Holy Trinity or Svyata Triytsya, after Christmas and Easter is one of the most revered holidays in Ukraine. It is also called Pyatydesentnytsya (50 days) because the Trinity Day is on the 50th day after Easter.
In 2016 Holy Trinity Day falls on 19th of June. Most Ukrainians will enjoy the day off on Monday, the 20th of June. This holiday is dedicated to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Christ (Easter). This event gave rise to Christianity. The meaning of the Holy Trinity is thus: God the Father laid the basis for the church in the Old Testament, the Son brought its meaning into words, and the Spirit acts within it.
Christian holiday Trinity is to remember the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, so they began to understand and speak different languages, and teach the priests Jesus Christ words. The first Christian church was built on the place of the descent. Since that time Trinity is considered the birthday of the Christian church. According to another legend, God created the earth and beautified it with greens on the Trinity Day.
Holy Trinity Day is a very important religious holiday in Ukraine.
On Holy Trinity Day people in Ukraine decorate their houses and apartments with Calamus (plant) and assorted green branches. This tradition comes from ancient Judaism, in which the Pentecost, the Feast of Harvest, was celebrated outside amongst flourishing Nature. On Holy Trinity Day Ukrainians also go to a cemetery to visit the tombs of relatives and friends who have passed away. There is a custom of leaving food on the burial tombs of loved ones though no one claims it’s significance or relevance to Christianity. It is considered a good sign to find that the food have disappeared upon your next trip to the cemetery.
In Ukraine, Zeleni Svyata (Green holidays) or also Zeleni Svyatky start on Thursday (called Green Thursday) of Zeleny Tyzhden, also called Klechalny or Rusalny (Green Week – the week before the Holy Trinity Day) and end on Thursday (called Troyitsky Thursday) of Troyitsky Tyzhden (Holy Trinity Week – the week after the Holy Trinity Day). Green holidays have Christian and pre-Christian traditions, and honor the creation of the universe – on this day the God created the earth and sowed it with plants. Green Holidays start a summer holidays cycle. Like all other holidays of our ancestors, Zeleni Svyata were based on the traditions of the solar cycle. But besides worshiping the sun and dead ancestors, Green holidays were also based on the cult of trees and flowers, on the magic of invocation the future harvest.
Сolorful and poetic folk rituals and customs are connected with these holidays.
Rusaliyi or Mermaid days were celebrated during the Green Week. In Kyivan Rus Rusaliyi were held with the “devilish merrymaking” which were accompanied by singing, dancing, playing the tambourines, flute and harp.
It was believed that mermaids were unbaptized deceased children, or children born dead, or drowned children. Such children had to be buried under the threshold of the house, as it would be better for the souls of those children: when the priest goes through the threshold of the house crossing himself, the child is also crossed and baptized. The souls of such children are flying in the air for seven years and if they don’t manage to become baptized they become mermaids. It is said that during this week souls of these children are asking for the cross. So, if somebody hears the voice, has to say: “John and Mary. I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen”, and then throw a towel or handkerchief. After this the child’s soul will go to heaven and will not become a mermaid.
According to a popular belief, deceased people come to our world on the Green Thursday and stay here until the Troyitsky Thursday. That’s why it was prohibited to work during these days, especially to sew, to weave, or to cut wood, in order not to make any harm to the dead souls. That’s why people try to do all work in the garden and in the house before the Green Holidays.
The last Saturday before the Trinity Day is called “Green” or “Klechalna”. In the morning, people went to the woods and meadows to collect herbs: thyme, tarragon, lovage, basil, oregano, tumbles and in evening they were decorating houses with the branches of maple, basswood, and ash.
During Green holidays the floor in the house was covered with thyme, wormwood, calamus, and bouquets of thyme, tumble, cornflowers were placed on a windowsill, flowers were also laid behind the icons, and even under the roof you could find calamus, ferns, and other herbs. The villagers believed that the souls of the dead relatives were hiding in “klechannya” (klechannya means the herbs, branches of trees which were collected during “Green holidays”), believed that “klechannya” was holy, so people were decorating their houses and yards with it, and at the same time sanctifying and purifying it from all evil forces. Trinity herbs were stored and later used to prepare therapeutic bath.
