The Bright Seven Days
The first week of Easter is like an extended single day of feasting. Joyful and bright. According to a pious folk tradition, the sun only set eight days after Christ’s resurrection. So it’s no surprise that the Russian folk called the week after Easter “Bright Week.”
In pre-Revolutionary Russia, the bells rang almost without stopping for an entire week. Bread, the symbol of life, was blessed with a special prayer on Bright Saturday and kept for the use of the sick during the whole year.
The doors leading to the sanctuary, usually closed, reveal all the mystical happenings of the liturgy. These opened gates symbolize the destruction of the doors of hell and the opening of the gates to Paradise. With the Resurrection of the Son of God who destroyed physical death, every person now can walk the way to the eternal life.
Folk traditions connected this week with various rites of spring’s rebirth and the renewal of life.
A universal sense of joy pierced through all the festal days, and after liturgy people continued to express their joy in open air festivals.
The Parade of the Brides
This week’s celebrations also used to have marriage connotations. In the Ryazan region, young women of marriageable age gathered on the main square of every village, in front of the church, for a special parade
Those who wanted to take part in the parade flaunted their beauty for the benefit of the village. Afterwards, they rode through the village on horses. During this process, the matchmakers presented them formally to every man they passed.
In the Archangelsk region, the girls dressed up in their finest and gathered in a public place to play the bacha. This was a long, painted stick. They used the stick to knock down figurines placed on the ground. This was a very popular event, and many people gathered to cheer on the girls.
Hollering at the Young Couples
Young men bedecked themselves in their finest as well to take part in the rite of “hollering at the young couples.” These were any couples that got married since last Pascha. The men began by passing through the courtyards in their own villages, but then they’d travel on to neighboring ones as well.
The songs they’d sing (at the top of their lungs) included congratulations for the young couples. Some songs were filled with useful advice for the young wife to help her get used to her new family.
Often, the songs included lists of actions for a wife to please her husband, his mother and father, and the rest of his family. Usually, after the “hollering,” which included the names of all the visitors, all the young families concluded the festivities by visiting each other’s houses for the rest of the week.
Passing into a New Social Status
On Bright Week in many regions, newly married couples took part in rites that strengthened their new status as married people. In the Vladimir region, young couples visited the houses of older married women. They brought gifts of pies and eggs, a kind of admission fee into the society of married people.
In Kostroma, however, the older married women came to the homes of newly married couples, with ritual demands that she would let them in.
The young bride opened the door with these words. “My dear neighbors, my dear doves, love me and care for me, take me in as one of your new friends.” Then, everyone sat down for the festal meal.
Everyone visited everyone on Bright Week. But all the feasting was always done properly and with dignity, without the usual excess. The village streets were always filled with people walking about, singing, dancing, playing games, doing figures while singing. Some people came out to show off with their best clothes, others showed their children off.
Wandering pilgrims had an entire genre of songs to choose from. Pilgrims were usually men walking from yard to yard. After wandering pilgrims largely became a thing of the past, the young men of the village played the part of the pilgrim.
In some villages, there were strict times for “pilgrim songs”. Children could sing them in the morning, youths at noon. After lunch, it was the women. The men sang them closer to the evening.
Eventually, this became something like caroling on Christmas. A leader of the choir—a “precentor” or “intoner”—chose the songs and collected the caroling gifts. Every home expected the coming of the “pilgrim choir.” It was considered good luck.
From the beginning of Bright Week, the youth began their spring open air parties. The places for these parties were strictly chosen—only the central square or a green meadow next to a river.
An indispensable part of these parties was swinging on swings. This goes back to deep pagan antiquity, when people thought that swinging on swings helped the crops grow faster.