The Enchanting Christmas Carols of Ukraine and Transcarpathia–Kolyadki

One of these Ukrainian Christmas Carols became a legend in America

    

One of the most beloved Orthodox Christian Christmas traditions is Kolyadki, or Ukrainian and Carpatho-Russian Christmas Carols.

Kolyadki (Колядки, singular Kolyadka, колядка) comes from the Slavonic word Колѧда (Kolyada), possibly relating to the Latin kalendae, and likely the source of the Romanian word for Christmas carols–Colindă.

In Ukraine and Transcarpathia, many nations including Ukrainians, Carpatho-Rusyns, Romanians, Slovaks, and Poles, practice the similar Slavic Christmas tradition of gathering between Christmastide and Epiphanytide, during Svyatki, going house to house, throughout their villages, sharing the joy and good-news of the Nativity in the flesh, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Kolyadki are a key part of the rich Slavic tradition of hospitality, in which the master of the house, the Hospodar, is expected to warmly welcome the often young carolers, with bread and salt presented on a decorative rusnyk1, and possibly mead or mulled wine; and in exchange for his generous hospitality, the singers warm his home with glad tidings in song.

In this article, I will present videos of some of the most popular and beloved Kolyadki, one of which enchanted even generations of Americans.

Most importantly, in addition to videos, I will both translate the lyrics into English, so that the anglophone world can appreciate these beautiful carols, and I will also provide a transliteration into Latin characters, to enable those with a desire to learn, but are unable to read Cyrillic, attempt to sing these carols too.

To paraphrase the legendary Kievan choir master Mikhail Lytvynenko, Ukrainians are the most singing, musical people in Europe.2 The Ukrainian language (historically called Ruthenian or Little Russian) is beautiful and in some ways is even more melodic than Italian.

While Ukrainian is most closely related to Belarussian and Carpatho-Rusyn than to Russian-proper and Polish, one may note that it is perhaps the softest most gentile sounding of these languages. While Russian and Polish may certainly be more worldly, scientific, and formal, Ukrainian sounds naturally like a song. An interesting anecdote is while most Slavic languages are in their respective languages grammar system a masculine word (yazik), Ukrainian is considered grammatically feminine (Mova).

There is no better example on this theme, demonstrative of the enchanting and melodic beauty of Ukrainian, as the song Shedryk.

Believe it or not, this Ukrainian carol is one of the most famous and beloved Christmas carols of all time, though it goes by a different name in English.

Carol of the Bells—Shedryk—Щедрик

Carol of the Bells or Shedryk3 should require no introduction to an English speaking audience. This legendary carol was composed by Mykola Leontovych, and for over a century, it has been among the most recognizable and mesmerizing Christmas carols.

It should be said however, that the words of the Ukrainian song are not in related to the English version, Carol of the Bells; while the music is identical, the lyrics are completely different, and do not have anything necessarily to do with bells.

Shedryk is the song of a little swallow (Lastivochka), the first bird of spring, which flies into the home and summons the master of the house with her beautiful song proclaiming to him the good news that all will be well, and the new birth of spring is soon on the way, as dark nights become brighter and brighter.

Indeed, the Ukrainian carol is technically not even classified among Kolyadki—Christmas Carols; it is actually of the related type of carols called Shedrivki (Щедрівки), which are sung on New Years Eve according to the Julian (Old) Calendar, January 13 on the New Calendar. This day coincides with the Leave-Taking of the Nativity of Christ, as well as the feasts of Saint Peter (Mohyla), Metropolitan of Kiev, Galicia, and all Rus’, and another great saint associated with Kiev and Rusyns, Dositheus of Zagreb. The following day, January 14, is New Years on the Old Calendar, and also the feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, and Saint Basil the Great.

As a result, Shedrivki are essentially New Years Carols, dedicated to that eve between January 13 and 14, which is called Shedry Vechir, meaning “generous, bountiful evening”. This day is connected to the broader Christmas tradition of giving presents to children, as in many Orthodox countries, it is Saint Basil, in fact, rather than Saint Nicholas who gives these gifts. In Carpathian Rus’ and Western Ukraine, where traditions were always mixed, both ideas are observed, and everything is brought together in a single wonderful Svyatki period.

While Shedrivki are not Christmas Carols in the technical sense, they are still part of the broader Christmas season holidays, or Svyatki, which is celebrated organically as part of the same tradition. Even if Shedryk is not, in its original Ukrainian form, a proper Christmas Carol, but a Shedrivka, it’s English version, Carol of the Bells, is most certainly is a Christmas Carol.

We can still find some Christian meaning in the words of Shedryk as well, and seeing as its English version is so famous, we could not present an article on Ukrainian Christmas Carols without including Shedryk. The version below contains the lyrics in Ukrainian and English, and a transliteration is available on Wikipedia. because this song is so famous, and translations and transliterations are abundant, I will not include it here. You may find many other beautiful versions simply by searching Щедрик on Youtube.

Interestingly enough, there is even an adaptation of the song in English, with words close to, though not identical to the original.

Here is of course the famous English version for comparison.

Despite not technically being a Christmas carol, but rather a New Years Carol for Saint Basil’s Day, one can still find similar themes here. The swallow, the first bird of spring proclaiming the birth of the new lamb to the joy of the master of the house, and declaring that all will be well in the coming spring, the season of rebirth is quite symbolic. The Nativity of Christ, the sun of righteousness, is of course celebrated on the winter solstice, as dark cold days of winter get warmer and brighter, when the sun allegorically overcomes the night, and in all of this we can certainly see Christian meaning.

    

On the Nativity of Christ, Na Rizdvo Khrystove,

This quick and upbeat carol is a great place to start with the proper Christmas Carols, as it summarizes the nativity visitations.

English Translation:

On the Nativity of Christ, An Angle Flew [down],
He flew down from heaven to proclaim the glad tidings to the world,
“All peoples, rejoice,
On this day celebrate,
The Holy Nativity!” (Repeat indented line)

He flew from God to bring you joy,
That in a poor cave Christ was born!
Make haste,
Greet the new born babe! (Repeat)

Shepherds were the first to come into the cave,
And therein they found the Mother of God with the Lord,
They stood there and sung,
glorifying Christ,
and His Mother. (Repeat)

The Magi having seen the bright star,
came and worshiped the Lord and King
They worshiped God,
and gave their gifts
of frankincense and myrrh.

Ukrainian (Transliteration into Latin characters):

Na Rizdvo Khrystove Anhel pryletiv,
Vin letiv po nebi, myru vozvistyv:
Vsi lyudy, radiyte,
V tsey den’ torzhestvuyte,
Svyateye Rizdvo!" (Repeat)

Vin letyt’ vid Boha, radist’ vam prynis,
Shcho v vertepi bidnim Khrystos narodyvs’.
Skorish pospishayte,
Mladentsya strichayte,
Narozhdenoho! (Repeat)

Pastukhy v pecheru pershymy pryyshly
I tut Bozhu Matir z Hospodom znayshly.
Stoyaly, spivaly,
Khrysta proslavlyaly,
Shche y Matir Yoho! (Repeat)

Volkhvy yak uzrily yasnuyu zoryu,
Pishly, poklonylys’ Hospodu-tsaryu.
Bohu poklin daly,
Dary svoyi sklaly,
Ladan i smyrnu! (Repeat)

Original Ukrainian lyrics:

На Різдво Христове Ангел прилетів,
Він летів по небі, миру возвістив:
“Всі люди, радійте,
В цей день торжествуйте,
Святеє Різдво!" (Repeat)

Він летить від Бога, радість вам приніс,
Що в вертепі біднім Христос народивсь.
Скоріш поспішайте,
Младенця стрічайте,
Нарожденого! (Repeat)

Пастухи в печеру першими прийшли
І тут Божу Матір з Господом знайшли.
Стояли, співали,
Христа прославляли,
Ще й Матір Його! (Repeat)

Волхви як узріли ясную зорю,
Пішли, поклонились Господу-царю.
Богу поклін дали,
Дари свої склали,
Ладан і смирну! (Repeat)

    

In the dark night (Sleep Jesus), V temnuyu nichku, В темную нічку (Спи, Ісусе,)

It is impossible to listen to this soulful carol and truly understand the words without crying. This carol describes the Birth of Jesus, with the Mother of God singing him a lullaby about his fate. She sings to him that he will grow up and go into the world, and with time, people across the entire world will believe in him. She tells him he will save the world from death, but not before He, her newly born Son, would himself die on Golgotha.

