Folk ‘tsars’ maintain old Christmas tradition

Unique ‘Kolyady Tsars’ ceremony, included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, held in Kopyl District’s Semezhevo

Unique ‘Kolyady Tsars’ ceremony, included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, held in Kopyl District’s Semezhevo

Traditionally, the ancient ceremony is held only in Semezhevo, once a year, on Shchedry Vecher (Generous Evening) — from 13th to 14th January. Single young men, the ‘tsars’, don white trousers and undershirt, emboldened with an embroidered red Semezhevo sash across their chest, bearing the traditional ornamental pattern. On their head, they wear tall caps, decorated with coloured ribbons. Meanwhile, Ded (old man) and Baba (old woman) join the procession.

Unique ceremony of `Kolyady Tsars` moves with times
Unique ceremony of `Kolyady Tsars` moves with times
Photo: BELTA

The group visits each house, playing scenes from the Tsar Maximilian folk drama and conducting the battle of the ‘tsars’. Afterwards, hosts offer congratulation and bestow gifts, in return for promises of peace, harmony and prosperity in the year ahead.

Local legend notes that the rite began in the 18th century, in Semezhevo, where a detachment of the Russian army was lodging. Over the Christmas period, soldiers and officers visited each house in uniform, congratulating hosts on the holiday and giving a small performance — dancing and singing — for which they received gifts. When the detachment left the village, the local people, mainly young men, emulated the event, wearing their version of the uniform to become ‘tsars’.

By Olga Vetrova
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