As I work through my second novel, I’m thinking more and more that just as my first novel was a steady progression of autumn into winter (fitting for the recurring theme of “the Fall”), so the second should be a coming of spring.
Around me in Jordanville, spring is coming very slowly. It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s one of the more depressing (weather-wise) Bright Weeks of recent memory. For our sins, I’ll be bound. But in any case, I decided to make today brighter with some “Bright” traditions of old Russia during Easter week.
Even though I tend to brood, and my writing does get a bit dark, I’m trying to convince myself that the ending of the second novel should be “bright,” like Pascha. Maybe some of these traditional celebrations (from the Russian site Cyrillitsa), will make it into the ending of The Garden at the Heart of the World (my tentative title).
The Bright Seven Days
The holy first week of Pascha used to be like a single day of feasting. Joyful and bright. According to 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 Pascha “the joyful,” “the beautiful,” “the great days.” Every day individually was called “bright.”
In the churches on Bright Week, a strict order was preserved. The festal services were served, bells were rung night and day almost without end. 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 Royal Doors, usually closed, reveal all the mystical happenings of the liturgy. These opened gates are symbolic of the destruction of the doors of hell and the opening of the gates to Paradise, closed after Adam’s fall. With the Resurrection of the Son of God Who destroyed physical death, every person now can walk the way to the eternal life.
In folk tradition, this week was intimately connected with rites of spring’s rebirth and the renewal of life.
The universal state 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
A lot of attention was lavished on various rites surrounding marriage. So, in the Ryazan region, young women of marriageable age gathered on the main square of every village, in front of the church.
Those who would take part in the parade would flaunt their beauty for the benefit of the village, then they would ride through the village on horses. The matchmakers would present them formally to every man they would pass.
In the Archangelsk region, the girls would get dressed up in their finest and gather in a public place to play the bacha. This was a long, painted stick. They would use the stick to knock down figurines placed on the ground. This was a very popular event, and many people gathered to cheer on the handiest and nimblest girls.
Hollering at the Young Couples
Young men would bedeck themselves in their finest, just to take part in the rite of “hollering at the young couples.” These were any that got married since last Pascha. They would begin 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, they would include a list of actions that a wife should accomplish 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 you g families would begin 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 were intended to strengthen their new status as married people. In the Vladimir region, young couples visited the houses of older married women. They would bring gift of a pie and eggs, something like an admission fee into the society of married people.
In Kostroma, on the contrary, the older married women came to the homes of newly married couples, with ritual demands that she would let them in.
The young bride would open the door with the words: “My dear neighbors, my dear doves, love me and care for me, take me in as one of your new friends.” Then everyone would sit down for the festal meal.
In general, 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 (“horovod”) Some people came out to show off with their best clothes, others showed their children off.
At first, this rite was actually sung by wandering pilgrims. Usually these were men who walked from yard to yard and sang special pilgrim songs. Later, the young men of the village would play 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, the women, and the men sang them closer to the evening.
Eventually this became something like caroling on Christmas. There would be a leader of the choir—a “precentor” or “intoner”—who would choose the songs and collect the gifts from the houses they visited. Every home expected the coming of the “pilgrim choir,” and 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 and better.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to sign up for my Readers’ Group. You’ll receive email updates of new blog posts and invitations to free giveaways and contests. When my novel gets a release date, you’ll also get a chance to join my street team. That means you’ll receive a free advance reader copy of my novel in return for an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads.