Slavic holidays from pagan times in Orthodox culture
The adoption of another religion by a people does not occur simultaneously — it takes decades, during which the old beliefs are organically assimilated with the new ones. So it happened in the territory of our country, Christianity that came to earth inevitably mixed with paganism, and the echoes of the latter are clearly visible in many church holidays that we celebrate every year.
Paganism and Christmas
All nations, adhering to paganism, a huge role relegated to the sun. Important holidays for them were the days of the winter and summer solstices, as periods when one season is replaced by another. When in the 4th century the church fixed the date of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, it fell on the day of the pagan “kolovratov”.
In Greece, during this period, Dionysus was honored, in the Roman Empire — the sun god Mithra, and in Egypt — Osiris.
The idea that the Christmas holiday brought with it successfully fit into the traditions of the Slavic Kolovrat winter. From this moment on, the day begins to arrive, bringing the birth of a new life and the awakening of nature closer.
In the same way, the Savior awakened mankind and brought light to it.
Slavs after Kolovrata celebrated the whole week of Christmas. People had fun, walked, girls guessed, and the young people «got rid of themselves» and went home to caroling.
As we see, these traditions have passed through the centuries and only by the end of the 20th century have faded.
Another important holiday with obvious pagan roots is Maslenitsa. Pagans spent the whole week on the farewell of Mary (the goddess of Winter), who was solemnly burned at the end.
The holiday was dedicated to the arrival of spring and the awakening of nature and was invariably celebrated by the Slavs at the spring equinox — March 21. Mary’s leaving made room for the gods of life and fertility, therefore, at the end of the festive week, the farmers started “working days”.
Specialists have some doubts about whether Mary’s effigy was really burned in the old days. The tribes had a respectful attitude towards all idols and nature, as people were afraid to anger the gods.
It is believed that the burning process was “added” to the feast due to the influence of the church, which seeks to eliminate the traces of idolatry from the customs of Christians. With time, the churchmen “stole” the date of the celebration, now it is not fixed, but depends on the day of Easter.
But the common features of the Slavic holiday have reached our days through the centuries: youthful amusements, round dances, jumping over the fire and constant pancakes. Maslenitsa has lost its original sacred meaning to the people, but we celebrate it consistently every year.
At the Ecumenical Council in the middle of the 4th century, the fate of celebrating all the famous dates and important holidays for Christians, including Easter, was decided.
The date of Easter is conditionally tied to the day of the vernal equinox, it is celebrated after it on Sunday after the full moon. During this period, the earth «resurrects», so the idea of Easter did not seem alien to the Slavs. One of the main symbols of the holiday — the egg — also has certain origins in paganism.
For the Slavs, it was a clear symbol of the birth of a new life.
In the Slavic holiday calendar, an important place was given to Radonitsa. It was noted on May 1, at the end of planting.
The farmers who completed the important spring affairs could have a little rest and pay homage to the deceased relatives.
In general, the dead ancestors for the Slavs were of great importance. They were taken to constantly read and mention, otherwise, according to the beliefs of the pagans, their souls could get angry. The “deceased relatives” were “curious” according to a certain pattern:
- In the morning it was supposed to work, and hard and spending a lot of effort. Hard work symbolized the life and memory of how close people invested their strength in raising a new generation.
- At lunch you need to visit the graves of ancestors and loved ones, clean up on the churchyard, leave the «treat» and talk to the departed, as with living people. It was believed in Radonitsa the dead can hear us and help with advice.
- In the evening, folk festivals were held, with dances and a feast. «Rada» means «advice», and on this night for the feast the living and the dead gathered. For the dead, empty plates were placed on the table, and vessels filled with water under the windows. So that the dead do not get lost, candles were lit.
A bath was always heated on Radonitsa and clean linen was prepared, but it was forbidden to enter the room alive during the day. Only on the following day could one look inside and look for traces confirming that the deceased was attending a steam bath.
Radonitsa for the Slavs was an extremely bright holiday, full of joy. Death for them did not seem to be something terrible, they knew that their souls will always be along with the living.
After Radonitsa came a steady warmth and the real summer came, bringing fruit and harvest.
Ivan Kupala and Perunov day
The Slavic summer holidays were also delayed in the Christian calendar. Ivan Kupala was the main one: our ancestors organized feasts, drove round dances on the river bank, and also jumped over the fire. The efforts of Orthodox ideologues were not crowned with success; therefore, the only thing left for the church was to accept and slightly adapt it to the new beliefs.
Ivan Kupala «successfully» coincided with the birthday of John the Baptist, who became the patron of the day.
Another replacement occurred with Perun’s day, which became Ilin. In the memory of the people, through generations, some of the customs that the church tried to eliminate were preserved.
Honey and Apple Saved
It would seem that truly Orthodox holidays — Honey and Apple Savior — have Slavic roots. By the end of the summer, our ancestors collected honey, and some of the honeycombs were surely sacrificed to the gods, thereby «buying» their favor. The Slavs shared their first bee “harvest” with their dead parents.
The church slightly modified the custom: now the collected honey is lit and blessed.
Celebrated in 5 days, Apple Savior marks the harvest of vegetables and fruits. Until that day, it was strictly forbidden to take samples, because the Slavs believed that in this case the souls of the dead children would starve.
In Christian culture, the harvest festival was combined with the Day of the Transfiguration.
You will learn more about the Slavic traditions and their influence on Christian holidays from an interesting video:
Christian culture had a significant impact on our people, but the Slavic traditions, customs and rituals still survived for the most part. All the dominant holidays of the church calendar have pagan «echoes»:
- The old-style Christmas coincided with the winter Kolovrat;
- Maslenitsa directly refers us to farewell to the goddess of winter Mara;
- Easter according to the date of celebration corresponds with the vernal equinox and symbolizes the resurrection of nature;
- Radonitsa became a kind of «Easter of the Dead» and goes back to the Slavic traditions of honoring deceased ancestors;
- the main summer holidays — Ivan Kupala and Perunov Day — were slightly adapted to the new faith;
- Honey and Apple Spas carry traces of harvest holidays of Slavic tribes.
Such an interesting assimilation of cultures is of high value and distinguishes us from other nations. It is important not to forget about our roots and continue to carry our ancestors’ traditions through the generations.
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