No one could ever truly understand the fate of the Mother of God, the highest being ever created. She gave birth without corruption to God in the flesh, containing, (by His own consent), in her womb both the Creator of the universe, and her own personal Creator, Whom the heavens themselves could not contain. He was of course, before becoming her Son, the Immortal Logos of God, as he remained, but now here is a juxtaposition to marvel at...now that immortal Logos is an infant physically not unlike other babies, and He became her baby.

And now in this carol, she sings to her baby and her Creator about what he already perfectly understands, that He will grow up, teach the world He created the truth, His own creations and children will then murder Him, and He will rise from the dead not to punish them, but still to save him, and of course, His victory is inevitable. Yet still...what incomprehensible emotions this must bring on a girl who most likely not being much older than eighteen, was already more honorable than the many-eyed cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the sixed-winged seraphim.

To give birth to your own God, and then sing to Him about His inevitable death, and glorious resurrection... No mother wants to outlive her son, but its an entirely separate strange and awesome thing to understand that not only will your son die, but He will also save the human race and rise from the dead. This beautiful version is sung by the monks of the Holy Mountain Lavra in Donbas, Eastern Ukraine, one of the most persecuted and troubled regions in the country, not far from the village where Saint John of Shanghai and San-Francisco was born.

Translation into English:

In the dark night, above Bethlehem,
a bright star shined out, covering the Holy Land.
The Most Pure Virgin, the Holy Bride,
in a poor cave gave birth to a Son.

[Chorus] Sleep Jesus, sleep my little baby,
Sleep my little star,
About your fate, my little sweet,
To you I will sing.

She gently kissed and swaddled him,
She put him to bed, and quietly started to sing,
You will grow up, my Son, you’ll become a grown-up,
And you will go out into the world, my baby.

Sleep Jesus, sleep my sweet little baby,
Sleep my little star,
About your fate, my little sweet,
To you I will sing.

The Love of the Lord and God’s truth,
You will bring faith to the world, to your people,
The truth will live on, the shackles of sin will be shattered,
[But my child], on Golgotha, my child will die.

Sleep Jesus, sleep my sweet little baby,
Sleep my little star,
About your fate, my little sweet,
To you I will sing.

Sleep, Jesus, sleep my sweet little baby,
Sleep my rose blossom,
With hope on You
The entire world is watching!

Ukrainian (Transliteration into Latin text):

V temnuyu nichku, nad Vyfleyemom,
Yasna zorya ziyshla, svitlom zemlyu pokryla.
Prechysta Diva, svyata Nevista,
V vertepi bidnomu Synochka zrodyla.

(Chorus):

Spii, Isuse, spii, Malenky,
Spii, Ty, zirochko, moya.
Tvoyu dolyu, miy mylenky,
Tobi spivayu ya.

Nizhno tsiluvala, pelenoyu vkryla,
Poklala spaty, tykho pisnyu zavela:
Vyrostesh, Ty, Synku, stanesh Ty doroslym,
U sviti pidesh, Dytynochka Moya.

Spii, Isuse, spii, Malen’kyy,
Spii, Ty, zirochko, moya.
Tvoyu dolyu, miy mylen’kyy,
Tobi spivayu ya.

Lyubov Hospodnyu i Bozhu pravdu
Ty, svitom viry, lyudyam svoyim poenesesh,
Pravda bude zhyty, hrikha okovy rozib'ye
No na Holhofi, umre Dytyatko moye.

Spii, Isuse, spii, Malenky,
Spii, Ty, zirochko, moya.
Tvoyu dolyu, miy mylenky,
Tobi spivayu ya.

Spii, Isuse, spii, malenky,
Spii,Ty, miy rozhevyy tsvit
I z nadiyeyu na Tebe
Dyvytsya uves’ svit!

Lyrics in Ukrainian:

В темную нічку, над Вифлеємом,
Ясна зоря зійшла, світлом землю покрила.
Пречиста Діва, свята Невіста,
В вертепі бідному Синочка зродила.

(Приспів):

Спи, Ісусе, спи, Маленький,
Спи, Ти, зірочко, моя.
Твою долю, мій миленький,
Тобі співаю я.

