the children were left in the care of Baba and Dido, who told stories to the children to entertain and teach them. These stories served to teach the children most of what they knew of the world. They learned how to behave, how to get along with other people, and why certain things in nature occurred. They also learned about their culture, their traditions, and the values of their society. Of course, it was not only the children who heard the folk tales. Most people never left the area of the village in which they were born, and, not being able to read, they learned most of what they knew of the outside world from wandering storytellers.
These storytellers traveled to many places and heard many stories, which they adapted for their audience at home, which partly explains why we find similar stories in many different cultures. The storytellers were important and highly-regarded individuals, and their arrival was always a cause for joy. Often the entire village would gather to hear the stories and the news. My project is to collect all the Ukrainian folk tales in Canada and retell them in English, so that the children of today can finally hear or read the stories. Most often, the children have never heard the tales, and this project will give them a direct link to their culture. Folk tales are important, as they tell us much of who we are and where we come from. How important is it to understand these things? As a wise person once said, "If you know where you have come from, you have a better chance of knowing where you are going."
Following is a sample of the folk tales I have been collecting and retelling. As of 1999, I have published six volumes of folk tales, as well as several other books on Ukrainian pioneers and other subjects.
One day long ago, Zhabka, the little frog, was hopping about in the wide world looking for adventure. Coming upon a wooden bucket filled with fresh cream, he jumped in to see what kind of thing this was. He smiled to himself, because the funny white water felt so cool and silky against his skin. He swam and splashed and dove until he had enough. He was tired of the white water, and he wanted to go home and go to sleep. But then, Zhabka found he could not get out of the bucket. The cream was too deep for his legs to reach the bottom and jump, and the sides of the bucket were too slippery to climb out. Zhabka was thunderstruck. It was hard to believe that a moment ago he was having such a good time! He could not bear the thought of drowning, so he kept swimming, hoping that he would think of something. The little frog swam to his left; he swam to his right; and he swam around and around until he was too tired to move. He began to sink but, as he dropped beneath the surface, he spluttered, "No, I will not quit!" And he began to swim once more.
When he became too tired to move, Zhabka stopped to rest again and, once more, he sank beneath the surface. But, once more, he rose up and carried on swimming. This happened several times until, one time when he sank, he felt something beneath his legs. He pushed down and hopped straight out of the bucket. Without knowing what he had done, Zhabka had churned the cream so long that he had made a large, firm, yellow ball of butter beneath his legs!
Taken from "Zhabka and Other Ukrainian Folk Tales Retold in English," written by Danny Evanishen and published by Ethnic Enterprises, Box 234, Summerland, BC, V0H 1Z0
From "Feet on the Pillow and Other Ukrainian Folk Tales Retold in English," the eighth volume in the series, written by Danny Evanishen and to be published in May of 2001 by Ethnic Enterprises http://www.ethnic.bc.ca.
In the old days, the rich landlords owned everything and the poor peasants worked the land, earning barely enough to survive. Often, the starving peasants would go into the woods and gather firewood, mushrooms or acorns, knowing full well that the landlord could have them severely punished for theft.Petro was a young man who had been caught many times by the landlord and his guards. The landlord finally decided that, since nothing would stop Petro from his behavior, he must be put to death.On the day of his hanging, a large crowd gathered in the yard of the landlord. Petro was well-known to all the villagers, and they were sorry that it had come to this. Before the rope was put on him, the landlord asked if Petro had one last request. I do, Your Honor, said Petro. I would like one last look at this beautiful world. The request being granted, Petro stepped into the middle of the yard, while the people stood back to make room for him. What a beautiful sky this is, cried Petro. What beautiful clouds and sun! Soon my young eyes shall see thee no more! No more will my ears hear the whisper of the breeze or the babbling of the brook! Petro carried on at some length, and the crowd became quite emotional. Some were openly weeping, and others stood looking at their feet. Petro slowly made his way to the edge of the crowd, speaking all the while of how he would miss the world when he was gone.Suddenly, he leaped the fence and was gone, as fast as his feet would carry him. At first, no one realized that he was gone and, by the time the guards came to their senses, it was too late. Petro was no longer there. Petro ran for all he was worth and finally came to his hut. He rushed in the door and flopped himself on his reed bed. His surprised wife saw him come running, and when she followed him into the house, she saw him on the bed with his feet on the pillow and his head at the other end. What is happening? she cried. Are you crazy? Why are your feet on the pillow? Petro smiled and replied, If it were not for my feet, this crazy head would not be on my neck. They saved my life, so they deserve the pillow, and they shall have it!
Once there lived an old man and an old woman. They had a young son, and all were so poor that they often had trouble finding food. Times were so bad that finally they had only one grain of millet left to eat. Ivan, take the millet to the miller and have it ground into meal, said the woman to her son. Ivan went to the mill and had the millet ground into meal. The old woman cooked the millet and put it into a bowl to cool. Ivan, you guard the millet while your father and I have a rest, said the old woman, as she sat down for a nap. The father stretched out to nap on the bench, while the old woman sat in a chair. Young Ivan took his job very seriously; he stood over the bowl with a large stick, ready to take care of anybody who would dare to distrub their meal. A hungry fly buzzed into the house and made straight for the bowl of millet. As soon as Ivan saw the fly, he said to himself "just lok at that fly! I will fix her for trying to spoil our millet! He sneaked up on the fly and swung the stick mightily.
He missed the fly, but he did not miss the bowl of millet, which shattered and flew into pieces all over the room. I will get even with that fly, thought Ivan. Spying it in the air near the old woman, he again swung his stick. He missed the fly again, but he did not miss his mother. She fell to the floor, truly asleep, with a big bump on her head. Now look what you have done, you naughty fly, cried Ivan as he redoubled his efforts to catch her. The fly sat on the forehead of the sleeping old man, and Ivan again swung his stick. Once more, he missed the fly. But, he did not miss the innocent old man, who also fell into a deeper sleep with a big bump on his head. Ivan chased the fly all over the house, breaking and upsetting everything. Finally, he threw his stick at the fly. He missed the fly, but he did not miss the window. The stick went through it, and the fly followed right after.
From "Yalynka and Other Ukrainian Folk Tales Retold in English" by Danny Evanishen, published in May, 2002.http://www.ethnic.bc.ca
The Ruthenian custom of Velija or, "Christmas Eve Holy Supper" has its exact origins in each and every village. No two villages celebrated these customs in unison and what was considered essential in one village, may be considered a minor addition in another. How many times have people from the same heritage when discussing foods, customs or other topics said to each other "I have never heard it done that way," or "we never practiced that." In regard to the Christmas Eve Holy Supper this standard also applies. The actual experiences offered here may be different, or non-existent for others of the same heritage from different villages of origin and therefore, are given as a basis, not as a total conclusion, on what everyone of the same heritage complied with as this varied and never was the same in all areas.
Years ago, most foods were homemade and cooked ahead of time if possible. Many homes in ethnic areas had only one room that was heated and therefore, the parlor, or even an enclosed porch served to place foods that could be baked or cooked a day or two before the holiday. It was not uncommon to see nut, poppy and lekvar cakes called Kolachi rapped in rows along with various soups in pots, homemade Pirohi, (little dough pockets), Holupki (cabbage rolls) and other dishes such as Pagach (bread dough with sauerkraut) and Bobalki (small balls of bread dough with poppy seeds). Depending upon the makeup of the family, the wife (if she did not work) would prepare these items along with any older women of the household. The preparation of these dishes took time. Many of the items needed an experienced hand to bake or cook them and many times, this was the way the younger generation learned from the older while watching first hand how these dishes were prepared.
When this day came, the family would gather at dusk to prepare to celebrate the feast of Christmas. Depending upon the village of origin and the customs that prevailed, many times the eldest male relative in the room would stand while all others knelt on the floor and the prayer was intoned. Some homes placed straw on the floor under the table, or upon the table to remind them of the humble birth of God. Many times a simple "Our Father" was recited, but, in other homes the prayers were more elaborate including hymns from church rubrics (such as the Tropar, Rozdestvo Tvoje Christe Boze nas). The dishes on the table varied but many times there were twelve in honor of the twelve apostles. A bowl of peeled garlic and honey was offered to each member. The housewife would take a piece of the garlic and inscribe a cross upon the forehead, then the person would partake of the piece of garlic dipped in honey to remind themselves that life was sweet, and bitter. After this, all would partake of each dish which would be mushroom, borsch (beet) and cabbage soups, pirohi, holupki, fried or baked fish, a vegetable, fresh bread or rye bread with various other condiments (pickled herring and mushrooms, homemade pickles, relish). This entire meal was totally lacking any meat product due to the subscription to the religious requirement for that day.
During the meal a single candle would burn in the middle of the table until all had finished. After the meal, the eldest child would blow out this candle, if the smoke rose upwards, all would be well and everyone would be together for the next Velija. But, if the smoke rose and changed direction towards the door to the home, this was a sign that next years gathering would have one less participant (due to death) at the table to celebrate the same meal. This custom scared many a younger member into good behavior and was taken to heart quite literally. Also, one place was always left vacant at the table with a full setting in front of it in case a stranger, or a homeless person should come to the family’s door. Custom dictated that no one could be turned away on this night and they were to be invited in to partake of the dinner with the family if this were to transpire. After the meal, most of the family would just sit and talk, sing carols and enjoy each others company until it was time to attend religious services. After midnight, it was permitted to partake of the full dinner which included cold ham, kielbasa, salads and a host of other food products that had been denied due to the fast requirements.
It was also customary for neighbors to visit each other singing carols and extending their best wishes. It was not uncommon at this time to see different bottles of liquor brought out as since the fast period had ended, pleasures were now permitted. It was not uncommon for this celebration to go on long into the night with the adults singing and eating while the children fell asleep after all the excitement. Many times people would visit each other all night long, singing and be invited in for more food and drink. Depending upon the calendar one’s particular religious jurisdiction, the requirement for Christmas may have been met at midnight attendance and therefore, this left many to enjoy the holiday for the remainder of that night into the next day.
by, David M. Mastroberte - 1995, revised 1997, 1998
In many areas of Eastern Europe, more specifically Slovakia, Carpatho-Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Byelorus, a strict-fast Holy Supper or Svjatyj Vecer is observed on Christmas Eve. The customs differ from area to area. The "order" that I have complied is the way we observe it in our home. NOTE: After each custom, I have provided their meaning. These may be read aloud to greater edify the participants. According to custom, the meal begins after the first star appears in the sky.
Everyone is standing. The father exclaims for the first time the Christmas Greeting: Christ is Born!
The family replies: Glorify Him!
One of the children, with ewer and basin, washes the hands of each of the family members, in order from eldest to youngest. A silver coin may be placed in the basin, then given to the youngest child.
After this is complete, the father takes a rope, sprinkles it with holy water and ties it around the legs of the table. This symbolizing the ever-lasting bond of the family.
The mother sprinkles the family members with holy water so that their souls and minds may be receptive to the meaning of the Birth of Christ.
The father then sprinkles the animals of the household (if there be any) with the holy water reminding the family of the animals in the stable when Christ was born.
A single candle, placed near the center of the table, is now lit. This reminds us of the apperance of Christ, the Light of the World, who was born this day.
The father leads the family in a prayer of gratitude to God for the past year. It includes petitions for health, happiness, long life, salvation and that the family may be united in love forever.
The entire family now joins in the singing of the Troparion and Kondakion for the Feast:
TROPARION Tone 4 - Your Nativity, O Christ our God, * has shone to the world the light of understanding! * For by it, those who worshipped the stars, * were taught by a star to adore You, * the Sun of Righteousness, * and to know You as the Orient from on high. * O Lord, glory to You!
KONDAKION Tone 3 - Today the Virgin gives birth to the Trancendent One, * and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One! * Angels with shepherds glorify Him! The Wise men journey with the Star! * Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a little child!
The father then blesses the food:
Lord Jesus Christ, Who was born in a manger for our sake and salvation, bless this food and drink of Your servants, for You are holy, always, now and ever, and forever.
The "Christmas Greeting" is now exchanged. CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
Everyone may now be seated.
The father breaks the bread, first making the sign of the cross on the bottom of the loaf with the knife, and gives a piece to each member of the family. The bread is a symbol of Christ, the Bread of Life. The bread is then eaten.
The father then toasts:
Good Christians! I greet you on the Feast of Christ's Nativity and wish that the Lord grant us good health and fortune to praise the eternal God for many years.
Reply: Grant this, O God!