“Klechalna” Saturday is also considered as the memorial day. It was believed that on Green Saturday, together with the green “klechannya” souls of deceased relatives come to our house to look how we live. The whole family must live in harmony, without insults, quarrels and screaming. It is necessary to remember the ancestors with good words and hold a memorial dinner. On this day Tryzna (Tryzna was a funeral feast which, as a part of Slavic religion, was made for distinguished members of society before their burying or cremation) was organized on the graves and memorial services were held at the churches. After the church people were going home to eat Kolovo (thick wheat porridge with honey) and remember deceased relatives.
There was also a custom to sanctify the wells (it was believed that mermaids were hiding in them). After the church liturgy peasants were going to the wells to sprinkle them with holy water. First of all, the priest consecrated the public well, and then the villagers wells. People, who would want to get rid of “evil spirits in the house,” were setting up the table, covered with the cloth by the gates to their house, and put bread and salt on it. After finishing the prayer, the priest was coming into the house to sprinkle the walls, and all buildings in the yard, in order “the mermaids wouldn’t disturb the house”.
According to another old folk belief during the time when cereals are blooming, the dead are waking up. Ancestors are the permanent guards of the family and they are able to affect the yield and help in all grain business of their descendants. Usually, the rye starts to bloom on Green holidays, that’s why the souls of the dead are commemorated during these days.
On Sunday morning people, dressed in festive clothes were going to the church, which on this day was also lavishly decorated with flowers and branches of trees. After the church, boys and girls went to the woods, where they were playing games, dancing, singing songs, and joking.
The girls were choosing birches with long and thin branches and were making wreaths on the trees, while singing songs.
Guys were carefully breaking off the wreaths to give them to the girls. The girls carried wreaths home singing, in order to put them in the river or lake in the evening. The girl, whose wreath would float, would have happiness, but the girl, whose wreath sank would have the grief. The girl, whose wreath wouldn’t wither, were destined to live long. After throwing wreaths into the water, boys and girls were gathering in the pasture to sing. On this day and in the evening people were going in groups because they were afraid of mermaids who were walking out of the water to celebrate their holiday. According to popular beliefs, they were enchanting girls and boys by their songs in order to tickle them and drag into the river. That’s why, during the mermaid week it was prohibited to swim in the river, unless previously you threw the hemlock and lovage into the water.
There was another tradition with the wreaths. On Green Thursday the girls went to the forest or to the field to make wreaths. After that they returned to the village to tie the wreaths to the birch tree. On the Trinity Day (on Sunday), the girls were checking their wreaths and taking them off the tree. If the wreath remained fresh, it meant the girl’s family would be happy, but if the wreath withered, it was not a good sign and meant the family would be unhappy.
In Ukrainian folk rituals, wreaths, in general, is a symbol of great respect, youth, purity, and unsullied beauty. The girl who lost innocence, can not wear a wreath. Also, the wreath made of fresh flowers, is considered to be a defense against evil forces.
During the old times people were going to the fields on the Green Holidays, children and adults were making noise: they were beating in the beaters, ringing, singing in order to “expel evil spirits from the fields”. The head of the village was sprinkling the crops with holy water. Now it is hard to imagine this ancient holiday, as only some fragments of it survived till our times.
Trinity entertainment began on Monday and lasted for a week, called Troyitsky Tyzhden. Games were usually arranged in the forest, the field, or pasture outside the village.
In Kyiv, on the Trinity Day the most colorful festivities traditionally are expected at the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life “Pyrohovo”. “Green Holidays” will be celebrated with songs performed by folk groups. As expected, the celebration will begin with a procession of participants and guests in vyshyvanka and traditional liturgy in the church of St. Nicholas (exhibition “Podillya”).
On the Trinity Day an annual folklore-ethnographic holiday “Come, come to me, Green Sunday” is organized in Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky. Colorful festivities will be organized on the market square of the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Naddnipryanschyna: ancient spring dances, folk songs performed by folk groups, workshops on making pottery, birds of hay, and dolls. There will be also a large selection of jewelry, embroidery, original amulets, folk toys, etc.
Pentecost is celebrated annually in Samchyky, Khmelnitska oblast. Festivities are held at the State Historical and Cultural Reserve “Samchyky”.