Ніжно цілувала, пеленою вкрила,
Поклала спати, тихо пісню завела:
Виростеш, Ти, Синку, станеш Ти дорослим,
У світі підеш, Дитиночка Моя.

Спи, Ісусе, спи, Маленький,
Спи, Ти, зірочко, моя.
Твою долю, мій миленький,
Тобі співаю я.

Любов Господню і Божу правду
Ти, світом віри, людям своїм поенесеш,
Правда буде жити, гріха окови розіб'є
Но на Голгофі, умре Дитятко моє.

Спи, Ісусе, спи, Маленький,
Спи, Ти, зірочко, моя.
Твою долю, мій миленький,
Тобі співаю я.

Спи, Ісусе, спи, маленький,
Спи,Ти, мій рожевий цвіт
І з надією на Тебе
Дивится увесь світ!

The Pre-Eternal God was born tonight—Boh predvičnyj narodilsja—Бог предвічний народився

This is a very popular carol from Western Ukraine.

The following translation and transliteration is found on Wikipedia, and the original Ukrainian along with the musical notes is in the video.

English Translation:

God eternal is born tonight.
He came down from above
To save us with his love
And he rejoiced.

He was born in Bethlehem,
Our Christ, Our Messiah,
The Lord of creation
was born here for us.

The tidings came through an angel,
Shepherds knew, then the Kings
The watchers of the skies
Then all creation.

When Christ was born of the Virgin,
A star stood where the Son,
And Mother, the most pure,
Were sheltered that night.

You three wise men, whither go you?
We go to Bethlehem,
Bearing peaceful greetings,
We shall then return.

Returning through, a new way they chose,
The malicious Herod,
The evil wicked one,
They wished to avoid.

Ring out the song: “Glory to God!”
Honor to the son of God,
Honor to our Lord,
And homage to him.4

Ukrainian Transliteration (Scholarly)

Boh predvičnyj narodivsja,
Prišov dnes iz nebes,
Ščob spasti ľud svyj ves,
I utíšivsja.

V Viflejemi narodivsja,
Mesija Christos naš
I Pan naš, dl'a vsich nas
Nam narodivsja.

Obvistiv ce Anhel Božij
Napered pastyrjam
A potim zvizdarjam
I zemnym zvirjam.

Diva Syna jak porodila
Zvízda sta, hde Christa,
Nevista prečista
Syna srodila.

Trie cari, hde idete?
My idem v Viflejem
S želannjem s pokojem
I povernemsja.

Inšym putem povernuli
Spobnoho, pohancja
Ipoda pukavcja
Sovcim minuli.

Slava Bohu zaspivajme:
čest' Synu Božemu
I Panu našemu
​Poklin viddajmo.

Oh Who Loves, Nicholas the Saintly – Oi Khto Khto, Mykolaya Lyubyt’– Ой хто, хто Миколая любить

This song to Saint Nicholas should require no introduction to those familiar with Carpatho-Russian Orthodox traditions. Popular in English throughout traditional Rusyn settlement in Eastern America and Canada, although this song was originally intended for Saint Nicholas’s day, due to its inclusion in many traditional Christmas plays, we include it here. No Rusyn Christmas play would be complete without this nostalgic song.

Due to the popularity of this song, it is hard to find a single version with the exact lyrics, but the most common version is as follows:

O who loves Nicholas the saintly,
O who serves Nicholas the saintly,
Him will Nicholas receive,
And give help in time of need:
Holy Father Nicholas! (Repeat)

Oh who dwells in God’s holy mansions,
Is our help on the land and oceans,
He will guard us from all ills,
Keep us pure and free from sins
Holy Father Nicholas! (Repeat)

Oh whomever comes unto him,
Oh whomever calls upon his help,
He will be delivered from tribulation whole,
He will be protected body and soul,
Holy Father Nicholas! (Repeat)

Nicholas, pray to God for us,
We beseech you with tears,
And we will praise you,
and magnify your name,
Holy Father Nicholas! (Repeat)

Transliteration:

Oy khto, khto Mykolaya lyubyt’,
Oy khto, khto Mykolayu sluzhyt’, -
Tomu svyatyy Mykolay
Na vsyakyy chas pomahay,
Svyatyy otche Mykolayu! (Repeat)

Oy khto, khto spishyt’ v tvoyi dvory,
Seho ty na zemli y na mori.
Vse khoronysh vid napasty,
Ne dayesh mu v hrikhy vpasty,
Svyatyy otche Mykolayu!