The mother takes a tooth of garlic, dips it in honey and makes the sign of the cross over the forehead of each family member. The honey sybolizes sweetness in life, and the garlic, bitterness.
The meal now begins. No one is permitted to skip a dish.
After the dinner is complete, the father reads one of the accounts of Christ's birth from Holy Scripture. Then kol'day - traditional carols - are sung.
Sharing a special, family meal, different from all other times of the year, has always been an important part of our Christmas celebration. Today, many families look back on and cherish childhood memories of the "Holy Supper." The various foods and customs surrounding this meal differed from village to village, indeed from family to family, and thus became part of each family’s heritage. Yet this custom of taking time to gather together in joy as a family and to share a special meal is not only something for fond memories but a vital way of reaffirming today God’s love for the world, a vital way of reaffirming the importance of the family where we learn to love and be loved. Beginning our Christmas celebration with "Holy Supper" is just as meaningful today as it was years ago; perhaps it is needed even more now than ever before.
Holy Supper usually begins at twilight when the "first star" appears. The table is covered with white tablecloth in memory of the swaddling clothes of Christ. Hay or straw is strewn on the table to remind us of the poverty of the cave Jesus was born in. A large loaf of bread is the centerpiece of the table symbolizing Christ, the Bread of Life. A candle in the center of this bread recalls the star of Bethlehem, which led men to worship the true Light of the World. This bread, along with garlic and honey, is shared by all present. Holy Supper begins with prayer in Thanksgiving for all the blessings of the past year and prayer for all good things in the coming year. Following Holy Supper, the entire family joins in singing Christmas carols.
Christmas wafers have been part of our Slovak Christmas Eve supper, Vilija, as long as we can remember!
We recall that God sent manna to His people as they sojourned in the desert. We also recall that Jesus said that He was "the bread of life," and that He left us His Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist.
Christmas wafers are called oblatkyand this name indicates their purpose and origin.
Blessed bread, associated with Mass and yet distinct from the Eucharist, has been used as a sacramental in both the Eastern and Western Christian traditions.
In the West, the custom has survived in the pain benit (blessed bread) given in some French churches after High Mass.
In the East, the use of blessed bread developed into the practice of antidoron. Some of the bread prepared for Mass (prosphorae—offerings) was not consecrated, spiritual communion. This practice still continues in the Byzantine Rite, but usually, only on major feasts.
In the Latin Rite, the bread and wine offered at Mass are referred to as oblata (offerings). What the Byzantine call prosphorae, the Latins call oblata. It is from the Latin Oblata that our Slovak word oblatkyis derived.
While the word oblatkyis derived from the Latin, the religious custom of oblatkyat Christmas is nurtured by both the Latin and the Byzantine traditions.
Slovaks are fortunate in preserving this custom at Christmas, as an aid to a worthy reception of Holy Communion as well as a family spiritual communion on this most joyous of feasts!
While most Catholics consider the Christmas feast the singular most enriching event in the Church year, for Catholics of Slovak ancestry, Christmas centers around the celebration of "Stedry Vecer" (Vilija), the Bountiful Christmas Eve supper.
Many of the Slovak Christmas traditions brought to America by the immigrants from Slovakia, are perpetuated from generation to generation in the Slovak American home.
The Christmas Eve supper, which begins with the appearance of the first star, is filled with benevolence and mystery. With roots in the Passover supper of the Old Testament, the meal is filled with ritual and meaning. Each of the various regions of Slovakia have particular culinary specialties.
In some localities, it is the custom to set the tablecloth over clean straw, in others straw is laid upon the floor. This reminds the family that the Christ child was bedded upon straw in the manger.
The father and mother come to the table with a lighted candle carrying holy water and honey. Reaching their places, good wishes and greetings are extended, offering a kind of festive toast. The candle which gives light and warmth is the symbol of Christ, the light of the world.
Before serving the meal, the mother sprinkles holy water on the table and the rest of the house that the blessing of God might rest on them. The father serves an oplatka (wafer) to each family member starting with his wife. He asks her forgiveness for any hurt he may have caused and invites reconciliation with an embrace and a kiss. The mother does likewise to her husband. The father then takes a little honey and makes a small sign of the cross on the foreheads of all present. It reminds all to keep Christ in our thoughts and to live and work so that harmony and pleasant fellowship might sweeten our lives.
The meal begins with the "oplatky" or unleavened wafers imprinted with scenes of the holy birth. Coming from the Latin, "oblata" (offering), these wafers are common to Slavs living in the Tatra Mountains. Both Poles and Slovaks, who live on either side of Europe’s second highest mountain range, forming the natural boundry between Slovakia and Poland, use these wafers at the Christmas Eve supper. Because of the snowbound conditions of the region, these blessed wafers were given to the faithful by the village priest so that this symbol of Christ and the Eucharist might serve as their Christmas Eve spiritual nourishment.
It is customary for each family in the village to contribute a measure of flour for the baking of the "oplatky" done for the entire village on December 13, the day after the Feast of St. Lucy. If there was a common mill in the village, the miller saw to it that flour from the storehouse was provided. After baking, the "oplatky" were blessed by the village priest and distributed to each family by children who were sent by the priest. The children presented each family with the "oplatky" together with a memorized Christmas greeting "Vina." Because of the often snowbound conditions in these villages, which prevented the villagers from traveling to church for the Midnight liturgy, these blessed wafers were enjoyed as a reminder of the Eucharist. The "oplatky" are eaten with honey and reminded the family of the unleavened bread of the Passover supper of the Israelites.
Prefiguring the Eucharist
The passage of the exodus story is recalled: Exodus 16:8.9 "On that day tell your son, I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt. This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand." And from Exodus 16:31.32 "The people of Israel called the bread Manna." It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. And Moses said, "This is what the Lord has commanded: Take an omer of Manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt." And finally, from St, John’s Gospel 6:47-51 "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the Manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world."
Following the "oplatky", a soup of tart quality, usually made of sauerkraut brine and dried mushrooms, continues the exodus theme of recalling the bitterness of slavery—life without Christ.
Fish is generally used, as Catholics in Eastern Europe observed a strict fast on the vigil of Christmas. Next come "opekance—pupacky—bobalky" which generally are sweet, raised dough or may be a biscuit type dough sweetened with honey and sprinkled with a pleasant preparation of poppy seed. The use of poppy seed recalls a pagan tradition in which poppy seed was strewn at the portal in order that the evil spirits might be occupied with picking up each morsel and thus would not enter the house.
"Pirohy" are generally enjoyed at the Christmas Eve supper. They are dough pockets, pastry filled with fillings of sweet cabbage, sauerkraut, lekvar, prunes, or potatoes and cheese and boiled.
"Pagace" is also enjoyed at the dinner, also called "Slovak Pizza." It is thin raised dough baked either in a single or double layer filled with sweet cabbage or mashed potatoes. After baking, it is brushed with butter and cut in pie wedges. In addition, "lokse" a potato pancake type of specialty is also enjoyed.
Other foods eaten include dried prunes, apples, nuts, and St. John’s bread known as "Carob." The meal concludes with the traditional Slovak pastry, known as "Kolace" or strudel-like rolls which are filled with walnuts, poppy seed, lekvar (prune butter) or cheese. Red wine completes the evening���s feasting.
In addition to a place for every member of the family at the table, a place is left vacant for the welcome traveler. In rural villages of Slovakia, a shepherd would call from house-to-house making his Christmas wish or "vins" to all in the household:
"On this glorious feast of the birthday of Christ our Lord, I wish you from God, good health, happiness and abundant blessings.
May it be yours to enjoy comfort from your children, salvation for your soul. The kingdom of heaven after death, and for the family’s welfare, may you have whatever you ask of God."
I would like to pass on a tradition that was done in my hometowns of Lansford and Nesquehoning, Pa. This old Christmas tradition was told to me by my wife Theresa.
She said when she was quite young; a group of men and boys from Lansford and Nesquehoning would parade up her street dressed in costumes and masks. She remembers that they made a lot of noise with noisemakers, bells and one of them carried a wooden hatchet.
She said that she was so scarred of them, that one year she ran up into the attic to hide from them.
Just recently, I have heard from Mike Kneis of Lansford. He told me he was one of the Kubo, who went around the homes in Lansford and Summit Hill. His group of boys and young men were from St. Michael's in Lansford. They came around during the 30s. He was only 10 years old and they filled his pants and jacket with straw. He said by the time they got down to the West End of Lansford, the other guys in the group had to carry him home.
My wife's father, John Robin was a big kidder and would call these guys into the house. He would laugh his head off, at the shenanigans these guys pulled off.
I had contacted many people for information about these "Kubo, Gubi, or Goobie" people. They were also called Pasteri, which means Shepherds.
I got bits and pieces of information, here and there. Finally Steve Brunda called Victor Pituch and got the whole story about them. Talk about getting it from the horse's mouth. Pituch was one of the groups that came around to the homes in our area.
He recalls members of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church, which presented skits in keeping with the holy day, made the visitations.
Although they had a lot of fun, it was also a very religious type of "skit" that they presented.
Many families awaited the visit of these carolers or "Bethlehemers" from the church. The "Jaslickary or Bethlehemcy" were carol singers dressed as angels and shepherds. They carried a little Greek/Russian type of church, which contained a nativity set inside.
One of the group also dressed like St. Nick or Santa Claus and would carry a container to take donations from each household. These donations were for the Pasteri or Shepherds to divide among themselves. Along with the group, an official from the church would be there to receive and document any donations to the church itself.
The way I understand, there were "Kubo or Gubi" groups from not only the Russian, but Greek and Slovak churches down there in Nesquehoning. Each group had their own way of doing things.
St. John's Russian Orthodox Church group when going to each home, would put the model of the church, which contained a Nativity Scene on a table, and then each shepherd would kneel before it and say a particular verse. Also each group dressed in different types of costumes and hats. Some of the groups wore hoods and sheep type masks. According to Victor Pituch, these were the scariest of them all.
The Bethlehemers" were dressed in white garments, with elevated stovepipe cylinder hats. Their outfits also included ribbons of flashy colors across their chest. They also carried staves and a star. Some groups also had on sheep skin capes and wore various masks.
John Gazdick from Nesquehoning remembers being one of the "Gubi." He said he used to put on extra large pants and stuff them with straw. He also said that they wore masks and carried different bells and noisemakers.
The "Kubo, or Gubi," as some people called them, was the comedian in the group, and naturally the main attraction. He chases the children with his wooden hatchet, and threatened to kidnap the bad kids. The "Kuba or Gubi" also chased the girls, attempting to kiss them.
The "Skit" consists of a short presentation of hymns, carols, and the announcement of the glorious birth of Christ.
Refreshments were offered to the "Bethlehemers," as they helped to spread the cheer and joy of Christ's Nativity. Like I said, it was a religious type of thing, but in every house they were offered a little good cheer, and by the time some of these guys got finished, they were feeling quite happy, to say the least.
The visitors reminded everyone about the Angels who brought tidings of great joy to the shepherds as they watched their sheep at night. "For behold, I bring unto you, tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
The carolers, like the Angels, beckoned their listeners to go to Bethlehem or the church to witness the miraculous birth of Jesus. And so, after the visitation of the carolers, the families, like the shepherd, hastened to attend worship services.
The different shepherds say certain verses. There is also singing. Toward the end of the of the presentation when the Old Shepherd who is standing, recites the follow verse.
Dear Orthodox Christians who have so kindly received us into your home; We wish you health, happiness and prosperity. May you praise the Eternal God, and my He bless you for many happy and blessed years! Then they sing one special hymn and the presentation is ended.
We all have our religious customs of some type or other. Religious customs help to preserve our identity. The rich and unique heritage of our forefathers however is slowly being lost by the younger generation as they assimilate into the American way of life.
The customs in the home preserve the idea of the church within the home. I do think it is a shame that many of these customs are going by the wayside. In a very short time, many of these wonderful cherished traditions will be lost and gone forever.
I do hope that my article has brought back pleasant memories to many of my faithful readers. I also hope that by writing about these wonderful times, I may help preserve this wonderful tradition. God Bless and may everyone have a very Merry Christmas!
SS. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church - Lakewood, Ohio
The Carpathian Connection offers sincere thanks to Father Michael Hayduk of St. Mary Church, Cleveland, Ohio for permitting TCC to utilize excerpts from his book "Byzantine Catholic Christmas."
