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Articles / 6 January 2014 | 13:21
Christmas carols: How the tradition changes

Christmas carols: How the tradition changes

Christmas Eve. Squeaky snow covers the streets, bright moon lights the way for good people to sign carols and praise Christ. Dressed young people walk from house to house singing Christmas carols, scattering seeds and glorifying house masters. Young people sing carols for each member of the family, even for the smallest child. Sometimes they even perform slow ritualistic dances or present a short humorous skit involving the goat. Caroling does not finish until each and every house of the village is visited. This used to be the way Ukrainians celebrated Christmas in the past.  

Observing modern celebrations, ForUm has analyzed how the tradition changed.

New meaning

In our time of high technologies the tradition of caroling has moved from villages to metropolises, and the age of singers significantly lowered. Snowy village streets are replaced by staircases of tower-blocks, and young people are replaced by kids. First of all, in modern realities people will hardly open their doors to strangers, especially in the evening. Moreover, modern young people will hardly agree to sing songs for a modest reward. At the same time, people still trust opening doors to kids, believing that scattered seeds and good wishes will bring luck and happiness in the new year.  
Meantime, specialists say that modern tradition of caroling and carols themselves have lost their authenticity.

Thus, according to public activist Galyna Yanchenko, who study folk traditions, modern caroling is more focused on the list of rewards and presents singers want to get from house masters, while the original idea of praising Christ is almost forgotten. "Christmas carols speak about the birth of Christ and that occasion's joyful celebrations, and the idea of caroling is to spread this message, not to get a reward," she says. 

Moreover, in old times singers were rewarded with various tasty food, like candies, cookies, nuts and apples, while modern carolers expect money.

"Caroling used to require extensive preparation. Each group had a leader. One member dressed as a goat. Another as a bag carrier, the collector of all the gifts people would give them. Yet another carried a six-pointed star attached to a long stick with a light in its center, which symbolized the Star of Bethlehem. Carolers sang koliadky first to spread the good news, and then sang shchedrivky - well-wishing poems, appropriately selected for each home and for each member of the family separately," Galyna Yanchenko tells. Well, modern carolers indeed should think over the repertoire, considering that koliadky and shchedrivky are the oldest groups of Ukrainian folk songs and are sung by Ukrainians at Christmas time throughout the world.

However, the old traditions are not completely lost, and walking snowy village streets, mostly in Western Ukraine, you still can meet dressed carolers singing authentic koliadky.

Carolers at the door: to let in or to keep out?

Christmas caroling used to be a welcomed event in every family, but opinions of modern Ukrainians on whether to let in carolers nowadays vary.

Thus, doctor Ludmyla, for example, willingly opens the door to carolers. "Our family enjoys Christmas, and we try to maintain old traditions. On Christmas Eve we usually prepare a plate of sweets and money and wait for carolers to come. Though modern carolers and their carols differ, still..." she says. 

Lawyer Oleksandr agrees. "When I was a kid I used to go caroling myself. I remember we earned 500 hryvnias once. It was a big deal for us back then. Thus, I willingly open the door to carolers," he recalls with nostalgia.

At the same time, professor Anatoly Oleksandrovych strongly disagrees and does not let any carolers in. "Modern carols are different, and people come just to get something from you. Moreover, they are no longer happy with sweets and want only money. What's the point? However, if I see a group of dressed young people singing original carols I will be happy to welcome them," the man says.

In turn, Galyna Yancheko says that meeting carolers at the door brings happiness, and if carolers knock at your door on Christmas Eve, do not hide behind this door, but let them in. "Old traditions of caroling are disappearing. Carols are no longer authentic, and carolers are few. The tradition still lives in small towns or villages, but in Kyiv it is a rarity. Thus, if you meet carolers, do not miss this opportunity," she says.

Well, even if old traditions are disappearing, and koliadky and shchedrivky change their meaning, carolers, whatever they are, still bring good mood and happiness. Thus, prepare sweets and coins and do not hesitate to open the door! 

Daryna Schwartzman

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