Oy khto, khto k n’omu prybihaye,
Na pomich yoho pryzyvaye,
Toy vse z horya vyyde tsilo,
Okhoronyt’ dushu y tilo,
Svyatyy otche Mykolayu!

Mykolay, molysya za namy,
Blahayem tebe zi sl’ozamy,
My tya budem vykhvalyaty,
Im'ya tvoye velychaty,
Svyatyy otche Mykolayu!

Original:

Ой хто, хто Миколая любить,
Ой хто, хто Миколаю служить, -
Тому святий Миколай
На всякий час помагай,
Святий отче Миколаю!

Ой хто, хто спішить в твої двори,
Сего ти на землі й на морі.
Все хорониш від напасти,
Не даєш му в гріхи впасти,
Святий отче Миколаю!

Ой хто, хто к ньому прибігає,
На поміч його призиває,
Той все з горя вийде ціло,
Охоронить душу й тіло,
Святий отче Миколаю!

Миколай, молися за нами,
Благаєм тебе зі сльозами,
Ми тя будем вихваляти,
Ім'я твоє величати,
​Святий отче Миколаю!

Here is a beautiful version in both English and diaspora Rusyn.

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Good Evening to thee, Dear Host—Dobry vechir tobi—Добрий вечір тобі, пане господарю

This is one of the most popular Ukrainian Christmas Carols, known for its upbeat and fast melody. The carol expresses the good news, the joy of the Nativity of Christ, to the master of a house (hospitable master), who is preparing to receive guests, as part of the Slavic kolyada/svyatki tradition, for his holy supper. From this song, we learn to important things regarding the Christmastide5 feasts and the Slavic tradition of hospitality, which we will discuss below. Firstly, enjoy this wonderful version (vykonannya/виконання) by the western Ukrainian group: Піккардійська терція.

English Translation:

Good evening to thee, Hospitable Master! Rejoice!

Chorus: Oh rejoice all the lands, the Son of God is born!

Set out the tables with the best linens. Rejoice!

[Chorus]

Place the breads made from spring wheat! Rejoice!

[Chorus]

For behold, three feast days are coming to greet you! Rejoice!

[Chorus]

The First Feast is the Nativity of Christ, Rejoice!

[Chorus]

The Second Feast is that of Saint Basil. Rejoice!

[Chorus]

The Third Feast is that of the Baptism [of the Lord]! Rejoice!

[Chorus]

O Rejoice, the Son of God is born!

O Rejoice, the Son of God is born!

Transliteration in Ukrainian:

Dobree vechir tobi, pane hospodaryu, raduisya!
Oi raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyv[w]sya!

Zastelyayte stoly, ta vse kylymamy, raduisya!
Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

Ta kladit’ kalachi z yaroyï pshenytsi, raduisya!
Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

Bo pryydut’ do tebe try praznyky v hosti, raduisya!
Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

A toy pershyy praznyk – Rozhdestvo Khrystove, raduisya!
Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

A toy druhyy praznyk – Svyatoho Vasylya, raduisya!
Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

A toy tretiy praznyk – Svyate Vodokhreshcha, raduisya!
Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

Oy raduisya, zemle, Syn Bozhyy narodyvsya!

Original lyrics in Ukrainian:

Добрий вечір тобі, пане господарю, радуйся!
Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

Застеляйте столи, та все килимами, радуйся!
Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

Та кладіть калачі з ярої пшениці, радуйся!
Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

Бо прийдуть до тебе три празники в гості, радуйся!
Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

А той перший празник – Рождество Христове, радуйся!
Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

А той другий празник – Святого Василя, радуйся!
Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

А той третій празник – Святе Водохреща, радуйся!
​Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

Ой радуйся, земле, Син Божий народився!

Cultural Details

There are two very important things to learn from this popular song, which both Slavs and non-Slavs alike should understand.

The Importance of the Christmastide and the Christian Calendar

First and foremost, we clearly see how in the proper Christian tradition, Christmas is not simply celebrated on one day, and then forgotten in a haze of materialistic vanity. Christmas is an entire season of holidays (svyatki in colloquial Ukrainian and Russian), in which we celebrate events concerning the Nativity in the flesh of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We may appropriate a western term, and call these holidays Christmastide and Epiphanytide, as in the west, the general idea was the same. Many in English have heard the term, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” or Twelvetide, but few understand what this means.

