THE THINGS WE DO...
by Orysia Paszczak Tracz
"We wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy new year!... We won't go until we get some [figgy pudding] - so bring some out right here!"
These words from an old English carol are not that different from "Vam koliadochka, nam pyva bochka! - A z toho zhartu, nam pyva kvartu, a z toho smishku, khot po kylishku, a vy ne zhartuite, nas pochastuite!" (For you, the carol, for us, a barrel of beer - from this joke, a quart of beer for us, from this joke, at least a shot-glass, and we wish you'd stop joking and serve us some drinks.)
It is also not much different from "Koliad, koliad, koliadnytsia, dobra z medom palianytsia, a bez medu ne taka, davai, diadku, piataka. (Koliada/carol, the flat bread [palianytsia] is good with honey, without honey it is not the same, give me a fiver [gold-piece], uncle).
When carolers went door to door, whether it was in ancient Ukraine or merrie olde England (in the 18th-19th centuries), the greetings were rich with both warmth and good wishes for the new year, as well as humorous, rhyming and demanding wishes for treats and money. These were ritualized and taken in stride. But still, sometimes there was that threat of "trick or treat," - we won't go until we get some, "vynos koliadu, bo khatu rozvernu!" [bring out the koliada [the treat] or I'll take the house apart).
The children, who went caroling separately, had their own greetings and wishes, and had more license in their humor. "Sydyt diadko na stoltsy, vbuvayets tsia v postiltsi, a diadyna morduyets tsia, shcho diadko ne ubuyets tsia! Zdorov, diadku, iznosy, a myni kovbasy dasy! (Uncle is sitting on the chair putting his postoly [leather lace-up moccasins] on, auntie is laughing that he can't lace them up. Greetings, uncle, wear them well, and give me some kovbasa).
Once the sharing of quarts of beer and other libations progressed during the evening and night, some of the wishes got not only humorous, but even raunchy. These are recorded in the published ethnographic material of the end of the 1800s with certain words having only the first and last letter, the rest replaced by hyphens. If you really know your Ukrainian, you probably could guess the full word.
But the main greeting recited after the singing of the koliada, the carol, was the vinshuvannia, or vinchovannia - regional variations of the same word. The greeting usually began: Vinshuyu Vas Khrystovym Rozhdestvom ... or "Vinchuyemo Vas, pane hospodariu" and continued as a fairly long recitation of what the carolers wished the family in whose house they were caroling.
"Vinshuyu, vinchuyu" - the root is the same as the English word "wish," meaning to greet, to extend wishes. It came into Ukrainian via Polish and German, and has origins in Sanskrit. Other Indo-European languages, including English, have some form of "wish" as a greeting. The use of the word "vinchuvaty" only in greetings expressed at Christmas and - among the Hutsuly (Carpathian mountaineers) - at weddings - indicates its ancient origins. It was special enough (and old enough) to be used at these most important occasions in the life of a family and community. Who knows, maybe it remained in Ukrainian directly from the early Indo-European.
Long ago, in rural Ukraine, the carolers did not just come into the house, sing one or two carols, have a cookie and a drink or two, give a receipt for the check, and go on to the next house on the list - as is done nowadays in Ukrainian communities in North America. Considering that the communities here are many generations and over a century and half the world away from their ancestral villages in Ukraine, it is remarkable that caroling still goes on as enthusiastically as it does in the United States and Canada. The teenagers of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Orgnaization and the Ukrainian Youth Association (SUM) approach koliada enthusiastically, as a really fun thing.
But back to the koliada. Old-time caroling involved a recitation outside the house, a ritual asking for permission to sing, then the carol - and not one, but one for each member of the family and, if someone had died in that house during the past year, one for him/her also), then sitting down to drinks and a meal, then the carolers reciting thanks (podiaka stolovy - thanking the table, and the pokoliad - i.e., after the carol], then the vinchuvannia, then maybe another carol as they left for the next house. No wonder koliaduvannia lasted until early morning!
As an example, here is one pokoliad (from Yakiv Holovatskyi's collection):
Oy, ustan id nam, tai podiakuy nam,
(refrain: Hoy, dai Bozhe)
Tai shcho my tobi skoliadovaly,
Skoliadovaly s koliadnykamy,
Yak kryzhulechka pry tuzi v luzi,
Perepelychka v yari pshenytsi,
Yak lastivochka v novim poboyu,
Dai zhe ty, Bozhe, u poli buino,
U poli buino, a v sadu sylno,
A v sadu sylno, a v domu sytno,
Vinshuyemo vas schastiem, zdoroviem.
Hoy, dai Bozhe!
(Oh, get up from your chair and thank us, that we caroled for you, as various birds in the fields, May God grant you lush fields [of crops], full orchards, all the food you need in the home. We wish you bliss and health. May God grant it)
It took me a while to get used to the phrase "vinshuyu vas," instead of "vinshuyu vam," which for some reason made more sense to me. But, in Ukrainian, it is I am wishing/greeting you, rather than I am wishing for you or to you, which the dative case form, "vam," would indicate.
The vinshivky followed the pokoliad. And these are the formal greetings (without asking that the host generously "thank" the carolers). As a given for Ukrainians, these greetings cannot be short, and they cannot simply wish a merry Christmas and a happy new year. There are wishes for health, for many years of blissful life, for full barns and cupboards, for all the members of the family, to celebrate happily not just Christmas and New Year, but Yordan, and from Yordan to Easter, from Easter to the Ascension, from the Ascension to the feast of the Holy Ghost (sometimes a few more feasts are itemized for good measure), then for 100 years - or as many as God assigned to you. Some of these vinshivky make little sense translated into English, yet in Ukrainian are both poetic and generous in their wishes.
For young adults (male and female) in the house, there are additional wishes for a wedding in the new year. An ending to many koliadky for a young man or woman: "Rody-zh ty, Bozhe, v horodtsy zilie, v horodtsy zilie, v domi vesilie." (God, make the plants grow in the garden, and let there be a wedding in this home); or, Vinchuyem zhe ti shchastim, zdorovyim, zelenym vintsem, krasnym molodtsem (we wish you bliss, health, a green wreath - worn by the bride and groom at the marriage in church - and a handsome young man). The romantic, matrimonial wishes are there in all the ritual songs of the year, in the hahilky (spring songs), the obzhynkovi (harvest), of course in the kupalski (Midsummer's Night), and the koliadky and schedrivky (carols and New Year's songs).
"Vinchuyu vas shchistyim, zdorovium, i tymy svytamy, abysty yikh schislyvo oprovadyly, drukhykh dochykaly, vit sto lyit, do sto lyit, poky nam Pan Boh naznachyv vik!" [I wish you bliss, health, and greet you with these holidays, may you spend them well, be here for the ones next year, from 100 years to 100 years - as many years [of life] as God assigned to each of us!)
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 16, 2001, No. 50, Vol. LXIX
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