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The feast of St Peter and St Paul celebrated in Ukraine
The Feast of St Peter and St Paul which is celebrated by the Orthodox Christians in Ukraine on July 12 is the last one in the series of big religious markings of the spring and mid-summer.
The Feast of “The Glorious and Most Laudable and Most Superior Apostles Peter and Paul” is of a special importance in view of the significance that both St Peter and St Paul have in Christian tradition and in Christian teaching. Like many other Christian feasts in Ukraine, this particular one has absorbed in itself the Christian and pre-Christian constituents. The Orthodox Christian Church seems to be rather tolerant to those folk traditions which do not have the formal sanctity of the Church but yet constitute a vital segment of national culture, and the Orthodox Church has not made any vigorous attempts to suppress them.
According to folk beliefs, St Peter and St Paul saw to it that the harvest be taken in on time — the date of the feast coincides with the beginning of the harvesting season in most of Ukraine.
“Saint Peter is in the field
Plowing the earth,
And Saint Paul is driving the oxen
That are pulling the plow…”
says one of the folk songs
The Feast of St Peter and St Paul marks the end of a period of fasting that has lasted for several weeks, but it is not severe fasting like in Lent or in the Pylypivka pist. The peasants’ stocks of flour and grains had been exhausted by July and the products of the new harvest were not yet available — that is why new vegetables, mushrooms, parsley and other green things were a significant addition to the families’ daily rations. Zeleny borshch (dill soup), kholodnyk (cold vegetable soup), holubtsi (stuffed young red beet leaves) were among the popular dishes. Butter, dairy products and dishes made from them were also allowed and appreciated.
Before the Feast of St Peter and St Paul the houses were whitewashed, cleaned and tidied; the icons were given fresh decorative rushnyky (towels); the pich (combination of stove, oven and resting place) was given a fresh coat of paint and decorated with stylized painted flowers and animals and ornaments. On the day of the Feast, the faithful put on their Sunday best to go to church; girls made flower wreaths to wear on their heads.
The folk beliefs also attributed to St Peter and St Paul the protection of domestic animals, and their feast was also the Feast of Shepherds. Since most of the shepherds were children in their early teens, they were treated to sweets and dainties.
Mandryk , a sort of a small cake made from cottage cheese and flour, used to be a treat. On the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, mandryky were especially popular with young people. Mandryky were the favorite food of cowherds who took these cakes with them if they planned to be away from home for a long time. Mandryky were exchanged as a form of greeting; mandryky were on the table as the first dish to be eaten upon return from church on the feast day of St Peter and St Paul; it was even believed that eating mandryky on that day would protect you from fever for the next twelve months. The folk etymology explains the name of mandryky as being derived from the word mandry, which means travel. One of the folk legends tells a story of traveling Jesus and Peter whose staple food on their meanderings was mandryky.
Another folk legend has it that once St Peter and St Paul who often traveled together to distant lands — they were itinerant saints — stopped to rest in the shade of a big tree; resting, they dozed off and a cuckoo bird stole a mandryk from their food bag. But the moment it began eating the mandryk, the bird gagged on it. There is a saying: “The cuckoo bird gags on a mandryk on Petro and Pavlo (that is, on the feast day of St Peter and St Paul),” which is a sort of folk explanation of why cuckoo birds tend to stop cuckooing for a certain period of time in summer. In fact, it was considered to be a bad omen to hear the cuckooing after the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.
On the feast day of St Peter and St Paul, a sort of a picnic was organized. The place was chosen on toloka, that is a field used for grazing domestic animals, usually on the top of a mound to keep a watchful eye on the animals. Holes were dug in the ground, deep enough to put the feet and legs up to the knee in; people, their feet in the holes, sat around “a table” — the ground surrounded by the holes — which was covered with a clean white tablecloth; the food and gifts to be exchanged were laid out on the cloth. The feast could last for several hours, with funny and edifying stories being told and songs sung. The young played games and danced dances. When the dusk began to creep in, flower wreaths were made and put on the heads of the grazing cattle.
The end of the feast was announced by blowing the horns — actually, these horns were made from bovine horns. The young cowherds were ceremoniously welcomed by villagers on their return from the grazing fields. This tradition has survived in some of the villages of Prykarpattya and the Carpathians.
Driving the cattle to and from grazing was accompanied by singing songs which were called latkanky. In general, the cattle were treated with great care. This, in many cases, tender care is reflected in many folk songs, sayings, behavioral patterns and habits (“when the cow gives birth to a calf, you should not take anything out of the house in order not to upset the calf”; “when you drive young cows to graze, put willow branches around their horns for the horns to grow strong”; “when you drive cows to graze for the first time, take a boiled egg with you, for the cows to be smooth and fat like an egg the whole year round”).
The summer was the time when the chumaky (salt traders; they were also engaged in other kinds of trading) set off on their long journeys to Crimea and other places. They were absent from home for several months. The chumaky, hunters and fishermen had to cook over the open fire and at the makeshift “stoves,” and some of such cooking traditions have survived until our days.