Today is Christmas Day in Ukraine. Christmas Day, no matter what day of the year you celebrate it, along with Easter Sunday, marks one of the key Christian religious days that emphasises values such as peace and kindness towards ones fellow man. Sadly, Ukraine has had not much of either in 2014, so my Christmas wish to Ukraine is that peace returns to her shores and that the Russian’s leave as quickly as they invaded this year.
As a small Christmas gift, I wanted to share with you a very cute animation with the soundtrack of a Christmas carol which I bet you never knew originated as a Ukrainian folk song. The enchanting music composed by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1904 based on the original song called “Schedryk”, or “Swallow”. This animation is the original Leontovych arrangement animated by the Ukrainian artist Ev Melekhovets
The wider world was introduced to this beautiful carol through the help of American Ukrainian, Peter Wilhousky, and became known to the world as “Carol of the Bells”. Wilhousky made his arrangement following a performance of the original song by Alexander Koshetz’s Ukrainian National Chorus at Carnegie Hall on October 5, 1921.
The original song’s lyrics are about a swallow that flew into a master’s household and started twittering to him about the increase of his livestock.
But why on Earth are Ukrainian’s singing about a Swallow in the middle of Winter? Ukrainian swallows spend their winters south of the Sahara. The culprit of this confusion is the Russian Tsar Peter I, who in 1699, with his continued Europification of Russia, established New Year to be celebrated on January 1, following the example of the other European nations. Before that, Ukrainians celebrated New Year around the Spring Equinox.
From pagan times, it was the reawakening of nature that marked the start of the New Year. The ritual songs called “shchedrivky,” which means “bountiful New Years carols,” were meant to bestow all the earthly riches on a master’s homestead and wish him a fertile year – quite a desirable outcome in an agrarian society. It was also Peter I who introduced Christmas trees to be used as a celebration attribute. Before that, the Christmas decorations that Ukrainians used were made from straw. The main one used is called didukh and symbolizes fertility.
If the swallow around Christmas wasn’t confusing enough, Ukrainians sing these New Year shchedrivky not on January 1, but on January 13 – a result of the Orthodox church using the Gregorian calendar, which runs 13 days later than the Julian calendar used by the Catholic church.
But whatever calendar you use I would like to wish you all a very
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
З Різдвом і Новим Роком
Nollaig Shona agus Athbhliain Shona duit