[b]Ancient roots of Dazhynki Republican Festival of Rural Workers[/b]Long ago, after the last sheaf was threshed, villagers would gather to celebrate ‘dazhynki’ (originating from ‘dozhinat’ — ‘to finish the harvest’). This Belarusian custom began in an age when everything was done by hand. As the proverb says ‘bread crowns all’. Accordingly, ‘dazhynki’ was among the major holidays for rural workers. A century ago, most Belarusians lived in villages, so ‘dazhynki’ is a true folk festival with very old traditions.
Long ago, after the last sheaf was threshed, villagers would gather to celebrate ‘dazhynki’ (originating from ‘dozhinat’ — ‘to finish the harvest’). This Belarusian custom began in an age when everything was done by hand. As the proverb says ‘bread crowns all’. Accordingly, ‘dazhynki’ was among the major holidays for rural workers. A century ago, most Belarusians lived in villages, so ‘dazhynki’ is a true folk festival with very old traditions. Under the President’s initiative, the holiday has been celebrated on a nationwide scale since 1996 and recently celebrated its 15th anniversary in Molodechno, situated halfway between Minsk and Vilnius.
In bygone days, the most respected woman in the village went to fields on the last harvesting day just after sunrise, later joined by other women from the village. When the last sheaf had been gathered, each took an ear from a common sheaf and they processed to the house of the most respected to celebrate the harvest safely gathered in. They would share pancakes with lard, fried eggs, honey and porridge — said to inspire rich harvests.
Today, the best Belarusian agrarians, responsible for growing and harvesting the greatest volumes of grain, gather in the major square of a Belarusian city to congratulate each other, joined by villagers from all over the country. The holiday is hosted each year by a new city, with state funds allocated to renovate the centre and houses in the suburbs.
This year, it kicked off with a traditional huge parade, with folk teams performing scenes from traditional customs. A column of young families marched with prams re-equipped as mini combine harvesters and tractors while young bikers and rockers marched alongside musicians playing wind instruments.
In modern Belarus, ‘dazhynki’ is still celebrated in rural areas as it has always been. However, the national holiday has also become an occasion for general entertainment: for rural workers and urbanites alike. A large screen was installed in Molodechno’s main square, creating a TV bridge for each region to show its farming achievements. The streets of Veliki Gostinets and Vilenskaya were closed to traffic, allowing trade stalls to operate and open air parties to be enjoyed, with music and dancing. As ever, quite a few tourists arrived to join the festivities.
As is traditional, President Alexander Lukashenko attended, presenting awards to those rural workers who have won the 2011 national harvesting competition. This year has seen a rich harvest, with the President stressing the significance of farming within the country’s economy. “National dignity, people’s self-respect and the country’s true sovereignty are hardly possible without food provision,” he noted, adding, “No country can be viewed as successful if its agrarian sphere lags behind. Belarus boasts a strong agrarian sector, providing food not only domestically, but also exporting. This year, food exports should reach $4bn, ranking the agrarian branch among the most important for generating foreign currency.”
Traditionally, many tourists attend Dazhynki and, this year, ceramic souvenirs were produced especially for them. Among these was a figurine of the Mother of God (similar to the monument erected at the entrance to Molodechno) and a picture featuring the town sights (including Oginski Musical College and a monument to this Belarusian-Polish composer). In addition, the National Tourism Agency published a pocket guide to Molodechno’s history and sights, also providing addresses of city hotels, restaurants, shops and entertainment centres.
The Summer Amphitheatre, seating 2,500, regularly hosts concerts and performances; the first show was organised a month before Dazhynki, as part of the Belarusian Song and Poetry Festival.
Deputy Prime Minister Valery Ivanov praised Molodechno’s efforts at making this year’s Dazhynki so memorable; he pronounced it to be the best to date. “The Ice Palace, the Summer Amphitheatre and the Central Square were built from scratch or rapidly reconstructed. Moreover, the holiday has brought change not only to Molodechno but to neighbouring districts and the main roads in the region, which are now more beautiful.”
The local park — much loved by city residents — has acquired a new face, with ponds boasting fountains, geysers and waterfalls now found beside the lovely trees. A summerhouse on Love Island is especially popular with newly-weds and young couples posing for photographs and it’s become a new tradition for them to leave padlocks on the bridge on their wedding day.
Meanwhile, the city centre now features a wonderful sculpture-fountain called ‘Adam and Eve’, by famous master Vladimir Zhbanov. Before installation, the composition aroused much dispute, as many thought the figures — inspired by the festival of Kupalle — to be too erotic. However, it now attracts crowds of admirers. The local railway station is also home to a new sculpture: of a gracious ‘Passenger Girl’. Its author, Vadim Matskevich, tells us that his work is so loved by local residents that they have twice tried to take off her bronze earrings.
The local ‘Broadway’ — as youngsters name the central street — has also undergone change. They love to gather in the evening, to relax and chat. Moreover, the city’s main roads have been resurfaced and the pavements retiled.
The country is now preparing for the next farming year. Dazhynki will be hosted by Gorki (in Mogilev Region’s Gorki District) in the second week of September 2012 — in line with Mr. Lukashenko’s instructions. An organising committee has been set up — headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich — to prepare and organise the holiday.
By Viktar Korbut
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