In addition to Malanka, this fete of January 13 is often referred to as the Eve of Bounteous Gifts, Shchedrivka ("Generous Time"), Old New Year. In different parts of Ukraine, traditions of Malanka celebrations differ slightly, but it still remains a day of public enjoyment, entertainment and lavish merrymaking, a true carnival.

The 13th of January for the Orthodox Christians is the day of St Melaniya the Roman, and the next day is that of Vasyl (Basil) the Great, one of the Church Fathers. These Christian holidays coincide in time with the solar cycles. It was at this time of the year that our heathen ancestors performed rituals to ensure plentiful crops, peace and well-being for every family.

Similarly to the way it happened with other ancient pagan holidays, Malanka is a colourful merger of pagan and Christian traditions (in similar way, many other ancient pagan holidays merged with Christian holidays). And now there is absolutely no sacrilege in having Christian saints transformed by folk fantasy into cheerful and likable figures of the folk fete.
In the evening of January 13, joyful and lively merrymaking begins with Malanka progressing through the village followed by a train of people gaily and bizarrely attired. Their disguises grotesquely represent "soldiers," "musicians," "old women," "old men," "witches," "Jews," "medicine men," "Gypsies", and even "Grim Reaper" himself. The slowly moving procession stops once in a while and a sort of folk theatre performance begins, full of humour and improvisations. The sombre figures of the procession look spooky but can scare only little children.
Probably, what is going on similar to the Italian comedia del arte plays.

The participants follow the general lines but but most of what they do is spontaneous improvisation: "bears" in a mock fight determine who is "the strongest"; "Gypsies" tell fortunes and exchange trinkets for horses; "the Jew" knows everything about everybody and tells people's secrets to all the other villagers. In fact, everybody becomes an actor of sorts. Songs, dances, funny stories and jokes (some of which are very risque) are part of the merrymaking which goes on from evening till the next morning. At about five or six in the morning, the participants return to their homes, sleep for several hours, and then the fete starts a new and lasts until the sunset.
As I watched and then participated in the Malanka fete happenings, I could not help thinking what a great thing it would be to invite the leading couturiers and scenographers of the world to,
say, any of the following villages in the land of Bukovyna: Velyky Kuchuriv, Tysivtsi, Mamayivtsi, Chortoriya and Vashkivtsi where the photographs accompanying this article were taken, so that they could see with their owns eyes the great variety of dresses and props created by the villagers with dexterous artistry and wonderful ingenuity.
They use the simplest materials to create wonders. It seems to me, many a dress designer end theatre artist would envy the inexhaustible imagination demonstrated by the participants of the Malanka fete. In addition to the traditional personages performing traditional Malanka antics, among all those "bears," "goats," and "witches" in this new age of ours you suddenly see village impersonators making fun of the "Cabinet Ministers discussing a problem" on a wagon; "leaders of political parties" walking the village the streets arm in arm.

They are living caricatures, ironic, funny creations of true folk humour, not at all wicked or degrading. I've even seen "Texas rangers" in Malanka processions.
At the end of the second day of Malanka fete comes the Eve of Bounteous Gifts (or "Generous Evening"), with its lavish feast, mutual congratulations, expressions of best wishes. People wish each other good health, good fortune. One wish is particularly important: good crops and plentiful yields. Young people and children move in groups from house to house, sing good-wishes songs, and are awarded smiles and generous gifts.
The Generous Evening of Bounteous Gifts is in full swing.

By Andriy Hlazovy.
Photographs by Olexandr Horobets.