Ancient Ukrainian tradition of celebrating harvest festival reproduced in Kyiv region

Ancient Ukrainian tradition of celebrating harvest festival reproduced in Kyiv region

In ancient times, Ukrainians strictly adhered to agrarian and magic traditions and carried out many various rituals, including a harvest festival.

Most of the rites dedicated to the end of the harvest took place right on the field. Harvesting traditionally included a series of successive stages that corresponded to certain ritual and magic actions. For example, before starting to harvest rye or wheat, peasants went out to the field in clean clothes and thanked God that they waited for this great holiday and asked for the harvesting campaign to pass smoothly and successfully.

The harvest ended when grain crops were ripe on most of Ukraine's territory. This was the end of July or the beginning of August, close to the Feast of the Savior. The harvest festival was usually celebrated at this time.

Ukrainians, as well as other agricultural peoples of Europe, necessarily left several bunches of unharvested wheat ears on the field. It is believed that this custom started from the rites of a sacrifice to the ground.

The harvest holiday began with the threshing of the last compressed sheaf. This sheaf, which is often called "didukh" (which literally means "the spirit of ancestors"), was decorated with guelder rose, tied with a red ribbon and carried from the field to the master. 

Special attention was also paid to the reaper that had to carry a didukh from the field. It could be carried only by a young, beautiful girl with a good reputation, necessarily virgin, because only in this case one could expect a good harvest. Then the girl walked in the field and the village in front, while the other people followed her and sang songs.

One of the masters prepared a festive dinner in advance and waited for a solemn procession. He received the sheaf from the hands of the girl, giving her a small amount of money instead, and invited the guests to his house.

And then began a fun feast on the occasion of the end of the harvest. The didukh was then kept in a storeroom or barn until Christmas Eve, when it was taken to the house with honors and stayed there all winter.

At the Feast of the Savior, didukhy were brought to the church, where the priest sanctified them along with the fruits and bread that was baked from the flour of the new harvest. Then these wreaths were carefully stored, and the seeds from them were used to sow the winter fields.

Photo credit: Olena Khudiakova

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