It means simply that our universal Christian ancestors celebrated Christmas for many days, not only on December 25 (January 7 on the new calendar). All these holidays are part of the Christmas season and all are due the proper attention.

This carol describes with such joy, that these (specifically three) holidays (Nativity, Saint Basil, and Theophany) are coming to greet us, (literally “as guests”).

The host is warmly greeted and told “Good evening” (Dobry vechir/Добрий вечір), which is a term that again, to us, may seem like a common greeting, but in fact these words are spoken with genuine blessing and sincerity. Many Kolyadki contain the greeting “Good evening”, which in folklore is associated with the Nativity, as it is truly a most Good evening, as the song continues, the Son of God was born. This entire song can teach us to study the importance and meaning of words; and when we see how important the meaning of these words are, we understand how seriously the people celebrated these holidays.

Traditionally, Christians, our pious ancestors, lived from holiday to holiday, the Calendar, from which in fact the word Kolyadki is said to come from, was not simply a method for counting days. It was an entire way of life, each season representing a cycle of world-changing, or at least significant events, in salvation history. As a result, gatherings to celebrate these feasts were major events that the entire village would be involved in, each holiday genuinely met with solemnity and joy.

This is why talk of changing the calendar, as some schismatics in Western Ukraine shamefully suggest, is quite painful, considering this calendar is the life-cycle of the people, their history, and their future. The calendar is more than dates and numbering, it is a continuum of Christian liturgical life, which was seamlessly intertwined with daily life, which every generation practiced. When something has been practiced from generation to generation, it should not be so easily changed and forgotten.

These holidays were by no means simply excuses to party or take off work; in fact, preparing for them with fasting during Advent is a labor in itself, as is the labor of making these elaborate Christmas meals. Especially for poor villagers in the distant Carpathian Mountains, or in the shivering steppes, this was all extremely costly in their scarcity for them to then simply share with family and parishioners.

Now with the over-emphasis on New Years to replace Christmas, which the godless soviets forced onto the pious Triune Russian Orthodox people, and the way Christmas in the West has become materialized into a consumerist-materialistic holiday, one can see that godless, valueless (cultural) Marxism is by no means dead—it just took on a different form.

In the East, they tried to replace Christmas, which split the focus of society into two groups, those who still fast on new years and await glorious Nativity, and those who consider New Years their main winter “holiday”. Indeed, in Russia and the near abroad, it has plagued society with secularism, but at the very least, Christmas was preserved as a religious holiday. Ironically, by putting the focus on New Years, the Bolsheviks ignored Christmas, leaving its observation as a religious holiday relatively unadulterated.

In the west, the plan was perhaps even more insidious. Rather than like the soviets, declaring open war on the Baby Jesus as did the wicked coward Herod, the West has completely perverted the meaning of Christmas for most. In the West, it is a single day focused on giving gifts, prior to New Years day. In place of the self-denial of the Nativity fast, they’ve turned Advent into a season of over-indulgence, dedicated to buying as much as possible, preceding a family meal and gift giving, and then onward to New Years day. Some don’t even bother leaving the Christmas decorations up even until Catholic Epiphany!

Nevertheless, by virtue of its isolation and relatively later incorporation into the soviet beast, Western Ukraine retained a large amount of village life, and local Christian traditions, which the anti-Russian Bolsheviks tried to purge from Great and Little Russia; and this is especially evident in their disctuction of (Great) Russian village customs.

Galicia–Volhynia and Transcarpathia, despite being plagued by schismatics and Uniates, still retains its Christmas traditions to remind us what the holiday is all about—celebrating the Birth of Christ and the associated holidays. This song is only one of many which teach us this and shows us how important these holidays are to those pious people. And may God save the pious, and hear them forever!

The Importance of Hospitality and the role of the Host in Slavic Culture

We also see the great importance and emphasis on the role of the host and hospitality in Ukrainian and Slavic culture. The song begins addressing the master of a house, translated in the given lyrics as “Hospitable Master”, however that was only paraphrased to convey the meaning, as this is in fact a very difficult word and concept to explain.

