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Triytsya — Ukrainian traditional holiday
The Feast of Triytsya, (Trinity Sunday), which commemorates the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles (Pentecost) falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter. In English, it is also called Whitsunday, and in Ukrainian it is also known as Pyatydesyatnytsya (derived from the word p’yatdesyat, that is fifty) because it is celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter. In Ukraine, a predominantly Orthodox Christian country for more than a thousand years, there are many age-old traditions connected with church holidays which combine the Christian spirit with the pre-Christian folk customs and lore. Some of these traditions, those that are still alive and those that are already dead, are described by Lidiya ARTYUKH.
The time when Triytsya is celebrated coincides with the Feast of Zeleni Svyata, Green Holidays (also called Klechalni Svyatky), and though the latter is definitely of a pre-Christian origin, in the collective consciousness of the people the two feasts have merged.
Triytsya is the time when the vegetation comes into full force in Ukraine; the grass is mowed for hay, the meadows, liberally sprinkled with wild flowers, are a joy to behold. Peasant houses and village squares used to be and still are adorned with leafy branches of birches, maples and ash-trees. The gates and the rooms were festooned with flower garlands and fragrant grasses which were believed capable of protecting against the evil forces. The icons were adorned with garlands of flowers and grasses too, and the floors were covered with carpets of wild flowers and grasses.
The day before Triytsya, that is Saturday, was called Didova subota, the day of the commemoration of the dead. It differed from all the other commemorative days of the year. On that day prayers were said for all the dead — baptized and not baptized, those who died of old age and those who took their life. Bread or honey or other sweets were taken to church to be blessed; the old and disabled were treated to food, and at the cemeteries food was left near the graves for the dead to take part in the festive repast.
In the central square of the village a whole tree, the bole of a tree or a large branch was erected and adorned with garlands of flowers and grasses, and the place was the focal point of the Zeleni svyata week-long holidays, particularly popular with the young. The girls would cook food — fried eggs with bacon, pies stuffed with cottage cheese or cabbage, bread in the shape of braided ropes, and sweet pastry, and the young men would bring beer and other drinks. The girls spread tablecloths on the ground and laid the food on them, and then everybody would sing and dance in a ring. You were supposed to touch the leaves or the branches every so often. The picnic over, everyone proceeded back home to continue celebrations.
Traditions in different parts of Ukraine differed but little; in the lands of Slobozhanshchyna and Poltavshchyna, usually the trunk of a dead tree was erected instead of a leafy one, and a wheel was fixed to the top of the trunk. The wheel and the songs about nature’s revival in the spring symbolized the change of seasons with the sun being the major force, the life giver.
In the Land of Polissya, a good-looking girl was chosen to be the central figure in the rite of kust (bush). She was adorned in leaves, flowers and herbs which were sewn and fixed together so as to form a green skirt and a green shirt. Her head was crowned with a garland of flowers, fragrant grasses and ribbons. The festive crowd of the villagers would then walk around the village with the “bush” girl at the head of the procession. Songs were sung and dances were danced.
“We take this bush
To the river.
Give us water,
Give us rain,
Golden and copious,
So that we have a harvest Rich.”
In the lands of Poltavshchyna and Slobozhanshchyna instead of “the bush,” the festive processions were led by “the poplar” (there is a Ukrainian phrase, “slender as a poplar” to describe a svelte girl). Though honorary, the role of the poplar also involved a considerable physical strain — the girl had to be walking around with her arms raised straight up, all wrapped up in garlands, beads and decorative shawls. The celebrants wished those they met on the way a good harvest and well-being, and were given in return ribbons, beer and other drinks, pies and pancakes.
“We walk the poplar
We drink mead and beer.
Grow, poplar, grow,
Be strong to withstand the wind,
Only bow to the field of grain.”
The week of Zeleni svyata was the time of meat eating — right after it was over, another period of fasting began which lasted until the Day of St Peter. In addition to meat, a lot of onions, garlic and reddish were consumed too. Soups were made with sorrel, spinach, pigweed, nettles, tops of beets; these green things were also used as stuffing for pies.
Triytsya was — and to a great extent is — one of the major Christian feasts in Ukraine. There are many churches in Ukraine which are dedicated to the Holy Trinity. In Kyiv alone there are several churches of the Holy Trinity, the best known of which is the one which is situated right above the gate to the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery. It was built in the twelfth century.
Voznesinnya Hospodnye, or The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which falls on a Thursday, is celebrated ten days before the Pentecost (Ascensiontide). It used to be — and in many places of Ukraine still remains — a very joyous and boisterous feast. After the religious ceremony was over at church, the second half of the day was devoted to feasting. Guests were welcome, and the guests were supposed to bring some food with them — bread, pies, cookies, bacon, sour cream, cottage or hard cheese. The most popular dishes cooked for this holiday were cabbage or beet soup, jelly made with rooster meat and bones, baked meat, home-made pasta and jelly-like berry dessert. A particular care was taken to make cookies of various shapes and ingredients. There were tiny pies made which were called drabynky, or “steps,”— with rolled-up pancakes placed on them, they symbolized “the stairway to Heaven.” Some of these drabynky were taken to the grain fields and left there “to encourage the grain to grow and become bread.”
Drabynky also reflected the pre-Christian Ukrainian motif of the World Tree (which is also called The Cosmic Tree) as the centre of the world. It is a widespread motif in many myths and folktales among various preliterate peoples, by which they understand the human and profane condition in relation to the divine and sacred realm. Two main forms are known and both employ the notion of the world tree as centre. In the one, the tree is the vertical centre binding together heaven and earth; in the other, the tree is the source of life at the horizontal centre of the earth. In the vertical, tree-of-knowledge tradition, the tree extends between earth and heaven. It is the vital connection between the world of the gods and the human world. Drabynky were the steps to climb up or down The World Tree.
Pilgrimages to the Pochayivsky Monastery in the Land of Ternopilshchyna, and the Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv were taken to worship and pray for “good weather for the harvest season.”