All Shepherds Enter The Home
First Shepherd: Christ is Born! Glorify Him! (Christos Razdajetsja!, Slavite Jeho!). Good afternoon (evening). As you see, I am not alone. My friends and I are shepherds and we come from the land of Bethlehem. We brought with us the manager of Bethlehem; in it rests the newly-born Savior of the world, the Son of God. We would like to tell you the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Old Shepherd: Gather around me, my friends, and I will tell you what happened to me while I tended my flock. A brilliant light appeared in the heavens and brightened the fields around me (Outside, the begin singing: "Angels from Heaven...") I seemed to hear angelic voices in the air. I did not understand it but somehow I felt that something very special was happening. (The angels, while still singing, enter the house, carrying the church. When the shepherds see the angels, they fall to their knees. The angels, still singing, place the church down and complete their song.)
Old Shepherd: Rise my fellow shepherds. The angels have come from heaven to us poor and simple shepherds to announce the joyous news that in Bethlehem we will find the promised Messiah, the Savior whom men have been waiting for since God’s promise in Paradise.
Third Shepherd: Let us go there so that we might glorify him.
Old Shepherd: Yes, my friends, let us go to Bethlehem, where God has been born as Man. We will leave our sheep here. The Lord will look after them for us. On our way we can sing a hymn to God. (The shepherds stand around the church and sing: "Eternal God, Boh Predvicnyj.) After the singing of the carol, the shepherds kneel one at a time before the church.)
First Shepherd: O Jesus, my Savior, grant my prayer. I am but a poor shepherd, but I do have faith in You, Grant, O Lord, that I would remain faithful to You all my life.
Second Shepherd: O Jesus, my life’s Joy, shower me with your blessings and grand what I pray for. My Lord, my only possession is hope in You.
Third Shepherd: O Lord, like the others, I too came here to worship You. My only gift is my love; I offer it to You. Grand that my love for You would ever grow and grow.
Fourth Shepherd: Look down upon me with mercy, O Savior. You have brought salvation to men of all ages. Grant, I pray, that I too may be saved.
Old Shepherd: O Lord, your aged servant humbly bows before You. Bless us, O dear Jesus, all men, the entire world. Fill men’s hearts with Your love that they would love each other. With this beautiful hymn we offer You glory. (All shepherds rise and sing: "Heaven and earth-Nebo I Zemla." After the carol, the old shepherd speaks.)
Old Shepherd: My dear fellow Christians, we are deeply grateful for your warm reception. Our sincere "Thank You" and the best wishes of this Holy Christmas Season. May the good Lord Jesus, grant you all you need. May He bless you with health and happiness. May these gifts of the Lord be yours for many years.
All Sing: God grant you many years (2), God grant you many, happy years. In health and happiness (2), God grant you many, happy years!
Mno-ha-ja L’i-ta, Bla-ha-ja L’i-ta, Mnohaja Bla-ha-ja L’i-ta, Vo zdra-vi-ji, vo spa-se-ni ji, Mno-ha-ja Bla-ha-ja L’i-ta!
Rozdestvo Tvoje Christe Boze nas, vozsija mirovi svit razuma, v nem zvizdam sluzasciji, zvizdoju ucachusja, Tebi klanatisja Solncu pravdy, i Tebe vid’iti soysoty Vostoka, Hospodi slava Tebi!
Thy Nativity, O Christ, our God, shineth forth the light of reason over the earth, for, in it, they who served the stars, were by a star taught to adore Thee, the Son of Truth, and to see Thee from the heights of the East; O Lord, glory to Thee!
S NAMI BOH
S nami Boh, razumijte jazycy i pokarjajtesja, jako s nami Boh!
GOD IS WITH US
God is with us, understand, O ye nations, and subject yourselves, for God is with us!
O KTO, KTO
O kto, kto, Nikolaja L’ubit, O, kto, kto, Nikolaju sluzit, tomu svjatyj Nikolaj, Na vsjakij cas pomahaj, Nikolaj, Nikolaj!
The friends of Nicholas do love him, the friends of Nicholas revere Him, many favors he bestows, many graces he obtains, Mighty Patron Nicholas!
Boh Predvicnyj, narodilsja, Prijsov dnes, so nebes Aby spas, lud svoj ves, I utisil sja!
Eternal God, came down to earth, Shepherds adore, angels sing, star shine on the newborn king, Jesus Christ is born!
NEBO I ZEML’A
Nebo i zemla, nebo i zemla, Nyni torzestvujut. Anhely lude, anhely lude, Veselo prazdnujut. Christos Rodilsja, Boh Boplotilsja, Anhely spivajut, carije vitajut, Poklon otdajut, pastyrije, hrjajut, Cudo, cudo povidajut!
HEAVEN AND EARTH
Heaven and Earth, Heaven and Earth, now welcome their redeemer. Angels and people, Angels and people, join in a celebration. Salvation is begun, born is the virgin’s son, angel voices ringing, wise men gifts are bringing, Shepherds tell the story, star proclaims the glory, Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Nova radost stala, jaka ne byvala, Nad vertepom zvizda jasna, Sv’ituj vozs’ijala!
There was great rejoicing, on this Christmas morning, over the manger, softly glowing, the bright star was shining!
CURATOR of the Andy Warhol Museum in Michalovce, Michal Bycko, comes from the northeastern region where the Ruthenian minority forms a significant part of the population. He was raised in the picturesque village of Zbudská Belá and his family celebrated a traditional orthodox Christmas.
"The traditional Ruthenian Christmas was a ritual. In the evening the oldest member of the family started the celebration by calling everybody to follow him to a spring. There, we all washed our hands and faces. Then we went to our farm to give thanks to the animals, from which we earned our living, by feeding them with bread.
From there, we went back to the house, where one of the members of the family (usually the wife) had stayed. We all greeted her with 'Christos raždajet sa' ['Jesus Christ was born'] and she replied 'Slavite jeho' ['Celebrate him']. Then we all sat down at the table, which was surrounded by a chain, and on which honey, bread and garlic were laid.
"Why? The honey symbolized good and understanding, the bread life, garlic health, and the chain was a reminder that the family had stayed together. If somebody in the family had died that year, there was a chair and a plate prepared for him at the table.
"First, everybody prayed. Then the head of the family gave his speech and then we ate. After honey, bread and garlic, kapustnica followed - but without sausage as we still fasted - then hríbová mačanka [mushroom sauce], pirohy s kapustou [boiled dumplings with cabbage] and at the end bobaľky s makom [baked damper bread with poppy seeds].
"Then we sat at the table, talked and waited for koľadnykov [carol singers], while eating makovník [poppy seed strudel] and drinking slivovica."
Bycko also remembers his parents bringing a wisp of straw into the room in which the children slept. It symbolised the place where Jesus was born. And when he was young he believed the words of the old men to be true that at midnight the water in the village's spring turned into wine.
"As teenagers, we tried to drink it, but it did not cheer us up. Instead of a hangover, we ended up stuffed with cold water."
When I was a little girl, Christmas was a fun holiday. Today, people have so much to celebrate this holiday but in those days we had little. I was raised with my two brothers in a tenement building but later my mother and father bought their own house. In those times all the people who lived in our building were the same as we were. We shared one bathroom for six families and the rooms were small. My father worked hard in a woolen mill and my mother cleaned laundry for those who lived in a better part of the city. My brothers and myself attended the local school and tried very hard to learn. Christmas was a good time for our family. We did not have much but we had each other. Before the holiday mother would clean the apartment from bottom to top and I would help her. She had one good tablecloth that was used only for the Christmas and Easter holiday. We would scrub the floors, which had no rugs and do our best to make our home perfect for Christmas.
Mother would prepare different Slavic foods. My father at Christmas would take a second job to make extra money. Father would help in the section of the city that had fruit and vegetable stands and would unload the carts when the supplies would arrive. Mother worked very hard to make a delicious meal for us. Our apartment tended to be cold in the winter as coal cost money. Sometimes, father would bring home a wooden crate from the vegetable stands and we would use that for heat. Christmas was a family holiday and my brothers and I looked forward to it. We never expected to get many presents as the children do today. Since our church celebrated Christmas on January 7th, father was able to get presents low in cost. Most years it would snow by our Christmas and this added to the excitement of the holiday. When Christmas Eve came, we would all sit around the table and father would say a prayer in our language. Mother had all the food prepared and we could not wait to eat. As we had our holy supper I remember watching the snowfall outside our small window. The entire tenement building was silent, as most in the building had the same custom that we were practicing.
After we finished our meal, which included mushroom and cabbage soup, a small piece of fish, pirohi, bread and boiled potatoes, we would sit in the parlor. Mother would clean the kitchen and I would help her. My father and brothers put the Christmas tree up and decorated it. We did not have many decorations and most were made of paper in school. We had no lights on our tree but had a star on top, which was painted gold. My parents had a small icon of the nativity and placed this at the bottom of the tree. My parents told me that in the town they came from in Europe they had no Christmas tree. Father thought since we lived in America that we should have one though. After mother and I cleaned the table and kitchen we would go in the pallor to look at the tree and talk. The Christmas Eve service was held in those days at 8 p.m. with another service at midnight. Father always liked to go for the 8 p.m. service as he felt the midnight service was too late for the children. As we left for church, my father would carry me as I had only one good pair of shoes and he did not want them to be ruined in the snow. Church was crowded and mother and father would greet many of their friends with good wishes for Christmas. The service was very long and had a lot of reading and singing from the choir. The church was cozy and the glow of the candles always made it very pretty. The church was decorated but, we had no Christmas tree, this was added years later.
After church mother and father would talk for some time with their friends outside of the church. We children would see our friends and talk about what we hoped our presents would be. I remember that none of the children ever complained to their parents about the presents they received. All those I knew had the same as we did and I suppose that is why the children did not wish for more. Walking home I remember seeing people going to church and how silent the night was. There were hardly any cars in those days and if the snow was high we walked in the street. People greeted each other with a cheerful Christos Razdajetsja! (Christ is Born) to which we responded as is custom Slavite Jeho! (Glorify him). Some people walking had already began to sing different Christmas carols and hearing this made the holiday happier. As we entered our home you could hear people singing in their apartments. Our neighbors came to our door and we went to theirs to wish them a good holiday. Mother left our door open, as did all the other families and the children ran back and forth to visit each other.
When mother and father were ready they would call us home. We all gathered in the pallor and father gave us our gifts. Our presents were very few but we appreciated them. We received a pair of socks each, an orange or an apple, a few pennies, a piece of candy and homemade hats and gloves that mother had made. Our biggest gift was one toy each. One year we received a spin top, a rubber ball to play with and a game of checkers. My one brother loved to read and my father had also given him a comic book. He read this book until it fell apart. We did not have the custom of believing in Santa Claus as people do in America. Father and Mother always gave us our gifts. After we opened our presents we would sit with our parents and play while mother and father talked. You could hear others in the tenement building by this time singing carols very loud and father would join right in while sitting in his chair. I never remember our home being cold on Christmas. I asked mother about this years later. She said that father had saved up before the holiday to buy extra coal so that on Christmas Eve and Christmas day we would be warm.
Finally, we would go to bed happy with our gifts. Mother and father would stay up, eat more and talk. The next morning we would attend early church service so that we could enjoy the entire day. Father had no work this day and we enjoyed having him home with us. Mother would prepare a small ham for the days dinner and would have a vegetable and a delicious cold sauerkraut salad. For desert we had Kolachi, which were filled with nut and lekvar as my family did not like the poppyseed filling. After our meal we would then again play with our toys in the parlor. During the day various relatives would come to visit and late in the afternoon we would go to their homes. All during this day people were singing carols and eating what they had. We did not have far to go as most of our family and friends all lived on the same block or the next blocks over. When we returned home in the evening mother would wash us in the tin basin. As mother and father put us to bed I always remember how they asked if we enjoyed our Christmas presents. I always said yes as did my brothers. My parents always tried so hard to make life happy for us and especially at the holidays though we had little. As we fell asleep the day came to an end and yet another Christmas had passed. These are some of my memories of the Christmas holidays as a child.
Some of the traditional recipes which are made for Velija (Holy Supper) are listed below. There are many variations to these recipes depending on family custom, heritage and region.
1 c. Milk, 2 ½ Tbsp. Sugar, 2 ½ tsp. Salt, ½ c. Warm Water, 6 c. All-Purpose Flour Sifted, 2 ½ Tbsp Shortening, 1 tsp. Sugar, ½ c. Warm Water, 1 pkg. Dry Yeast, 1 ½ cups of Ground Poppy Seeds.
