Folk calendar

Folk calendar [народний календар; narodnyj kalendar]. A folk method of measuring time, based on centuries of observations of periodic changes in nature. The seasons were the earliest measure of longer periods of time; at first two seasons were recognized—the warm and the cold, spring and winter—and then four. This led to the popular way of counting years in terms of springs, summers, or winters. The time unit based on the phases of the moon (misiats) originated in Ukraine in prehistorical times and carries the same name as the moon (misiats [month]). That this system was used by the ancient Slavs is evident from the names of the months of the year, which were common to the Slavic nations and have been preserved in their folk and Christian calendars: berezen or berezil (Old Ukrainian: berezozol) (March), kviten (April), traven (Old Ukrainian: travny) (May), cherven (June), lypen (July), serpen (August), veresen (September), lystopad (November), hruden (December), sichen (January), liutyi or snizhen (February). The names of the months in Old Ukrainian and in the later vernacular were derived from natural events or from agricultural activities; for example, bokohrii (side-warmer) for February, sinozornyk (hay-watcher) for July, kazybrid (spoiler of fords) for October, studen (the cold one) for December. The names were not always applied to the same month: cherven was sometimes July, lystopad sometimes October, and hruden sometimes November.

Archeological evidence shows that the division of the year into months dates back to prehistoric times: a ritual chalice of the 3rd–4th century AD, found in the village of Lepesivka in Volhynia, represents the months in symbols, and a Polianian calendar of the 4th century from the village of Romashky in the Kyiv region defines the spring and summer cycles of agricultural labor as running from the emergence of shoots at the beginning of May to the completion of harvest in the first half of August. In the Ukrainian folk calendar, as in the calendars of many other nations, the year consisted of 13 months, which coincided with the lunar cycles. It began on 1 March or 9 March (old style) or even on 1 April (see New Year). The beginning, duration, and end of the year were defined by the sun's position on the ecliptic, the moon's phases, or the position of the stars and constellations. The dates of feasts and folk rituals that inaugurated, separated, or marked the end of the various seasons of the year or periods of agricultural work were determined in the same way. These folk feasts and rituals were combined with Christian church holidays and saints' days and are grouped in four cycles according to the seasons: in the spring cycle there are the celebrations of the Annunciation, Easter, and Saint George; in the summer cycle, Pentecost, Ivan Kupalo (see Kupalo festival), and Saint Elijah; in the fall cycle, the first and second Blessed Virgin, the Holy Protectress, and Saint Demetrius; and in the winter cycle, Christmas, New Year, and Epiphany.

Maksimovich, M. ‘Dni i mesiatsy ukrainskogo selianina,’ Sobranie sochinenii, 2 (Kyiv 1877)
‘Narodnyi kalendar,’ Biuleten’ Etnohrafichnoï komisiï VUAN, 1926–7, nos 2–6, and published separately (Kyiv 1926–9)
Kylymnyk, S. Ukraïns’kyi rik u narodnikh zvychaiakh v istorychnomu osvitlenni, 1–5 (Winnipeg 1955–63)
Sheremet’iev, L. ‘Doslidzhennia narodnoho kalendaria ta ioho znachennia dlia ukraïns’koï etnohrafichnoï khronolohiï,’ Istorychni dzherela ta ïkh vykorystannia, 7 (Kyiv 1972)

Bohdan Kravtsiv

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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