Folk customs and rites

Image - Ukrainian spring rituals (painting). Image - Harvest rituals of obzhynky. Image - Ancient burial rite: a funeral procession on a sleigh.

Folk customs and rites [Народні звичаї та обряди; Narodni zvychai ta obriady]. Ritual actions and verbal formulas belonging to the traditions of familial, tribal, and folk life and connected with the changing seasons and the resulting changes in agricultural or other work. These customs and rites are regulated by the folk calendar and are often accompanied by magical acts, religious ceremonies, incantations, folk songs, dances, and dramatic plays. They arose in prehistoric times and evolved through the centuries of Ukrainian history, blending in many cases with Christian rites. They can be divided into: (1) familial customs and rites, which consist of birth, wedding, and burial rites; (2) seasonal-productive customs and rites, which are tied to farming, herding, and hunting tasks; and (3) communal customs and rites, which mark certain events in the life of the community.

With the spread of modern civilization and urban culture, as well as the changes triggered by the two world wars, the folk customs and rites in Ukraine have been greatly transformed. Soviet efforts to eradicate them have not succeeded. In 1970s and 1980s an increasingly persistent effort was made to revive folk rites, particularly in the family and communal sphere, often with the intention of luring the population away from Christian rites and feasts. Believers continued to practice the folk customs and rites of the Christian calendar, particularly those of Christmas and Easter, but the country people were turning to ancient folk customs and rites such as New Year's rites and its special carols (shchedrivky); spring rituals and songs (vesnianky-hahilky); the procession of nymphs (see Mavka) and Kupalo festival, which are associated with harvest celebrations (see Harvest rituals) (obzhynky); wedding rites, with their ritualized dramas; celebrations of birth, involving godparents and christening linen; and farewells to army or labor recruits. These customs and rites, like the Christianized customs and rites, are steeped in tradition and are tied to ancient ancestral beliefs, symbols, and images. Many Christian rites have been revived in post-Soviet Ukraine after 1991, especially in western oblasts.

Kaharov, Ie. ‘Formy ta elementy narodnoï obriadovosty,’ Pervisne hromadianstvo, 1928, no. 1, and published separately (Kyiv 1928)
Kylymnyk, S. Ukraïns’kyi rik u narodnikh zvychaiakh v istorychnomu osvitlenni, 1–5 (Winnipeg 1955–63)
Kravets’, O. Simeinyi pobut i zvychaï ukraïns’koho narodu: Istoryko-etnohrafichnyi narys (Kyiv 1966)
Voropai, O. Zvychaï nashoho narodu: Etnohrafichnyi narys, 2 vols (Munich 1958, 1966)
Sokolova, V. Vesenne-letnie kalendarnye obriady russkikh, ukraintsev i belorusov (Moscow 1979)

Bohdan Kravtsiv

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

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