Dissolve the sugar in warm water. Sprinkle the dry yeast in water. Let stand for approximately 10 minutes (keep in warm place) then stir. Scald milk then add sugar and salt. Let cool to room temperature. Add warm water to yeast mixture to the milk, add half the flour and beat well. Milt shortening and add to the rest of the flour. Knead the dough quickly for a few minutes until smooth. Place in buttered bowl and then cover until double in size for approximately 1 ½ hours. Punch down and then let rise again. Divide into two portions. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 15 minutes. Remove from bowl and pinch off round pieces of dough and place on baking sheet in 375 degrees for approximately 15 minutes or until brown. When cool, take pieces and place in strainer. Cook Poppy seeds in 3/4 cup of water for approximately 10 minutes. Bring three cups of mil to boil and add 1 cup of honey or sugar depending upon preference. Pour 2 cups hot water over bread dough in strainer. Mi the poppy seed, milk and sugar or honey together and pour over bread balls. Mix well. When semi-cool, place in pan with aluminum foil bottom. Refrigerate.
Brown onion in 1/2 stick of butter in a 4 quart pot. Add cabbage, cover and cook for approximately5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Extra salt and pepper to taste.CARAWAY SOUP
½ c. Caraway Seed, ½ Stick Butter, 1 tsp. Flour, 2 Quarts Water, Salt to Taste.
Fry caraway see in butter until brown, add flour while frying then add 2 quarts water and cool for approximately 30 minutes until see is soaked. Strain soup into a pot, then rinse seed once more before discarding. Add salt to taste.
KOLACHI WITH NUT FILLING
Dough: 8 c. Flour, ½ c. butter, 5 Eggs, 1 Yeast Cake-Dissolved, 2 c. Lukewarm Milk, 1 c. Sugar, 1 tsp. Salt.
Filling: 1 lb. Walnuts, ½ c. Sugar or Honey, ½ c. Milk, 1 Tbsp. Butter. When ready to fill, warm the milk and mix all ingredients.
Put flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. In the center add the milk, butter, eggs and yeast. Knead the dough until soft and smooth. Divide into 6 balls. Cover and set aside to rise. Roll out dough into a rectangle on a floured board. Spread nut filling on the dough and roll up. Place on greased pan. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes depending upon oven.
2 lb. Fresh Mushrooms (dried can also be used but they must be placed in water overnight), 1 Large Onion, 2 Cloves Garlic, 2 Tbsp. Oil, 2 c. Water, 1 ½ tsp. Salt, 2 c. Sauerkraut Juice, 1 c. Tomato Sauce, 1/4 c. Flour (or as much as needed.)
Saute chopped onion and garlic in oil. Add fresh, cut up mushrooms and water. Cook for one hour. Add sauce and one cup Sauerkraut juice. Cook for another ½ hour. Mix flour with the remaining cup of Sauerkraut juice. Slowly pour the mixture into the soup and make suer the soup is on low heat. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
Dough: 3 c. Flour, 3 Eggs, 1/2 c. Lukewarm Water, 4 Tbsp. Sour Creme, Pinch of Salt.
Mix ingredients and knead into a soft dough. Set aside in a covered bowl for 15 minutes. Divide dough in half and roll in 1/8 inch thickness. Cut circles with glass, place a teaspoon of filling in enter and fold square. Pinch ends and seal well. Drop in boiling water. Stir with wooden spoon for 10 minutes or until Pirogi rise to the top of the pan. Remove and place in strainer.
Filling - Potato-Cheese: 2 c. Mashed Potatoes, ½ lb. Cheese, 1 Chopped Onion-Sauteed, Salt and Pepper to Taste. Mix mashed potatoes, cheese and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste, add as filling when dough is ready.
Throughout Eastern Europe and especially within the Carpathian mountain regions, devotion to Saint Nicholas is wide spread. A revered saint, both in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, his feast day of December 6th is a prelude to the Christmas season. While the name of Saint Nicholas has become synonymous with Santa Claus, this beloved saint was not imaginary and his positive traits are universally known. Saint Nicholas was born to an affluent family in the second half of third century in Asia Minor. After his parent's death, it is told he offered his inheritance to assist those who were destitute. Turning from a comfortable position in life, he would eventually devote himself to the poor, oppressed and neglected. Saint Nicholas was orphaned at an early age and no doubt this made him very sensitive to those who experienced hardships. Later on, he studied and was ordained to the priesthood. This was the beginning of his service to God and those entrusted to his care. Many stories offer that he served the poor, comforted the suffering and strove to protect the innocent. There are also numerous legends and miracles attributed to Saint Nicholas. Some well known events from his life are saving three maidens who were to be sold into an evil lifestyle, raising three young men back to life who had been murdered and returning a young man who had been abducted to his parents. There are abundant legends regarding Saint Nicholas and these have gained him recognition as a patron saint. One legend states while traveling by ship, a fierce storm developed. While others on board thought they were lost, Saint Nicholas began to pray and the storm disappeared. It is due to this legend that Saint Nicholas is revered as the patron of sailors. Not only sailors but countries and churches have adopted him as their patron. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the Greek Catholic church. He is also the patron saint of Greece, Russia and Sicily. He is the patron of a wide variety of professions and people with some being bakers, children, pharmacists, pilgrims, students, the poor, travelers and unmarried women.
When the Archbishop of Myra died, Saint Nicholas was chosen to take his position. The story is told that the bishops could not decide upon a candidate. God revealed to the bishops his preference that the first priest to enter the cathedral was his choice. When Saint Nicholas entered the cathedral to say his morning prayers, the bishops realized who was chosen. During his life, Saint Nicholas devoted himself to the service of the poor and unwanted. He was also known as a defender of those incorrectly judged and individuals who were treated unfairly. After a lifetime of service to God, he passed away on December 6th. Saint Nicholas was interred within the cathedral but later his remains were transported to Italy. Even to this day, fragrant myrrh flows from the relics of Saint Nicholas. Numerous healings have been attributed to him and have earned him the title "Wonder Worker". There are uncounted churches within Eastern Europe and Russia named for Saint Nicholas. A few of these churches are the magnificent Naval St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Epiphany in Russia (1753-1762), the elegant wooden church of St. Nicholas in Krivka, Ukraine (1763), and the wooden church of Saint Nicholas in Bodruzal, Slovakia (1658). Not just a saint for centuries past but even today, many benefits are attributed to his intercession.
It is said that in 1907, miners from Pennsylvania instead of going to work attended liturgy for Saint Nicholas day. During this day there was an explosion at the mine and many individuals were killed. Those who attended the feast day of Saint Nicholas instead of working were spared. Another miracle during modern times is said to have taken place in Kiev during the 1920’s. A mother prayed that her son who was in the army would be released from service. After praying incessantly to Saint Nicholas, her son was randomly set free. There are many churches and wayside shrines dedicated to Saint Nicholas in the Carpathian Mountain regions. Many of these wayside shrines were erected in his honor due to favors and miracles received.
Devotion to this Saint is especially strong within the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches. Within the Greek Catholic church, there is a special hymn in his honor and numerous icons in both religions speak of his life and the miracles he performed. In the Slovak Republic, devotion to Saint Nicholas is very devout. Children today still receive small gifts on his feast day of fruit, candy or nuts. In various villages and towns, Saint Nicholas even makes an appearance. An adult will dress in a bishop’s vestment complete with miter and staff. Depending upon the village or town, he will "greet" the children and adults at the church or, by walking throughout the community. This yearly commemoration on the feast of Saint Nicholas is just as exciting for children as it is for adults. Saint Nicholas is revered and recognized throughout the world. His life of service and generosity make him the perfect saint to preface the Christmas season.
GREEK CATHOLIC HYMN TO SAINT NICHOLAS
Transcribed from the 1944 Moj Molitvennik (My Prayer Book)
O kto, kto Nikolaju l’ubit,
O kto, kto Nikolaju sluzit,
Tomu svajatyj Nikolaj,
Na vsjakij cas pomahaj;
O kto, kto zivet v jeho dvor’i,
Pomoscnik na zeml’i i morji,
Izmet jeho ot napasti,
Ne dast jemu v hr’ichi vpasti;
Pravilo v’iry I obraz krostosti, vozderzanija ucitel’a, javi ta stadu tvojemu, jaze bescej istina; seho radi stazal jesi smirenijem vysokaja, niscetoju bohataja; otce svjascennonacalnice Nikolaje, moli Christa Boha, spastisja dusam nasim.
Truth hath revealed thee a standard of faith, a pattern of kindliness and a teacher of temperance to thy flock. Thus, by humility thou hast gained exaltedness, by poverty, riches; Archpriest, Father Nicholas implore Christ God that our souls be saved.
Vo Mur’ich svjate, svjascennodijstvitel pokazalja jesi; Christovo bo, prepodobne, jevanhlije ispolniv, polozil jesi dusu tvoju o ludech tvojich, I spasl jesi nepovinnyja ot smerti; seho radi osvjatilsja jesi jako velikij tajinnik Bozija blahodati.
In Myra, O Holy Father, thou has shown thyself a true shepherd; for thou has fulfilled the Gospel of Christ. Thou has laid down thy life for thy people, and saved the innocent from death; wherefore thou has been exalted as a great dispenser of God’s grace.
A GREEK CATHOLIC PRAYER TO SAINT NICHOLAS
O, our bountiful father and patron of our Greek Rite Catholic Church, Saint Nicholas! Shepherd and teacher of all those who fly to thy protection and by devout prayer call upon thee for aid, hasten and save the flock of Christ from the ravenous wolves and by thy holy prayers protect all Christian lands, save them from worldly disturbances, earthquakes, attacks from abroad, from internal strife, famine, flood, fire, sword and sudden death; and as thou had mercy on those three men in prison and saved them from the king’s wrath, have mercy on me also and through thy intercession and aid, as well as through his own mercy and grace, may Christ, our God, allow me to lead a serene and sinless life, and save me from standing on "His Left" but may deem me worthy to stand on "His Right" with all the Saints. Amen.
AN ORTHODOX PRAYER TO SAINT NICHOLAS
Hierarch and father, O most holy Nicholas, thou extraordinary Saint of the Lord, our loving defender and ready helper in sorrows everywhere, help us sinners and hapless ones in the present life, entreat the Lord God to grant us remission of all of our sins, that we have committed from our youth and all our life, by deed, word, though and all our senses; and in the passing of our souls, help us wretched ones; entreat the Lord God and Maker of all creation, to deliver us from trials and eternal torment: that we may always glorify the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and thy merciful intercession, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
“Things have certainly changed, but this store remains the same,” says Markian Surmach, the owner of Surma — a family-run shop in the heart of New York City’s historic Ukrainian neighborhood on the Lower East Side. “Just look at it,” he says, pointing to Taras Schevchenko Place across the street, where the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art recently built a state-of-the-art facility. The steel-and-glass building occupies the full length of the city block, casting a long shadow over Surma’s modest storefront in a prewar walk-up building.
For nearly a century, Surma has served the city’s Ukrainian community, selling products from the homeland, such as traditional embroidered clothes and accessories, artwork, antiques and Ukrainian-language book and newspapers. “They find their culture, and they find themselves here,” says Mr. Surmach. “People come to the store in search of a simpler and less complicated way of life.” Before getting lost in Surma’s labyrinth of authentic Ukrainian treasures, patrons pass by a small glass showcase near the entrance. Inside, dozens of pysanky, or traditionally decorated chicken and goose eggs, shimmer on display. Radiant red, yellow and orange eggs intersperse with others dyed cooler hues of blue, green and violet. Intricate Christian and ancient pagan symbols adorn the surfaces.
As with most Slavs of Eastern Europe — Croats, Czechs, Poles, Rusyns and Slovaks — Ukrainians have cultivated the art of egg decoration to commemorate Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. However, pysanky are also an intricate string in the collective fabric of Ukrainians and people of Ukrainian descent around the world. The designs serve as a living record and reminder of a shared, idyllic agrarian past.
“They’re not just eggs,” explains Mr. Surmach. “They have meaning. They represent a culture that respected the world around them.” In the Soviet era, authorities suppressed pysanky (from the Ukrainian verb pysaty, “to write”) along with other religious practices and most national cultural expressions. Nevertheless, Ukrainians continued making pysanky in secret, and they quickly emerged as emblems of national resistance.
