Epiphany in Ukraine: customs and traditions

On 19 January people in Ukraine celebrate a Christian holiday called Epiphany. It is not a national holiday, but still is celebrated by many people. What is the meaning of Epiphany holiday? It marks the end of Christmas festivities, which take place from 7 to 19 January. In spite of cold weather, the usual custom of swimming in the ice hole is observed every year and you can see a lot of people, willing to have a “cold swim” standing in a queue at the frozen ponds, lakes and rivers.

Of course, celebration of Epiphany is happening for a reason, which has its origin in distant past, when Johan the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the river Jordan. The Bible says: the Holy Spirit came in the face of a dove and declared Jesus Christ to be the son of God.

Our ancestors used to baptize children on this day as well as sanctify water. They believed that it could heal soul and body. Therefore, everyone tried to keep it throughout the year, sprinkling it on clothes, drinking as a medicine, etc.

The Epiphany holiday still has a lot of customs and traditions in Ukraine, which have formed throughout the years. One of the loved Epiphany food traditions is to prepare the festive kutia (similar to the Christmas dish), made of rice or wheat, mixed with raisins, poppy seeds, honey, dried apricots and prunes. All the family sit around the table, on which there is kutia, uzvar, vareniki, buns and bread rolls, fish dishes and different cereals. Traditionally a family starts the dinner after the first star appears in the sky. This is the time when people finish the strict fasting.

Of course, the main tradition in our culture, which is still kept by people, is sanctifying water. The procedure is as follows: the priest puts a cross into a specially-made ice hole, which is called “Jordan”, and says the prayer. When he finishes the water becomes saint and miraculous, like in the Jordan River into which Jesus went. Those, who want to do it, can be seen in the churchyards at the night church praying. It is believed that this water is energized with special features which can heal any disease. It stays crystal clear during the whole year. If you spring the house with it, your home will stay prosperous and without any diseases. However, if you do not have a chance to go there, do not be worried. You can either wake up till the sunrise and take a shower, or go to any reservoir and take water there. You will be blessed anyway.

A person, who celebrates Epiphany in a traditional way, cannot help swimming in an ice-hole. This procedure is especially popular with those, who have some diseases and wish the water to heal them. People go swimming in many regions of Ukraine. Thousands of Odessa inhabitants swim in the Black sea, in our Kharkov city people go to rivers and lakes, as well as special places. It is recommended to dive three times and bless yourself three times too. Your thoughts must be clear and without mean intentions.

Moreover, those who went caroling during the New Year and Christmas festivities and put on different costumes also must dive into cold water and wash sins away.

Finally, there are some superstitions people must know. For example, if the weather is clear and frosty on that day, the summer will be dry; but if the weather is snowy and cloudy, there will be rich harvest. If full moon falls on that night, the weather in January will be the same as during the following three days after the holiday. Therefore, if the sky is clear and cloudless, the weather will be frosty and clear till the end of the month. In case it rains, we are to expect cloudy and rainy weather till the end of January. Also it is prohibited to use any tools for knitting and sewing as well as scissors, fight with relatives or friends, if you do so you will attract unpleasant events either at work or at home. You shouldn`t lend or borrow money during this time in order to avoid being in debt all year. It is not recommended to do any housework at this period of the week unless your work is connected with it.