Did you ever go caroling from house to house in your childhood, from window to window in groups of three or four singing "Boh predvichnyi narodyvsia…."1
With the brightly colored light of your star, spinning, as it penetrated the frozen window panes, from behind which little children melted away small patches of frost with their hot breath,so they could better see you. The crescent moon and the bright stars cast their light low over the tall Chershla Mountain, and it seemed to us that out there in the white clearing, surrounded by the black forest, in Vanio’s sheep shed tiny Jesus, the son of God was born, He who can hear and see everything.
Without doubt you recall the sound of creaking snow under your feet, as frost was nipping your ears, you however felt warm in your new boots and "hun’ka" (padded jacket). It is possible that you were the one who carried from house to house a heavy bundle of twigs from a hazelnut bush (so called "shchedraky") and then as one of the farmers gave a "koliada" (a measure of oats or some cash) you would gently hit him with one of these twigs while loudly wishing him "Na shchestia, na zdravia, na tot Noviy Reek" (happiness, health, in the coming New Year). A small twig you left with the farmer, who made small crosses from it just before "Yordan" and then nailed one above each door on his farmstead. The remaining "shchedraky" (their quantity was proportional to the number of groups of carolers) were taken away by next year’s herdsman who had to make them last from the early grazing days of spring until the Feast of "Zeleni Sviata". 2
It is unlikely that you forgot how your teacher or priest gave your entire group a shining Polish "zloty" coin, for the lovely singing which they themselves had taught you. And maybe you were chosen by them to join a larger group of carolers who, not in the evening, but right after the Holy Mass on the second or third day of the holiday went caroling throughout the village and forwarded the collected money to the poor orphans in some distant town.
In Lemkivshchyna caroling lasted from Christmas eve through the Epiphany, so called "Yordan".
At the very end of the caroling season the unmarried men would head out to sing. It was impossible to get rid of them with a scoop of oats; it took at least a measure (7 to 8 liters). But their singing was extraordinary and could be heard from far far away. The farmer had to keep a sharp eye on his sack of grain, because at the slightest distraction the fellows would steal it and there was nothing the farmer could do about it. For the sold oats the young men hired musicians and organized a large dance party in the village during the pre-Lenten period.
1there is no equivalent carol in English, "Unto us a Child is born" is close in spirit.
2"Zeleni Sviata" is Pentecost Sunday, or commonly called "Green Holidays". Pentecost is fifty days after Easter, when Christ reappeared to His Apostles and told them to go out among the people, speak in tongues, and preach the word, thus the date when the Christian Church began.
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Copyright ®1997 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Tuesday, January 06, 1998
Most recent revision Tuesday, January 15, 1998