Mr. Surmach himself readily shares the memory of the first time he decorated an egg. “I would have rather been out with my friends and not painting eggs,” he says with a laugh. Mr. Surmach still occasionally makes pysanky with family and friends. However, he imports from Ukraine those he sells in his shop. “I have respect for it now,” he says, as he carefully removes a small blue-and-white one from the showcase and holds it up to the light to reveal the design’s delicate detail. Artists and historians debate precisely when Slavs first began creating pysanky. Most, though, agree that the art form appeared in the region at least 2,000 years ago.
This is the history of a civilization,” says Sofika Zielyk, a renowned New York-area pysanky artist and friend of Mr. Surmach. She learned the basics of the craft from her mother, making her first psysanky at the age of 6. Now in her late 40’s, she has spent the last 20 years perfecting the art form. She has exhibited her work in galleries around the country, most notably at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Craft Museum in New York City. According to Ms. Zielyk, the region’s early inhabitants worshiped the sun god, Dazhbog, who warmed the earth and was the source of all life. As agrarian people, they depended on the sun’s rays to help cultivate the crops they needed to survive. The pagan cosmology reserved a sacred place for birds, as they alone could fly close to the sun god. The early Slavs, however, did have access to birds’ eggs, whose yolk resembled the sun. They believed eggs possessed magical powers and cherished them as talismans.
They painted depictions of flora and fauna found in the natural world around them on the eggs’ surfaces with colors derived from organic materials. From berries, they extracted the color red; from leaves, green; and from tree bark, brown and orange. The early Slavic peoples eventually started drawing geometric designs, symbolizing elements of their cosmology. Many of the shapes have endured through the millennia and remain staples of pysanky’s vocabulary. After Slavs embraced Christianity from Byzantium in 988, they adapted many of their customs to Christianity. The egg itself, once the symbol of spring and nature’s “rebirth,” became that of Christ’s resurrection and man’s rebirth. Traditional pysanky designs, too, changed meanings. The most common and iconic of them, the eight-pointed star, today represents Jesus Christ. In pagan times, however, it was the sign of Dazhbog.
Experts do not agree on when and where Christians began using decorated eggs to celebrate Easter. The oldest existing historical record of Christian-era pysanky in Ukraine dates back to only 1650, when French cartographer Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan described them in his travel log from a visit to the country. Tanya Osadca, a celebrated psyanky artist and esteemed authority on Ukrainian folk art, concedes that other Slavic peoples and Greeks also have long traditions of decorating eggs in a similar fashion to commemorate the Christian holiday. The custom, she says, may even have developed in the West as early as the 13th century, after King Edward I of England gave members of his court colored eggs as gifts. “But,” says Ms. Osadca about Ukrainian pysanky, “I don’t think anyone else has such intricate designs.”
Pysanky artist Sofika Zielyk sits in a chair next to a small coffee table in the living room of her apartment on New York City’s Lower East Side. As she discusses her craft and its symbolism, she pulls out two baskets filled with pysanka eggs from beneath the table. “No two eggs are the same,” she says. “No matter what you do, the eggs will always look different.” he apartment feels more like a Ukrainian art museum than a home. Bookshelves filled with countless pysanky line the walls. Large plates hold bunches of the delicately painted eggs. Some are made of ceramic. Most, though, are ordinary chicken and goose eggs. A few large ones are ostrich eggs. Next to the bookshelves hang two paintings by the Ukrainian artist Opanas Zalyvakha. A Soviet dissident in the 1960’s and 1970’s, he was arrested, imprisoned, persecuted and finally exiled by Ukraine’s Communist authorities. The painter offered Ms. Zielyk the paintings — entitled “The Rising” and “Moscow’s Huge Embrace” — in return for one of her decorated goose eggs. Though his health was failing at the time, Ms. Zielyk says her egg struck a chord with the master.
“I told him it would keep evil spirits away,” she says. In response, he smiled, gallantly took her hand in his and kissed it. She selects an egg from her collection and holds it out. On it, she has painted a sequence of white circles around its circumference. She says wives usually offer pysanky with this pattern to husbands whom they suspect of infidelity. “The hoops come off at night to bind the man,” she says with a coy smile. “I sell a lot of these.” The materials required to make traditional pysanky include virgin white eggs, candlewax, dye and a kistka, or a pencil- size stick with a tiny funnel attached at the end. With the large end of the kistka’s funnel, the artist collects melted wax from a lit candle. The artist then draws the pattern or symbol onto the shell with the thin stream of liquefied wax as it exits the fine end of the funnel.
“I enjoy lighting that match,” says Ms. Zielyk. “It’s the beginning of the process, and it relaxes me. It’s a connection I have to something someone did 2,000 years ago, and I’m doing it in modern-day Manhattan.” The artist then submerges the entire egg into a bowl of colored dye. The hardened wax protects the portion of egg it covers from the dye. The artist removes the egg, dries it and, depending on the design, adds patterns or symbols with the kistka. The process is repeated. As a final step, the artist carefully removes the wax. Only then do psyanky reveal their true colors. “You can’t move forward without looking back,” says Ms. Zielyk, as she slowly rotates one of her pysanky in her hand as if discovering it for the first time. A myriad of factors affect the outcome, says Ms. Zielyk. A shaky hand, a change in mood or an egg’s individual shape and texture can make or break a successful design. “It’s not a project for the impatient,” says Ms. Zielyk, adding that she has had students quit after realizing how difficult it is to create symmetrical motifs on an egg’s surface. Depending on the intricacy of the design, the process may take a few hours to a few days.
You have to have good eyes and steady hands,” she says, “and eventually a sore back.” Some people prefer to make pysanky using a much simpler method. A new product helps create colorful and intricate pysanky in just minutes. It consists of plastic decals saturated with reproductions of traditional pysansky. Tailored to fit standard eggs, the decal transfers its design onto an egg’s shell when submerged in water. “It’s cheating,” jokes Natalia Honcharenko, the museum director at the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey. The center, nonetheless, sells the increasingly popular decals in its gift shop along with plastic eggs and other novelties. Serious aficionados may also purchase kistky, old-fashioned beeswax and step-by-step guidebooks and videos. The center — run by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America — plans to complete a 30,000 square-foot Ukrainian museum, which will house a permanent pysanky exhibit. In the meantime, it stores its collection of priceless works of art and artifacts, including paintings, portraits, sculptures and books — some of which are more than 300 years old — in the adjacent cultural center.
“This is one of our best in the collection,” says Ms. Honcharenko, as she carefully opens a green box filled with cards. On each of the cards is a hand-drawn image of a pysanka. In the 19th century, the Duchess Katerina Skarzy dispatched artists across Ukraine to draw pysanky and itemize the symbols in their designs and their meanings. The museum has more than 4,000 of the cards and an original copy of the catalog of the symbols. During World War II, many believed the set to have been destroyed and lost forever. Miraculously, though, Konstantyn and Olena Moschenko, natives of Poltava, Ukraine, managed to assemble and preserve it through the tumultuous period.
In 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Moschenko donated the collection to the church, which served as the foundation for the present archive and soon-to-open museum. Today, experts from around the world visit the center to study the cards. The artifacts help preserve Ukrainian culture, says Ms. Honcharenko, as she gently peruses the 200-year-old catalogue. “It’s important to know your past to know who you are,” she says. “It helps shape you. This is what we will teach the next generation.”
A volunteer at St. Mary’s packs bags of peroghi, all of which will be sold.
There were many reasons I was looking forward to my first visit to eastern Czechoslovakia in 1991, but the cuisine was not one of them. Coming from a Slovenian-Slovak background, I was familiar with the region’s food, the wide variety of sausages, the predominance of pork. I am not knocking the food, but I was pretty sure of some of its limitations.
I am a vegetarian. For years I have lived in Japan, a country of ample culinary delights even for those, like me, who eschew meat.
I would not be so lucky in Eastern Europe, or so I thought.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Not long after I arrived, I came across byrndza, a rich sheep cheese. It is commonly served with halusky, potato dumplings not unlike Italian gnocchi. On another day, I was treated to bite-size perohy, pockets of dough commonly stuffed with potato and cheese, sauerkraut or even fruit or jam. Better known as peroghi, they are popular in my home state of Pennsylvania. One summer in high school, I worked for a local peroghi producer, but the varieties I discovered in Eastern Europe were unlike any I had ever tasted.
Over the years, I have made many more trips to the region, primarily to Slovakia (the eastern half of the former Czechoslovakia). Along with the previously described treats, I have happily subsisted on soups, potatoes and cabbage, the “king of vegetables,” according to the French who are said to know something about food.
One of my most memorable visits, on assignment for this magazine in the late 1990’s, was to Tichy Potok, a small Ruthenian village in the hardscrabble hinterlands of eastern Slovakia. The Ruthenians are Slavs, typically Greek Catholic, from the southern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.
It was Good Friday, a day of fasting for this predominantly Greek Catholic village. All week, many of the villagers had fasted, most alternating days of meatless meals with days of only bread and water. But there were some exempted from the fast: the sick, nursing mothers, travelers (like me) and men chopping wood in the forests.
For my visit, Tichy Potok’s mayor, Lubica Dzuna, had arranged a lunch. One particularly devout older woman, Anna Kiktava, had only bread and water, while the rest of us enjoyed an excellent, and meatless, meal of onion soup, potato pancakes, walnut cookies and mint tea.
In fact, there is little use of meat in Ruthenian traditional cuisine. Meat is expensive and the Ruthenians, for the most part, have never been wealthy. Because of the harsh climate and short growing season, there is little access to exotic fruits and vegetables. Potatoes, noodles and dumplings are the most common fare. When meat is served, it is typically pork. Most families have a pig, which they slaughter before Christmas and consume throughout the following year.
On another Easter visit to Tichy Potok I found myself in Maria Dodova-Basistova’s tidy kitchen learning to make peroghi. “Everyone likes peroghi,” she said.
Traditionally, women made peroghi early in the morning to take to the men working the fields and forests for their midday meal. It is a time-consuming dish to prepare, so these days they are made on special occasions.
Along with the peroghi, I learned to make halusky with sauerkraut with the help of Anna Kosca. As good as it was, I was more impressed by her raka, a delicious caraway soup. It is a simple dish: a small onion sautéed in butter, flour to make a roux, caraway seeds, a dash of salt and paprika, and some water. Mrs. Kosca added some small dumplings to put in the soup. Another woman made a fragrant dill soup. And on the dreary, wet morning that we left Tichy Potok, Anna Kiktava and her sister Maria made a bean soup of kidney beans, diced carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac and potatoes.
In the early 20th century many Ruthenian immigrants came from villages in Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. St. Mary Protector, a Byzantine Catholic church in Kingston, near Wilkes-Barre, was founded to serve these immigrants, whose descendants have stayed in the area long after the mines shut down.
Four times a year St. Mary’s holds a peroghi sale, twice during the 40-day Filipovka fast before Christmas and twice during the 40-day Great Fast before Easter.
For each sale, about 30 volunteers spend two days making 4,000 potato peroghi. Church fund-raisers selling Ruthenian food are common in most parts of Pennsylvania, including my hometown of Bethlehem. (The regional popularity of peroghi is such that Pittsburgh is called the “peroghi capital of the world.”) The language and many of the traditions of the old country may fade, but its foods bind the generations together. Such is the American “melting pot.”
Conversation at St. Mary’s peroghi sale inevitably turns to food. Just as in Eastern Europe, the parishioners once slaughtered their pigs around Christmas, curing the meat to last throughout the following year. For Lent, people made do with “a barrel of cabbage and a bin of potatoes,” I was told.
While some Byzantine Catholics (as Greek Catholics are called in the United States) observe a strict lenten fast, many just abstain from meat and dairy products on alternating days. As in Tichy Potok, older people tend to be more observant. Father Theodore Krepp, pastor of St. Mary’s, acknowledged the unevenness of the fasting. “We’re all working on perfection so there’s no expectation that we are perfect. Part of being a Christian is to keep working on it.”
This year, I joined the parishioners for two days of peroghi making. Most of the volunteers were in their 70s. Recognizing the need to get younger parishioners involved, Father Krepp made an open plea to his congregation. Ann Derhammer and Arleen Sovak, two middle-aged sisters, were among those who volunteered their services. When Father said we’d have to stop the tradition of making peroghi unless more people helped, we decided to come,” said Ms. Derhammer.
For many years, it took several women an entire day to make the dough for the peroghi. But recently, retired baker Joe Natishan assumed responsibility for the kitchen and brought in a mechanized dough maker to speed the process. Mr. Natishan oversees a crew of four, who make the dough, mashed potatoes and cheese filling.
St. Mary’s parishioners make peroghi.
