Each country celebrates the New Year and Christmas in its own way. However, if we look closely, there are more similarities between European nations than differences.
Belarusian traditions are diverse, having developed at the junction of the West and the East, combining paganism, Catho-licism and the Orthodox faith. Ancient customs remain too in Germany, with local enthusiasts proposing to register them on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Belarus has already managed to register one custom on this prestigious list: ‘Kaliadnyja tsary’, which exists in the village of Semezhevo in the Kopylsky District. Meanwhile, Ded Moroz’s residence is located in Europe’s oldest nature reserve — the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, which is also already registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The German initiative to preserve Christmas customs opens huge prospects for tourism across several European states. Many travellers particularly like to visit countries with UNESCO sites and, during their trips, become acquainted with other customs.
Let’s compare how Germans may be interested in Belarusian customs and how Belarusian traditions may tempt Germans.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Christmas all year round
Santa Klaus is known worldwide thanks to advertising, being a reincarnation of St. Nicholas. He is associated primarily with American popular culture but, of course, most Americans have European roots, while Santa Klaus originates from German lands.
The oldest prototype of Santa Klaus is pan-Christian St. Nicholas Mirlikiysky, known for giving gifts to the poor. In days gone-by, December 6th was a day for honouring St. Nicholas (in line with the church calendar) and Europeans gave gifts to children on behalf of this saint. During the Reformation, when such honouring of the saints was disapproved of, Germans and those in neighbouring states adopted Christkind as their character giving gifts. The day was shifted from December 6th to the 24th: the time of Christmas fairs. During the Counter-Reformation, presents were again given to children on behalf of St. Nicholas, but this happened on December 25th.
St. Nicholas continues to be honoured in Germany today and one of his incarnations is Weinachtsmann. At the initiative of the Deutsches Weinachtsmuseum (German Christmas Museum), located in the ancient city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, images of St. Nicholas, Weinachtsmann and Christkind (part of folk culture) have been submitted for inclusion on the UNESCO List. Museum Director Felicitas Hoptner hopes that, with attention from UNESCO, ‘traditional and historical treasures will be protected’. He asserts, “It’s very important, since many German children are no longer aware of who St. Nicholas is, or the other traditional Christmas characters in our country. We need to ensure the continuation of ancient traditions.”
Undoubtedly, this tradition will continue, supported in Germany by Kдthe Wohlfahrt stores, which offer German-style Christmas gifts all year round.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha: Ded Moroz will fulfil any wish
Belarus has a place where the Christmas atmosphere reigns all year round: the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, which is home to the residence of Belarusian Ded Moroz. The enchanting site opened in the wilds of the forest in 2003, welcoming children and their parents from around the world. Ded Moroz is asked to fulfil our dearest wishes, while we sample Belarusian cuisine and enjoy a stroll along eco-routes.
Ded Moroz welcomes guests in his throne room, alongside his granddaughter, Sniahurka. Meanwhile, children’s letters, drawings, photos and hand-made items given to Ded Moroz are kept in special storage — in his Skarbnica.
Europe’s tallest fir tree (40m high) also grows in the residence and is 120 years old. Sculptural and wooden compositions are installed nearby, depicting characters from fairytales: including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Twelve Months. Each month has a depiction of a corresponding horoscope sign and it’s said that touching your own sign will allow your wish to come true.
Semezhevo: a ‘tsary’ village
Before the 1940s, on the night of the old New Year (celebrated from January 13th to 14th), the village of Semezhevo in the Kopylsky District celebrated the ‘Tsary’ custom. Sadly, by the late 20th century, the ritual had all but disappeared, remembered only by a few local residents and ethnographers. Enthusiasts have now united their efforts to restore the tradition. In 2009, the custom was registered on UNESCO’s World Intangible Cultural Heritage List and, for Christmas 2011, the ‘Tsary’ group from Semezhevo was given the Special Prize of the President of Belarus.
Curiously, Imperial Russian soldier uniforms inspired the ‘Tsary’ costumes, while the plot was taken from the Biblical story about Tsar Maximilian. On this night, villagers dress as various characters and parade through the village with torches, dropping into houses and singing songs, receiving something tasty.
Naviny: let’s meet near the oak
Nina Klimovich is famous in the Berezensky District for preserving the ancient custom of Tsiahnuts kaliadu na duba in her native village of Naviny.
Each year, from January 6th-21st, a magical Christmas mystery is repeated in the village, with a wheel or sheaf — a kaliada — placed in an old linden or willow tree at either end, to summon luck and a good harvest. The ‘mission’ is entrusted to a strong young boy while the women dance around the tree and sing.
Tsiahnuts kaliadu na duba is registered on the State List of Historical and Cultural Heritage: the only such countrywide and worldwide. In pagan times, oaks were widely honoured as sacred, symbolising power and health.
Probably, many Belarusian customs are to be found in other regions of Europe, with traditions inter-crossed from ancient times, especially among neighbouring nations.
By Viktor Korbut
Traditions lead to UNESCO
[b]Each country celebrates the New Year and Christmas in its own way. However, if we look closely, there are more similarities between European nations than differences. [/b]Belarusian traditions are diverse, having developed at the junction of the West and the East, combining paganism, Catho-licism and the Orthodox faith. Ancient customs remain too in Germany, with local enthusiasts proposing to register them on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.