An introduction to Ukrainian New Years – Malanka!

It’s on January 13th – but what is it all about?

Malanka is a Ukrainian folk holiday celebrated on January 13th, which is New Year’s Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar. Malanka commemorates the feast day of St. Melania. On this night in Ukraine, carolers traditionally went from house to house playing pranks or acting out a small play (similar to “Vertep” — see above), with a bachelor dressed in women’s clothing leading the troop. Malanka caps off the festivities of the Christmas holidays, and is often the last opportunity for partying before the solemn period of Lent which precedes Easter.

[Ukrainian American Society of Texas]

But like many Ukrainian traditions, they existed long before the adoption of Christianity in 988 where Malanka was a mythical figure:

The celebration of Malanka symbolizes the beginning of Spring being released from captivity and on her arrival bringing the flowers and greenery to life again. This tale is clearly similar to that of Persephone in Greek mythology who was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. In Latin she was known as Proserpina. The story may indicate a cultural link between ancient Greek civilization and ancient Ukraine, since Greek colonies flourished on the Black Sea coast 2,500 years ago. In North America it is traditional for Ukrainian organizations such as Business and Professional Clubs to celebrate Malanka with a banquet and a dance.

In Ukraine the tradition varies from city to city but often features masquerade plays (also known as mumming), and can get quite bizarre:

In the evening before the Malanka night, young men put on all kinds of costumes, some of them weird and bizarre — Devils, Warriors, Police, Witches, Old Women and Men, Death, Blacksmith, Jews, Gypsies, Turks, Hutsuls and representatives of other nationalities. All of these people in their disguise move from house to house performing their little plays and improvisations for those who would care to see their performance. They make very much noise, and in addition to music, they play practical jokes on people — but no one ever gets harmed in any way. Well, the celebrants can attempt to kiss a beautiful girl, or do some mischief, but it’s all in jest.

To recap – last opportunity to party, dance and mumm?

I’m glad I have my ticket!

Malanka Tickets

Here are some of the upcoming Malanka celebrations happening in & around Toronto:

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