Next, other volunteers stuff the filling into the dough, assembling thousands of peroghi. Then, Mr. Natishan’s crew takes over, boiling the peroghi, dipping them in butter to prevent sticking and cooling them on trays. Other volunteers pack the finished product into bags, about a dozen in each.
Eleanor Putprush, Margaret Sodrosky and Mary Cichy have made peroghi at St. Mary’s since the 1950’s. “We used to bring our kids along and give them little rolling pins to roll out dough,” they said. Mrs. Cichy’s daughter, Rose, a librarian in Wilkes-Barre, was helping for her third time. “It’s nice to be doing something that has a purpose, has a tradition and is fun. You feel like you’re learning.”
At lunch on Monday, caterer Anna Lahaszow, 72, used Father Krepp’s kitchen to show me how to make machanka, a tomato gravy recipe her mother brought from eastern Slovakia. When I first heard of machanka, I had thought it was perhaps Ruthenian for lecso, tomatoes stewed with banana peppers and onions, which my Slovenian grandmother, born in Hungary, used to make. Brought from Serbia, in Hungary lecso is often mixed with eggs. A Greek Catholic Slovakian friend of mine once told me it was his favorite lenten meal.
Machanka, though a more straightforward gravy, is a lot like lecso, delicious on its own or over noodles, potatoes or even peroghi. It can also be canned or frozen. Mrs. Lahaszow recalled her favorite lenten meal: salmon croquettes, machanka and fried potatoes with onions. Meanwhile, we sampled a variety of other tasty lenten foods: machanka over peroghi, vegetarian bean soup and mushroom and pea soup.
Confident and brisk, Mrs. Lahaszow reminded me of Mary Poppins, albeit in a Ruthenian-American incarnation. Over lunch, she recited the recipes for the two soups in front of us and three more. I breathlessly took notes.
The volunteers grew up making peroghi at home and some still do. Like potato pancakes and haluski (cabbage and noodles, not to be confused with halusky) peroghi is eaten on many Fridays throughout the year. Children coming home for the holidays still expect the traditional dishes. Most folks in Kingston now buy their peroghi from St. Mary’s.
Toward the end of my visit to St. Mary’s, Mrs. Putprush, one of the peroghi makers, mentioned raka, the caraway soup I had eaten in Tichy Potok but had somehow forgotten. The mere mention of raka took me back to Slovakia.
This simple dish was made differently in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Putprush broke several eggs into her soup, letting them poach. She also added scrambled eggs to the mixture. The end product, though different, was delicious.
So absorbed with the making of this soup, I didn’t notice that the peroghi making was complete. The volunteers were leaving, their work done. It was time for me to go too. And so I left, fully sated, with recipes in hand.
Of all the traditions brought to the United States by the eastern Slavs (Ruthenians, Slovaks and Ukrainians), one of the most impressive is the delicate art of pysanky; better known as Ukrainian Easter Eggs.
Prior to the Slavs’ adoption of Christianity before the end of the first millennium, the egg signified life and was associated with magical characteristics; it was used as a talisman to appease the forces of nature. Imagine the importance of the first eggs of spring to the largely agricultural societies of Eastern Europe long before the era of the climate-controlled egg farm; egg production dropped dramatically during the long winter.
After the Christianization of the Slavs, these pagan symbols took on Christian interpretations. Today, these pagan symbols prevail in the art and customs of the eastern Slavs.
The circle or unbroken line is special – in a less cynical age it was magical. The newly baptized Slavs believed the lines encircling the egg signified life itself. Two lines or a ribbon depicted the journey of life. Small lines crossing the ribbon indicated a ladder or the steps in one’s journey to heaven.
The sun, which was worshipped by the pre-Christian Slavs, also figures prominently in pysanky. The sun takes many forms, which illustrate not only the sun’s role as a light for the world but also Christ as the light of the world.
Stylized portrayals of plants and animals are also included. Wheat symbolizes Ukraine (literally, “Hinterland”) as the breadbasket of Europe. Pussy willows, as the earliest flowering plants of the season, are also popular. Decorated pussy willows replace palms usually reserved for Palm (Passion) Sunday; hence the use of “Willow Sunday” in Slavic churches here and abroad for this triumphant feast.
(The author draws with hot wax.)
Every color has a special meaning. Red symbolizes not only the blood of Christ, but the passions of life – happiness and hope. Green represents spring, the renewal of life and wishes of good health. Black, which signifies remembrance, dark red and purple (the royal color of faith) are reserved for the elderly. The lighter colors epitomize youth.
Pysanky (pysanka is the singular form) are made using the batik or reverse wax method. Fresh eggs, traditionally left whole but now blown, are dipped in dyes beginning with the lighter colors and ending with the darker pigments. The designs are drawn on each color with hot beeswax. When the process is complete, the layers of hardened wax melt away by placing the egg near a flame, revealing the egg’s jewel-like tones.
The finished pysanky are given to friends and loved ones during the Easter season with the traditional kiss and words, “Christos Voskrese!” – Christ is Risen!
From eastern Slovakia to eastern Ukraine, from southern Poland to northern Croatia, these eastern Slavs developed a strong culture based on a deep faith in religion and family, and a love of the land. Always subjugated, and often persecuted, the eastern Slavs were driven from their homes in large numbers at the turn of the century and migrated to the land of opportunity. Drawn to the mines and factories of central and western Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and New York, they built their own churches and schools – some would say they built whole cities.
(Felix adds ancient native American designs to his pysanka.)
A second wave of immigrants arrived after the horrors of World War II. These new arrivals sought out their friends and relatives who preceded them and bolstered the sizable Slavic communities throughout the northeast.
Those first immigrants to the United States have long since died. Their children and their childrens’ children are no longer confined to the northeast. Slavic communities exist in almost every state. While the original communities may be dying off, the walls that surrounded them, shielding the inhabitants from other traditions and people, are falling down as well. Today many Slavic communities, their origins rooted in different countries, empires and religions, have been redefined and revitalized. The making of pysanky has been invigorated by the infusion of traditions from eastern and western Ukraine, southern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.
Today, those of us that continue the tradition remember an ancient proverb that has followed us from the old country, “the world will never end as long as a single pysanka is made.”
Ms. Grega and Mr. Maio are members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Byzantine Catholic Church in Albuquerque, N.M.
Easter is certainly a religious occasion but as a youngster we also had our fun times on these holy days. One tradition that I remembered is using a whip on Easter Monday. When I was six or seven years old, I went up to a neighbors home (Valucks) and someone gave me a braided whip made out of palm leaves or small pussy willow branches. Somehow my memory just can't remember what that particular whip was made from. I do remember that it was well braided and a thing of beauty. I was told it is a custom to go to the women of the house and whip her legs (ever so gently) after which I would be rewarded with Easter candy or colored Easter eggs. I do remember that some kids only used the branches off of a pussy willow tree. In those days, gifts of candy or Easter eggs were very appreciated. Lil Junis has written a small booklet on Slovakia. In it she expands on some of the customs that were observed in Western Slovakia. She wrote that in the spring, girls in costumes walk through the streets carrying a large white dummy of Morena (Goddess of Winter) on a pole, then they would throw the doll into a local stream, signifying the end of winter. She said that on Easter Monday, boys playfully whip (with thin braided branches) and also dunk girls with water.
The legend states that the branches used for whipping posses youth and beauty and that it is transferred to the girls. It is believed that the water makes them pure. Then the boys pour some perfume on the girls hair. The girls in return give chocolates, painted eggs, cake or money to the boys. Some girls have to change wet cloths a few times on this particular day but they do not mind because it's tradition. I would imagine that the more popular the girl, the more she got dunked. It was all done in fun.
In our area many people get their Easter foods blessed. Some of the younger generation are getting away from this. All churches don't bless baskets, but in my wife's church they did. I belong to Slovak-World on the Internet and through e-mail we have all types of discussions. One discussion was regarding the various foods that the different church groups placed in their Easter baskets.
The Ten Foods Placed In The Easter Basket:
Pascha Christ risen. The word Pascha means "Passover," for Christ by his Resurrection passed from death to life, freeing us from the bondage of sin, as once the Jewish people "passed over" from slavery to freedom. Furthermore, the Risen Christ is the "leaven" for the paschal bread which he changed into his own body.
Babka Blessed Mother. Christ's mother must be remembered in the Easter foods. She was intimately involved with the passion and death of her Son. The Babka, baked in a tall, round loaf is rich, fine textured and light, glazed and decorated to symbolize the joy of the Blessed Mother at the news of Christ's Resurrection.
Beets Stain of Sin. The red stain of beets symbolizes the stain caused by sin, which is washed away by Christ's victory over sin, as foretold in an Old Testament prophesy.
Cream Cheese Purity and Goodness. Again, it is the color rather than the food which is important. Cheese symbolized by its whiteness the purity and goodness of the soul without sin.
Butter Burial Ointment. Butter is often shaped into a lamb or small cross for it symbolizes the body of Christ, which was anointed with spices and aloes for burial.
Pysanky Resurrection. Pysanky, multi-colored eggs with symbolic designs, symbolize Christ risen from the tomb, just as an egg can have new life come forth from it. The eggshell signifies the tomb of Christ, the egg white symbolizes the white linen Christ's body (the egg yolk) was wrapped in. Hard-boiled egg, unshelled to represent the new life of the glorious Christ, is offered by the head of the household to the members on Easter morning, as a sign that we are partakers of the new life of the Risen Jesus Christ.
Horseradish Suffering. Horseradish represents to us the suffering caused by sin, in remembrance of the symbol of bitter herbs used by Jews at their Passover meal to remind them of the bitterness of their captivity in Egypt.
Salt God's Grace As salt flavors our food, so does the grace of God in our lives.
Meat Joyful Celebration. Various meats are mentioned in the Scripture with regard to celebrations. The lamb was sacrificed in the Passover meal, prefiguring for us the sacrifice of Christ to win our freedom from sin.(The traditional meats in the Easter basket are ham, sausage, and some bacon. They represent the richness of God's mercy, a true reason to celebrate.)
Vinegar Gall. Before crucifying Christ, the soldiers offered him wine, mixed with gall. Christ refused. Vinegar can remind us to remain steadfast always in our faith, to refuse to give in, even if it means suffering and persecution.
In the various churches throughout our areas, the traditional Easter Basket may vary, but the message is still the same.
One of the most beautiful traditions for the Easter season is the preparation of Pysanky. The process to make a Pysanka takes great skill and patience. These eggs are all individual creations and each has its own style and beauty. Depending upon the region where they are produced, the Pysanka can have many different colors, styles and motifs all having various meanings. Most Pysanka are made to be offered as gifts to family members and friends during Easter celebrations.
To begin making Pysanky, raw eggs are used and the inside of the egg may be left intact or, taken out by making a pin hole in each end and gently ‘blowing" the contents out. Melted wax is used with a wooden pencil like instrument that has a pin attached to draw the motifs. This tool, called a "Kistka" is very important for making Pysanky.
A number of dyes are used to produce various colors on the egg. To create a beautiful colored egg, its best to progress from the lightest dye to the darkest. The motif is drawn on the egg with melted wax and then dipped in the color dye you wish. After the egg drys, the same process is repeated over and over until the egg is finally finished. After the entire process is complete the egg is then "heated" which most times was done via a candle flame. The leftover wax is then removed and the pysanka is left to dry. After the Pysanka is fully dry, it is best to coat it with varnish.
After the Pysanka are finished they are taken to church to be blessed during the Easter services. They are then offered as gifts and if any are kept they are generally displayed in a case or a prominent area within the home for all to enjoy. With care, these Pysanky can be kept for many years and passed from one generation to the next.
Some of the more common colors for Pysanky are:
Black - This color is used to denote death, and in remembrance of the death of Christ. It is also used in memory of departed ancestors.
Brown - This color denotes the earth and land we live upon.
Green - This color is used to denote spring, hope and life.
Red - This color has long had a place in Carpathian folklore and denotes charity, life and love. It is also used as a reminder of the passion of Jesus Christ.
Purple - This color is used to denote the fasting of lent and also faith and trust in the resurrection.
Yellow - This color is used to denote purity. It is also used as a Christian symbol of recognition and praise.
