January 13 – Malanka in Ukraine

Posted on January 13, 2018

Is this a Christian saint's feast day, or folk holiday based on a pagan folk tale?


In other words, it's kinda-sorta both.

Malanka is a sort of New Year's Eve holiday that also looks forward to the start of spring. 

The part that refers to a Christian saint is the timing: January 13 is the feast day of Melania the Younger. The timing also has to do with Eastern European cultures' use of the Julian calendar, instead of the Gregorian calendar, for religious observances and holidays. The Old New Year is January 14, so tonight is New Year's Eve on the Julian calendar.

The part that refers to a pagan story is the story of the Earth Mother's daughter, Mylanka, who is abducted by her evil uncle and taken to his realm, which is the underworld. While she is trapped there, the Earth is left without spring, but once she is released, plants spring forth with new, green growth.

Of course, whatever the complex beginnings of the holiday, most Ukrainians celebrate with their beloved family and community traditions that may not connect all that much with either Melania the Younger or Mylanka. Here are a few traditions:

Carolers go from house to house, where they either play pranks, act out a small play, or express well wishes to neighbors and friends.

The eldest man tosses wheat grains around the entrance to each house while saying a verse. This represents wishes for health and happiness in the coming year.

People gather in banquet halls for dinner, raffles, and dancing. 

People wear traditional Ukrainian clothing and hold big, decorative stars. These stars are even more common during Christmas - but the New Year's activities tend to be the end of the Christmas season.

To check out some of fun Ukrainian dancing (Kolomyjka), watch this and this video.

I noticed that some Ukrainian communities in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere celebrate Malanka (also spelled Melanka), but they aren't particular about celebrating on this particular date:

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