The time between 24th of December and 19th of January is called Sviatki, which is a Belarusian word for holidays. The mixture of pagan, Catholic and Orthodox traditions of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, followed by Epiphany gave rise to a unique period of celebration which extends to more than two weeks.
There were many rituals which developed and were celebrated in traditional culture during these days.
Many of them are recognized in the Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Belarus and one even made its way to the UNESCO World Heritage List!
Сiareška’s wedding is no less interesting, join the party as we teleport to the Liepiel village, Viciebsk region.
The youth ritual game originates from traditional pagan games from pre-Christian times. The unique traditional ceremonial game for unmarried youth is held during the solstice. The essence of the game is for young people from different villages to know each other and find a spouse.
In the past, it had more serious and even sacred meaning – it was some kind of rehearsal of the real wedding. Young men and women got acquainted through the series of humorous and sometimes erotic games, tasks and dances. The ancient party was usually held at in the house or yard on Kalady evenings and was accompanied with loud bagpipe, fiddle or accordion tunes.
Participants prepared for the ceremony in advance. They virtually looked for and asked out a partner to be with during the ceremony. Closer to midnight, the ‘wedding’ under the leadership of the so-called “father” and “mother” took place. The adults had to have a good understanding of who likes who, have good sense of humor and know a lot of songs.
There were times when the couples who took part in the fake wedding made real families afterwards! Interestingly, in contrast to other traditional rites, Сiareška’s wedding survived to our days. The rite is widely celebrated in northern Belarus, predominantly in Paazerje (Lake Region).
In some locations, it has been celebrated for 25 years now, for example, in Hlybokaje, where they even have an amateur theatrical group called after the ritual. These days the rite is becoming more and more popular among urban youth in Minsk and other big cities.
Its secret is hidden in its simplicity, but its deeper sense is that everyone needs love. There’s no doubt it’s going to take its deserved place in the UNESCO list one day!
To learn how wedding traditions from the past turned into present-day marriage ceremonies, read our exclusive and highly detailed text Wedding In Belarus: How It Changed Through The Ages.
Text by Vital Voranau