In the Ukrainian, the master of the house is simply called “пане господарю” which in the most literal translation, would mean “Sir Lord”’—which of course does not quite make sense. If we break this phrase down, we find both words are in the vocative case, directly addressing the host. Therefore, the nominative word пан (pan) simply means Sir, as in English, originally a title for nobility of various ranks, and now equivalent to mister in English or monsieur in French. The nominative word Господар[ь] (Hospodar) literally means lord, but in this context, refers to the master of a home, or the host.

The Hospodar is traditionally supposed to be a hospitable host, kind and generous to guests and strangers.

In modern culture, we take hospitality, supper, and even Christmas for granted; but to people in generations and centuries before, this was considered a major Christian obligation, conducted with love, because whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me.

As a result, by hosting a Christmas meal, the Hospodar is an honored figure. Of course, he could be a great lord (Pan) hosting the poor for a Christmas meal, but the song gives us another hint as to what kind of person this is. The Hospodar is addressed in the second person singular, “thee” instead of “you”.

Ukrainian, like many languages including Middle and Early Modern English, has a custom of addressing social superiors, anyone from teachers, to village elders, to lords, and even emperors, in the second-person plural form (you/your/yours/etc), whereas peers, or very close people would be addressed in the second-person singular (thou/thee/thy/thine/etc.). As noted, English once had this same custom, which is known to linguists as the T-V distinction, coming from the respective Latin pronouns tu and vos, which ironically sounds like the Slavic equivalent Ty and Vy.

It is often misunderstood, that in “Old” English, “thou” is simply the old way of saying what we know as “you”, but in fact, “thou” is singular, and “you” is plural, which could either address a group of people (in modern English one would be forced to say “you people, or you folks”), or a single person of high status.

Simply put, if you walked up to the King of England and said “Good Evening Thy Majesty” you would be in big trouble, as “thy” is an informal or personal address. This is why the title is “Your Majesty”, “Your Lordship”, etc. and not “Thy”.

This is also why it is important in the Bible and in prayers to address God on the informal or personal “thou/thy”, as in Slavonic and Greek, because God knows us better than we know ourselves, and he must always be addressed closely and with love, as if to our own Father, as after all, the Lord did command us to pray, “Our Father”.

In this song, we see the lord of the house is addressed in the informal second-person singular, (Добрий вечір тобі (toby), пане господарю), and thus we can gather he is not a lofty lord holding a banquet, but very likely a grandparent, relative, or neighbor; and so this song shows us both the high social status of the master of a house (as not everyone simply owned houses capable of receiving guests in such a manner), and also how closely he relates to everyone.

He warmly gathers his family and neighbors to his table for a Christmas meal. As a result, many would then say that Christmas is about gathering with friends and family, but that is also not entirely correct. While the importance of gathering together with loved ones should not be understated, as it is both a theme of the song, and a Christian tradition, this is also missing the mark. Despite the fact that this song clearly describes a festal gathering, the refrain constantly emphasizes, “Rejoice, the Son of God is born!” This is what is being so constantly forgotten for a long time.

The Meaning of Christmas

So often we hear these days how the Christmas spirit doesn’t feel like it used to, though we rarely identify why, even when the answer is staring people in the face; that is to say, people these days have no idea what Christmas even means. And it is not only the godless who are to blame. Even if intellectually and formally we know Christmas celebrates the Birth of Jesus, many Christians must not actually believe this, because if they did, they would clearly be celebrating it differently.

The first most obvious answer, to those wondering what happened to “the spirit of Christmas”, in these latter days, is to ask: “Well, how are you preparing for it?” If we prepare by attending as many church services as possible, observing all the coming feasts, practicing traditions such as Kolyadki and Christmas caroling, and ever so importantly, by fasting, this changes everything. Both spiritually and psychologically, you are preparing yourself for a holy celebration, and not a winter vacation of overindulgence.

If those of us on the Old Calendar just spent secular New Years day partying and feasting, and not even remotely trying to observe the fast, how can we be surprised if when the Nativity comes, the day seems to pass like an ordinary day, without any of the “Christmas spirit” we remember from the innocence of our childhood. We just put all our attention, joy, and focus, on what should be a normal day, the change of one numerical calendar date to another, which has no effect on our spiritual life. So why should we be surprised when we don’t feel the same spiritual joy on the true holy day? We’ve already had our fill.