A few of the meanings of the symbols used to decorate Pysanky are:
Birds - Fulfillment of Wishes
Circles - The Holy Virgin’s tears for her crucified son
Flowers - Life and Growth
Grapevine - A reference to Jesus Christ and his followers
Lines Encircling the Pysanka - The Promise of Eternal Life
Two of the more common names heard in Eastern Europe for Easter are Velykyi Den’ - Great Day or Paskha - Resurrection. This word Paskha derives from Peisakh, the Hebrew term for Passover. The celebration of Easter was the biggest event of the calendar year for Slavs. Prior to Christianity, most had practices and customs for generations that were pagan. The church had to adapt some of these pagan rituals into the message of Christianity. A major theme of pre-Christianity belief was the triumph of good over evil. Easter was a perfect addition to this established thought and took root very quickly.
Palm Sunday, or "Willow" Sunday (Kvjetna Nedjelja) was an interesting adaption of the gospel story regarding the Entrance into Jerusalem. Since there were no palm plants due to the climate for most of Eastern Europe, the willow branches were utilized in place of palms. The willow grew in numerous places, especially near the water and was found very easily. It was also used for medicinal purposes and therefore was widely known. The willow branches were also a symbol of spring and "rebirth." Since this was the first "flower" to bloom after the long, harsh winter months the willow branches were incorporated into church usage. In some areas, there were many customs associated with the willow branches. One such custom was after receiving your willow branch to count the number of buds. The final number would foretell the number of years a person would live. These willows were then brought home to be placed in an area of honor. A common place was to rest a branch on top of an icon. Since willows are blessed, the only way to dispose of the branches from the previous year was to burn or bury them.
This day was solemn and many adhered to strict fasting requirements. The main focus of this day was the burial of Christ in the tomb. This event was dramatized as the Plashchanytsia(shroud) onto which was painted an image of the crucified Christ. During this period all of the liturgical vestments, altar cloths and coverings were changed to black. The hymns sung were very mournful in tone and the entire atmosphere was funeral in nature. Many in Eastern Europe on this day fasted the entire day, with some taking no meal at all. During the period that the Plashchanytsia was displayed people would stay in church and pray, the same as if a member of their own family was before them. One custom for many villages was to cover all mirrors in the home in respect for this sad event. Many villagers would make many visits to the church on this night to sit and "watch" as referred to in the gospels. It was common to see the Easter breads baked during this time (paska and babka). These breads were rich with ingredients that had been denied during the strict fasting of the past forty days. They were filled with butter, egg yolks, sugar and other items. Other minor preparations were made but only if necessary due to the solemnity of this religious observance.
During Holy Saturday more time was devoted to the preparations for Easter celebrations. In some regions pysanky were finally finished on this day. Cooking could involve making the kolbasa, nut and poppyseed cakes, the hrutka (or sirek as some regions call it) which was a wonderful concoction of eggs and milk made into a mild cheese. Other foods were horse raddish with or without beets (hrin) a piece of smoked bacon and colored eggs which many times were colored with plain onion skins. During former times it was very common to have the resurrection services held at midnight. This was a custom that had been observed for centuries and still is in some areas. Final preparations for the Easter celebration would be completed on this day. The home would be swept and cleaned for the final time. As much work was accomplished as possible so that all could partake of the festive holiday which would soon begin. Later at night some regions would build a bonfire near the church so that villages close by could see this as they too were preparing to celebrate the resurrection.
Prior to midnight, churches would begin their services. The custom of walking around the church three times is a beautiful one which is still practiced. Walking around the church, with the cross bearer, flags, priest and choir in front was in remembrance of the three woman who came to the tomb searching for the risen Christ. At this time, it would be common to hear the beautiful and stirring Easter hymn Da voskresnet’ Boh’ - Let God arise. After the short reading service the priest would turn to the congregation and intone Christos Voskrese! - Christ has Risen! to which all would joyfully respond Voistinu Voskrese! - Indeed he is Risen! After this, all would enter the church for the continuation of the service. After the church service the custom of blessing the Easter baskets would take place. This custom, still held in Eastern Europe and in America is a beautiful ritual. Items that were to be eaten for the holiday meal were brought in the basket and sometimes, it took more than one basket to contain them. There could be Ham, Kolbasi, Hrutka, horse raddish, cakes of nut and poppyseed, smoked bacon, butter, salt and various other items. Only food was permitted to be in this basket as the blessing was specifically for products of this nature. After this ceremony most would not go home but, to the cemetery. Here they would greet their deceased relatives and eat a bit of the blessed food to be with them on this wonderful holiday. When greeting each other, villagers would kiss each other three times and exchange the "Christos Voskrese! greetings.
After this, all would hurry home to partake of the Easter holidays. There would be dancing and singing which was denied during the fast period along with the foods that were forbidden. Visiting was limited and not as was practiced during the Christmas season. This day was for family and for feasting in the home. During most times during the day the church bells would be rung to remind the villagers of the happiness of this feast. In the churches the royal doors and deacons doors (which at all other times remained closed) of the iconstanis were left open for all to see that Christ had risen. Many men from the village would take "turns" as to who would ring the bells at which time, and for how long a period. These beautiful customs have been transplanted with time and immigration to many new countries around the world. The fact that they have survived at all is a perfect indication that they will always continue.
NATURAL COLORED EASTER EGGS
One Dozen Jumbo Eggs, Onion Skins, White Vinegar.
Into a large pot place one dozen Jumbo Eggs, a tablespoon of white vinegar and a good amount of onion skins. After 10 minutes, simmer on low flame. Eggs will turn a natural light brown to brown color depending upon how long they are cooked. If you wish to place a design on the eggs, use a wax pencil to draw your designs prior to placing uncooked eggs into the pot. After eggs are cooked and have reached the color you wish, take out one by one and let cool in a plastic bowl. The mixture can be kept and re-used if necessary for a second set of eggs.
One Dozen Jumbo Eggs, One Quart of Whole Milk, Salt and Pepper, Cheese Cloth.
Place entire quart of milk into pan. Place flame on low heat. Break one egg at a time into this pan while stirring (using a wooden folk works best). Continue this process of breaking the eggs and stirring them. After all the eggs are broken add salt and pepper to taste. Continue stirring until mixture is completely blended together and to keep from burning. After time, mixture will look like scrambled eggs. Take cheesecloth and drape over a large bowl in an X shape. Spoon mixture into the cheesecloth making a ball and tie very tightly to remove excess water. This mixture will be hot so use caution. Tie the top securely with a rubber band. Hang mixture to dry over a sink or some other container. Let mixture dry for a good 3 to 4 hours. After mixture has dried, remove cheesecloth and place into aluminum foil. Refrigerate.
HORSE RADDISH WITH BEETS
One Can of Sliced Beets, One Jar of Commercial Horse Raddish, Chopped Onion.
Open can of beets and and chop fine with knife, or place in blender to taste. Add some chopped onion and a bit of sugar. Blend Horse Raddish, onions and beets together. Refrigerate.
3/4 cups hot milk, 2 cups flour, 1 yeast cake, 1 tablespoon warm water, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 egg yolks, 1 box raisins.
Scald milk. Carefully stir ½ cup flour into hot milk. When smooth and cool, add yeast softened in warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside to rise. Add salt to egg yolks and beat until thick. Mix the butter, sugar and beaten egg yolks throughly. Slowly add the remaining 1 ½ cups of flour and knead until dough no longer sticks to fingers. Let rise until double in a warm place. Punch down and let rise again for about one hour (at this point you may wish to take a piece of the dough for ornamentation on top of the pasca). After bread has risen, place cross of extra piece of dough on top, baste with a beaten egg yolk for glaze if you wish and bake in pan for 30 minutes at 350 degree oven.
The following is an account of the Lenten/Easter traditions kept in Drahovce, Slovakia up to the time of the Communist takeover. Drahovce is located in western Slovakia near Piestany.
Special thanks to Veronika Jurisova and the late Anna Majernikova of Drahovce who have made this detailed account of their Slovak Easter available to us all. I dedicate this article to my late grandmother, Katarina (Vanco) Mihalek, who emigrated from Drahovce to a Slovak community in northern Wisconsin and to that community who kept many of these same traditions as an integral part of their Lenten/ Easter season. I was fortunate to be raised as a boy amid these good and reverent people and honored to have been counted as one among them. All that remains now are these memories of an era gone by.
There was a large population in Drahovce then including many old and young alike. The times were harsh, of great misery and wretchedness causing many to emigrate. There were families where the mother with children could not even satisfy their hunger with enough bread. Nevertheless, the people even in their misery and poverty were unanimous in their belief in God, respected their parents and the aged and had much more understanding amongst one other than what is being shown in present times.
Christmas to Ash Wednesday was a period in which were held the customary festivities, entertainments and weddings. These activities would come to a close on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Beginning with that Sunday and up until midnight of Tuesday, only certain festivities were held within the village. The children and adults donned their folkdresses and socialized together until 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. Raised doughnuts filled with prune jelly and deep fried in lard then covered with sugar were prepared for this occasion. This was the last time any rich or raised bakery was to be eaten until Easter. At midnight, on the close of Tuesday and start of Ash Wednesday, all festivities ceased and the Lenten period began. There would be no weddings or usual entertaining occurring until after Easter.
Baking during the Lenten period was plain and with unleavened dough. Very little if any form of food was prepared using lard. Grandmothers and mothers cared for the children and spun flax which would be finished into cloth later in the summer. The young women and girls did any needed sewing and embroidering on their folk dresses. Farmers took care of their livestock, cleared out any fallen snow, fixed roads and repaired implements for the upcoming spring fieldwork.
Their "Week of Easter" began on the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday - Palm Sunday (Flower/Kvetna Sunday by their interpretation). About a week prior to Palm/Flower Sunday, the older school children would begin preparing a Maypole to be carried upon the streets in the village. A large branch of willow was decorated and bore a sign saying:
"Jesus Christ was revered upon His coming to Jerusalem."
The children gathered in homes throughout the village making wreaths of straw and colored cloth. Many wreaths, including one for the Maypole, were made 20 to 24 inches in diameter and suspended from a pole by a thin cord. Also, 6 to 8 eggs were "blown" clean, decorated and strung along the cord. So that their Maypole would have variegated colors, colored paper was bought and cut into strips and suspended from the pole.
On the Saturday before Palm/Flower Sunday, the older boys (16 to 20 years old) went by the Vah River to cut small branches of willow as these were among the first to have small green leaves. The children formed the willow twigs into wreaths, along with ribbons and decorated eggshells, and placed them in their yards. Besides the willow wreaths, evergreen (yew) was used to make 6 inch wreaths which were to be given at homes when the Maypole parade made a brief stop.
On the morning of Palm/Flower Sunday, children attended the first mass dressed in their folk dresses. After mass they formed a column behind the Maypole and slowly paraded along the streets pausing before homes singing the following song:
"Christ is going to Jerusalem upon an ass, for our salvation, To His torture and His death, the young Jews hailed Him. Rich garments were strewn before Him. They who had no garments threw cut twigs, and so they did obligation, a heroic deed, God in the Highest. St. George calls, the earth will open, all forms of flowers will come, roses and violets. Grandmothers be merry, we bring you summer, Pretty green rosemary, indeed a grove, a green May."
As the procession moved along, some of the people spread out their expensive garments in the path. Those unable to afford such garments would cast small boughs ahead of the procession. The older children went to the homes with their evergreen wreaths and asked the owner, "Do you wish for a new summer?" The owner would answer in the affirmative and accept the wreath. In turn the owner would give the children 1 or 2 eggs and the more wealthy gave an additional 50 halier or even a crown. The wreath was hung in the home to ward off evil. When the goslings, ducklings and chicks hatched, each was passed through the center of the wreath to give them health and survival.
At the homes of families with infants, a piece of branch was broken off from the Maypole and given to them to foster the health and well-being of the child. After the procession ended, the children returned to those homes where they had earlier prepared for Palm/Flower Sunday. The housewife fed them scrambled eggs from those received during the procession. She also served bread and gave them a special treat of raspberry lemonade which she had purchased for this occasion. After the meal and before they returned home, the money received during the procession was divided up among the children.
During the second mass of Palm/Flower Sunday the adults came with small bunches of pussy willows and placed them before the altar, symbolic of the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem when olive branches were placed at His coming. These pussy willows were then taken home and placed on an overhead beam (there were no ceilings then) to protect the home from harm. After the litany and the mass, people gathered in great numbers on Kalvaria Street praying the stations of the cross located along both sides of this street. No further gatherings or activities would be held during the following Monday and Tuesday.
On Wednesday evening the people again prayed the stations of the cross. There was no electricity at that time so youths held oil lamps so that the words to the prayers and hymns could be read.
Before sunrise on Thursday, known as Green/Zeleny Thursday, the owners of horses led them to the Vah River and into the water to a depth of 2 feet or so to bring the horses good health and have sound feet for the entire year.
