On April 19 this year, across the country and around the world, people following the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition lovingly prepared their Easter basket to be blessed in a special service. This year, those baskets were blessed virtually, full of foods with symbolic meaning: Paska (bread), eggs, horseradish, bacon, cheese, salt, ham, butter, and Kubasa (sausage). Easter is considered the most holy celebration and is called Velykden' (click for video), which translates to Great Day.
Dovbush Dancers perform Zapletu Vinochok.
Typical of a Vesnianka, it begins slowly and lyrically, then transitions to a fast Kozachok. The Dance Centre, 2014. Credit: Scott Alpen
Ancient pagan celebrations, marking renewal and seasonal changes from the cold and dark of Winter to the light and abundance of Spring (Vesna), combined over time with this important Christian holiday. Traditional Spring Dances (Haivky or Vesnianky-hahilky – click for video) were once performed in sacred groves by the water but later moved to church yards as these traditional gatherings came to encompass Christian beliefs. The group dances were meant to entice Spring, pushing Winter away; movements and patterns symbolizing planting and growth brought to life the hope for a bountiful harvest, good luck and prosperity. The dances sometimes mimicked the rotation of the sun in the sky, or incorporated gestures to represent the continuity of life and nature. Spring is a time when plants and trees blossom, and it was thought that dances that spoke of the beauty and diligence of young women would invite courtship, dance, and the blossoming of true love.
Music is an integral part of Ukraine's rich cultural heritage and songs like this Vesna, sung by local Vancouver trio Vostok, will evoke the ancient rituals of Spring.
Spring is a time for family to gather and celebrate abundance and health together. This year will be a different kind of celebration for many but, as we are all learning, we have an amazing resilience and joy will be found in even the quieter, contemplative moments, the sharing of stories by phone and digitally, and the confidence that we will get through this time – together!
Enjoy! Wishing you a joyful spring – however you and yours might celebrate.
Dovbush Dancers, Vancouver. Credit: Jesse Daniel Smith