So first and foremost, the reason why sometimes we can’t feel the Christmas spirit these days, is because we aren’t observing it properly. Even if we are not going to the materialistic lengths of the godless, we are still not comprehending any true theology in this day. This also goes for those who see the purpose of the holiday as primarily to gather with family and sing songs, and feast.

First, the Nativity of Christ, when the Creator of the universe took on flesh in order to trample the machinations of the devil beneath His infant feet, becomes simply a religious-themed family gathering. Then the next generation, seeing the shallow faith of the previous, throws off all illusions that this was a religious holiday in their family, because it was never taught to them properly in the first place, and this is how Christmas has become a materialistic holiday for many. This degradation of spiritual values did not happen overnight, it was a slow process, and now we see the final result of years of godlessness and shallow faith.

If we want to truly “feel the Christmas spirit of our childhood again”, as some put it, we must become more like the Infant Christ, like a child, not only because children are innocent, but because the minds of children are most open to learning that those of adults, who have already become set in their ways.

If we want to worthily celebrate Christmas, we must first begin with fasting, attending church, and reading religious material concerning this great feast. Then once it comes, and we go to Liturgy our minds, purified by fasting and prayer, will again be enlightened with theology—marveling at how men, our ancestors, who once worshiped the stars, were led by a star to worship Christ, the Son of Righteousness. Then when we have our Holy Nativity Suppers, when we generously give to the needy and our loved ones, when we sing Kolyadki, when children open the presents, we enjoy all our other traditions in their proper order, and we will feel the spirit of Christmas. For the meaning of Christmas is the birth in the flesh of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the sun of righteousness around Whom all Christmas traditions must worthily orbit.

Matfey Shaheen

1/12/2020

1 A Slavic embroidered towel often red and white, made of linen.

2 Никифорова, Александра. Михаил Семенович Литвиненко: «Я ничего не боюсь» // http://pravoslavie.ru/119266.html

3 This “Sh” sound in Ukrainian (Щ) is pronounced like “Sh” and “Ch” put together, however seeing as Shch may be orthographically intimidating for English speakers to read, I transliterated it here as Shedryk instead of Shchedryk.

4 Via Wikipedia: "Boh predvičnyj". Metropolitan Cantor Institute. Byzantine Catholic. Retrieved 12 August 2015.

5 Christmastide can have various meanings in different denominations. Since there is no dogmatized-standardized Orthodox lexicon in the English language, I use the term Christmastide loosely, and combined with the concept of Epiphany tide, essentially to refer simply yet more articulately to the holidays associated with the Christmas season.

See also
Christ is Born! Let Us Glorify Him in Song! Christ is Born! Let Us Glorify Him in Song! Christ is Born! Let Us Glorify Him in Song! Christ is Born! Let Us Glorify Him in Song!
Editor’s Pick: Christmas Caroling Traditions in Orthodox lands
The two weeks between the feast of the Nativity of Christ and His Theophany have in Orthodox lands always been a time spent glorifying Christ in families and communities. With this spilling over of joy in the birth of our Savior came the tradition of walking from house to house singing carols, to bring the grace and peace of Christ’s Nativity to those around us.
Christmas Manger Scenes Christmas Manger Scenes
Photogallery
Christmas Manger Scenes Christmas Manger Scenes
Photogallery
Of course manger scenes are especially for children. And there is no need to explain why—the little ones are transported in their minds and heart to the manger of the Infant Christ in Bethlehem, not only at the festal services but also by gazing upon these mystical manger scenes.
Caroling in Christmas in Glen Rock, PA Caroling in Christmas in Glen Rock, PA
Jesse Dominick
Caroling in Christmas in Glen Rock, PA Caroling in Christmas in Glen Rock, PA
Jesse Dominick
It’s a quiet little place in Southern York County, PA of a humble population of 2,000. There’s only one traffic light in the whole town. Most of the year the strongest attraction is the Mignano Family Restaurant, with authentic Italian food made by authentic Italians. But ask anyone who has lived in Glen Rock, PA and they’ll tell you there’s only one place to be on the night of Christmas Eve into Christmas: huddled under that one traffic light in the center of the town at midnight, heralding our Lord’s salvific entrance into the world with hymns of nineteenth-century England.
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