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The Village of Pyrohiv in the vicinity of Kyiv is in fact an open air-museum which “exhibits” authentic peasant houses, windmills and churches. Round the year, especially in summer and early fall, all sorts of festivals are held there. This year it was the Festival of Harvesting that attracted a particular attention.
Mykola Ivashchenko, courtesy of EtnoToloka
Growing grain is arguably the central feature of agriculture. Humans have been growing grains for millennia and this honorable and life-sustaining occupation engendered many beliefs, traditions, rituals, customs and festivals.
The Festival of Zhnyva or Obzhynki, that is — harvesting, is of a particular significance and of most ancient of traditions.
In the time of old such festivals were usually held around the time of the autumnal equinox. It was also the time of weddings. Weddings and the taking of the harvests in came to be closely associated. Folk songs and traditional rituals and customs reflect this association.
At the Festival Zhnyva. Vesillya held in Pyrohiv, the guests watched the grain crop being reaped with sickle, bound in sheaves, flailed, the grain gathered and then ground at a windmill, and finally the flour used to make fragrant bread. And there was a wedding to accompany the reaping and bread making. Local and foreign guests were excited to witness age-old rituals performed in front of them.
On the first day of the festival, August 5, women wearing traditional Ukrainian dresses, went out to reap the grain crop. The field was sprinkled with holy water by the local priest, and the women began their hard work of reaping the grain with sickles. In accordance with tradition, the first sheaf was bound and taken to the local church where it was blessed. This blessing was to ensure that the next-year harvesting would produce good results too. The reaping women were singing as they worked. Elsewhere, performers of folk songs, including the traditional kobzari, sang traditional songs too.
Within the framework of the Festival program, a reciter, named Sashko Lirnyk, recited fairy-tales to all those who cared to listen. The fascinated audience included both the very young, the middle-aged, apparently their parents, and people of a more advanced age too. The fairy tales were for all tastes to enjoy — sad and cheerful, entertaining and allegoric.
In the evening, music bands that specialize in “ethno-music” and folk music regaled the festive crowds with their performances. At first, there was not much dancing or singing enthusiasm observed in the audiences that preferred to relax on the grass, but gradually the music warmed them up and collective dancing and singing began in earnest.
The second day of the festival was devoted to crafts and craftsmen who had come from all over Ukraine to show their skills and the things they made. The visitors were invited not only to watch but to try their hand at forging in smithies, making things out of straw, clay, at pottering, at doing embroidery and painting Easter eggs and at dozens of other exciting things. Many discovered that making a simple pot was not that simple as it might have seemed at first glance and that it took considerable patience and skill.
The third day proved to attract most people — it was the day of a traditional wedding. The ancient rituals were reenacted as the couple went to the Church of St Michael to be wed. The parents blessed the couple before they were blessed by the priest. The musicians at the house of the bride played traditional wedding tunes, and the dancing involved not only the relatives but the onlookers as well.
One of the stages of the traditional wedding was “Bidding Farewell to the Bride’s Friends.” The Bride, wiping her tears, embraced her friends and presented them with colorful ribbons. Then a kobzar, playing the kobza, an ancient Ukrainian instrument, sang wedding songs.
Next, the wedding procession went to the house of the bridegroom. The singing continued with some of the funny and quite bawdy songs. Once the house of the bridegroom was reached, dancing resumed.
The nest for storks was made then. Storks are traditionally believed to bring not only children but good luck too. The nest is to be put on top of the house. Medicinal herbs are to be collected; traditional dolls have to be made from pieces of fabric and threads to be kept in store until children were born.
The Festival of Harvesting was organized by the public organization Tvorcha Maysternya EtnoToloka, and was supported by the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine. The media partners were the newspapers Gazeta po ukrainsky and Vechirni visti, the magazine Krayina, the information agency Interkultura, and media portals www.tochka.net and www.gazeta.ua. The partners of the Festival were the factory Cherkasy Khlib, the law company Kodex, the Center of Ukrainian Culture Muzey Ivana Honchara, and the ambulance clinic Boris.
The festival was definitely a success and it gives one hope that such festivals will be regularly held in future.