At home the housewives diligently swept around the home, the yard and the street to ward off harm to the home for the coming year. During the course of this Thursday, the women specially washed their wooden boards upon which they made noodles, also the rolling pin, the large wooden mixing spoon and bowl for mixing the dough for bread and kolache.
Thursday morning at mass the church bell was tied so as not to be rung. That afternoon, in place of ringing the bell, the schoolboys went over the streets with noisemakers and clappers to announce the beginning of Christ's suffering on the cross. That evening the people again prayed the stations of the cross.
Before sunrise on Good Friday the young children and older girls went to the Vah River to bring back some of its water to wash with later in the day. This custom was believed to bring them health, skill and agility for the upcoming year. No sweeping or menial duties were done in the home and strict fasting was observed. What little was eaten this day was prepared without lard.
Worshipping the crucified Christ began in the church on Friday morning and would continue until noon Saturday (White/Biela Saturday). A specially made open casket was placed by the side of the altar to represent the tomb of Jesus. The people came dressed in mourning attire to pray at this symbolic gravesite. The people got down on their knees about 5 steps from the grave and walked on their knees to the grave to kiss a cross placed there. Mothers also brought their small children who were able to walk to partake in this solemn ritual.
All of the crosses in the church which had been covered in purple cloth since Green/Zeleny Thursday were now uncovered after this morning's (Good Friday's) worship service. As it was with housework, no field work of any kind was done this day in mourning of the crucified Christ. During the entire day the stations of the cross along Kalvaria Street were visited by many worshippers.
Early on Saturday (called White/Biela Saturday), before the children awoke, the women were busy baking various kinds of kolace with poppyseed, nuts, cottage cheese and prune jelly that were then stored in a wooden tub and covered with a tablecloth. No one was allowed to eat any of the bakery as strict fasting was being upheld until noon.
Also this morning the women began the makings of a traditional dish called "huspenina." They boiled smoked pork hocks, feet and rinds for 6 to 8 hours. Soup bowls were set out into which was placed chopped garlic, ground black pepper, paprika and a portion of the cooked meat. The bowls were then filled with the hot broth and put into a cool place to jell. In about 2 hours, which was by then their suppertime, the family would eat this jello-like dish. Mass had been held that morning at the church and the symbolic grave of Jesus remained open until noon this day for any who wished to come to kiss the cross.
At 12 noon on White/Biela Saturday firemen bugled and a two minute silence was observed throughout the community in honor of their citizens who were killed during WW I.
In the afternoon at 3 o'clock on White/Biela Saturday, a celebration of the risen Christ was observed. All who were able to meet at the church would come dressed in their village folk dresses and were organized into a procession behind a cross carried by an altar boy. Behind the cross in order, followed small children, school-age children, graduated students, maidens, single men, the remaining altar boys and then the priest carrying a monstrance beneath a canopy. The canopy was carried by 4 firemen. Alongside the canopy walked the mayor of the village carrying a statue of the risen Christ. Behind the canopy followed uniformed firemen with noisemakers, then the chorus, the brass band and after it the women.
Easter hymns were played by the band and sung by the entire procession. The procession made its way to a higher location in the village known as Horna Bodona. About every 500 yards the fireman would blow their trumpets and the procession would pause and all would turn to face the priest with the monstrance who gave a blessing to the sick of the village - repeating the blessing in all four directions of the earth. The homes along the streets of the procession had lighted candles in the windows showing reverence of the monstrance containing the host (Body of Christ). After the procession returned to the church, many remained and continued to sing Easter songs, leaving for their homes when the band began playing lively marching music.
Easter Sunday morning housewives went to the chapel with baskets of food containing bread, kolace, boiled eggs and a little smoked meat to be blessed by the priest. Returning to their homes, the baskets were set aside for the noon meal at which time each member of the household would receive a portion of each of the blessed foods with a prayer to have the family free of illness and disease during the upcoming year. Two masses were well attended by the people dressed in their village folkdresses. In the afternoon a litany was prayed which also had a large attendance of people dressed in their village folkdress attire. Other than these church services, the people celebrated the remainder of this day with their families.
Bright and early on Easter Monday the young men went to the homes of marriageable maidens, often times even pulling them out of their beds, and poured water on them so they would be refreshed. They also "whipped" them lightly with a switch to ward off any illness or harm to them for the coming year. The maidens' mother was in the yard to host the young men briefly and to scurry them off to complete the rounds to the other homes in order that they finish in time for holy mass. Again there were two masses held during the morning hours and a litany service in the afternoon. Unlike the attendance at mass on Easter, the size of the congregation on this day was much smaller.
After the litany the children up to age 10 would ceremoniously "whip" their baptismal parents, uncles and aunts while saying the following poem:
"Whip, fish, greasy fish, from the horsewhip, piece of kolace, So demands the school cadet, that they give three eggs, One white, two red and the debt to the child will be paid."
(It must be stated in Slovak to appreciate the rhyme and meaning of the poem.)
The children with their small whips, whipped the members of the household, women upon their skirts and men upon their trousers. The baptismal parents gave their godchildren 3 decorated eggs and honey cakes. The wealthier families gave purchased chocolate eggs and a crown or two.
Children over 10 years of age also went out on the streets after the litany. Each boy and girl had a decorated whip braided about 15 inches long. The boys whipped the girls on their skirts to bring them skills and vigor and a little upon their feet to ward off any lameness. The girls mainly used their whips in a more defensive posture but did whip the boys in return as they willed.
This activity with the whips ended at the sound of the evening church bell after which the school children went home to be ready for school the next day. The older boys and girls remained on the streets until dark and then they went home. The entire village now remained quiet thus ending the Easter season in Drahovce. The people were now able to return to their usual festivities and weddings in the months that followed.
All of these recipes were given to me by my Grandmother, Julianna Lazorik Barnyik Ambrisko, who was born in Kosicka Bela, Slovakia on June 15, 1882. I have had them since I was twelve, when I watched her make these recipes for the holidays.
EASTER MUSHROOM SOUP (CLEAR)
Ingredients: 2 sticks butter or margarine, 4 lb. Mushrooms-cleaned & sliced, 2 heads of garlic-sliced, 3 large onions- chopped finely, 2lb. of good smoked kilbasi, salt & pepper to taste.
Melt the butter in large soup pot, saute' garlic & onions, then add mushrooms, when mushrooms are soft, add 4qts of water and kilbasi, let cook 1&1/2 to 2 hours until kilbasi "bursts." Served with rice or noodles (Haluski's)& sauerkraut too.
SERRIK "EGG CHEESE" They call the Easter Cheese Hurda too.
This makes 2 balls of cheese (the size of a grapefruit). A dozen eggs, a qt & 1/2 of milk, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tblsp sugar, a pinch of salt. Beat together well. Cook slowly over LOW heat stirring constantly, when it looks like yellow cottage cheese & liquid separates pour into 2 CLEAN NEW knee highs (stockings), tie it so it looks like a BALL, hang it from the kitchen cabinet & let it drip, about 2 hrs. Refrigerate over night, take the stocking off & slice. Don't laugh at the stocking thing, it works better than cheese cloth, no strings!!
LONGOSHA (CABBAGE PIE)
Chop 1/2 head med cabbage up finely saute' in butter & salt, add 1 onion finely chopped, cook till soft & browned. Let cool. Roll the remaining bun out in to a circle (like a pizza) thin on a well floured board. Transfer to buttered cookie sheet, Spread cabbage on 1/2 of circle, fold dough over to cover cabbage pinch edges to form a crust. Pierce holes all over with fork in top layer, brush with beaten egg, Bake 375 for 10 minutes, turnover bake 4-5 more till golden brown, butter outside crust. Cool, cut like pizza into wedges. Sprinkle with XXX sugar.
HALUSKI’S "GRAMMIES DROP NOODLES"
2 eggs beaten, 1 cup flour, pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder(makes them fluffy),enough water to moisten, mix all together in a bowl with handle to form a thick paste. Boil pot of water, drop 1/2 tsp of dough into boiling water if it stays together puffs and comes to the top the dough is fine, if it falls apart add a little more flour to dough, test again. Drop by tiny spoons full into water. Dip spoon into water makes dough slide off easier. Cook till all come to the top & are tender, Drain. That's it! For Potatoe Drop Noodles add 2 pureed raw potatoes to same recipe it makes more noodles.
ZAZVORKY - GINGER COOKIES
4 eggs, 4 egg yolks, 2 1/2 cups sugar, 2 teasp ground ginger, 4 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 teasp baking powder, mix beaten eggs, yolks & sugar together add ginger and flour, baking powder, mix well to form a firm dough. Refrigerate for 1 hr. Roll out to 1/8, thickness on floured or sugared board (too sweet) Cut out & place cookies on greased, foiled baking sheets. Let dry overnight. Bake in 275 oven for 15-15 minutes.
10 lbs. coarse ground pork butt or pork shoulder, 1/3 cup imported mild Hungarian Paprika. (Do not substitute generic),1/4 cup salt, 2 heaping Tbls. ground Allspice, 5 or 6 garlic cloves, 2 cups water. Bring water to boil, add peeled cloves of garlic and simmer 20 minutes. Fish out cloves of garlic and mash them with a little water. Add this to remaining water and mix all of the garlic water into the meat mix. Mix everything together well. Keep the meat mix cool. If you stuff the mix into casings, let the sausages hang for a day in at least 20 degrees. Smoke sausage according to your smoker instructions. If you are not going to stuff into casings, form into patties, wrap and freeze.
This is Holy Week in the Greek Rite and Greek Orthodox churches. There were special services in SS. Peter and Paul’s and St. Michael’s Greek Rite churches of this city last night as well as in the Russian Orthodox church of Three Saints in Garfield. The services in both branches of the Greek church practically are the same, but in the Greek Rite church the Papal supremacy is recognized while in the Orthodox branch the Metropolitan of Russia is the Arch-episcopal head. At both of the local Greek churches last night standing room was at a premium. The services were in preparation for Good Friday which is today. The altars were draped in black and the vestments of the priests were to correspond. At nine o’clock tomorrow night the Resurrection service will be held. This consists of impressive ceremonies following Christ from the cross to the tomb and the resurrection.
The Passaic Daily Herald, Friday - April 17, 1903
CELEBRATING IT’S EASTER
Russian Church In This City Commemorating
Festival With Much Ceremony
The Russian churches in this city, of which there are three, are celebrating the Easter season and a large number of the residents of the Dundee section have done no labor since Friday last. The festivities began on that day and will continue until tomorrow evening. The church ceremonials attendant upon the festival were elaborate in the extreme. In the edifices on First and Third Streets and at the corner of Monroe and Dayton Avenue services have been held almost constantly since Friday. All of them were well attended, the members of the Orthodox Russian church being particularly devout in their observance of the Easter festival. Today there are services in all of the churches and at the conclusion worshipers will give themselves over to feeding and it will be tomorrow night before the celebration sees its termination.
The Passaic Daily Herald, Monday - May 6, 1907
GREEK DAY OF ASCENSION
Festival Will Be Fittingly Celebrated
in Their Churches in This City
Owing to differences in the Eastern and Western calendars, the festival of the Ascension falls today throughout Russia, Greece and the rest of Eastern Christendom in place of last Thursday, as in the West. Passaic Greeks will observe the day at their churches here, while Ruthenians, Austrians, Russians and Poles who follow the Eastern usage will also celebrate the festival with religious services. At the present day there are several million Catholics who acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope of Rome and yet in other respects follow the usages of the Greek or Eastern church instead of those of Rome. Those in Passaic are principally Ruthenians from the eastern parts of Austria, together with Russians and Poles. They are sometimes known as Greek Catholics, because they use the liturgy of the Greek church. They are not Greeks either by race or language but a Slavonic people, speaking a Slavonic tongue something like Russian. They use the Greek service, translated into Slavonic, in place of the Latin mass. The clergy are married instead of celibate, the wine is given to the laity in the Holy Communion, and the church festivals are observed at the same time as in the East.
In many other usages they follow the customs of the Greek Church; that is, the Church of Constantinople; but they have since accepted the supremacy of the Pope while retaining in most other respects their eastern usages. In the eastern part of Austria known as Galicia or Ruthenia, there are several million of these Catholics who follow the Greek-Ruthenian rite. The Ascension tide services began last evening at the vesper service at 7:30 o’clock and will conclude tonight.
The Passaic Daily Herald, Thursday - June 4, 1908
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