by Orysia Paszczak Tracz

The sad Christmas Eve carol

The melody is familiar, but the lyrics are something we have not heard before. At least, those of us from the DP generation have not. Yet on some more recent Christmas albums from Ukraine, and from Ukrainians arriving in the last few decades, we have heard a "new" koliada: "Sumnyi Sviatyi Vechir" 'Sad Christmas Eve'.

This koliada is recorded in a song book from the Boyko region, "Folklorni Materialy z Otchoho Krayu" (Folklore Material from the Native Land), collected by Vasyl and Hanna Sokil (Lviv: Instytut Narodoznavstva, NAN Ukrainy, 1998), under the category social-political koliadky. It is also in "Pisni UPA" (Songs of the UPA - Ukrainian Insurgent Army), compiled and edited by Zenoviy Lavryshyn (Toronto - Lviv: Litopys UPA, 1996. Series: Litopys UPA, vol. 25). If I am not mistaken, it is also in a songbook compiled in the Zelenyi Klyn region in the Far East, where so many Ukrainians had been exiled.

Kvitka Kondracka, director of the Vesnivka Choir in Toronto, told me that the koliada was documented in 1959 in the village of Ivanivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, by Pavlyna Ciupa, Orysia Stasiv, Lida Pazek, and others. Myron Maksymiw, director of the St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church Choir in Toronto, wrote: "I wrote down the words to this carol, as is, when I was living in Ukraine for five years (1990-1995-1996). With my family we sang it during Christmas. As for the diaspora, well, I don't know. I've never heard anybody in Toronto do it, although many new immigrants do know it. This is the first time that I am performing it. The origin of the carol? I don't know." (My thanks to Maria Rypan for putting me in contact with Myron Maksymiw).

The melody is that of "Nova Radist Stala." The lyrics, as with so many Ukrainian folk and war songs, are very matter-of-fact in describing sad, awful, terrible events. I have a feeling the words are not meant to be maudlin but, in the traditional style, just describe things as they are"

"Sumnyi Sviatyi Vechir, v sorok shostim/siomim rotsi, po vsii Ukraini, plach na kozhnim krotsi. Posidaly do vecheri maty z ditochkamy, zamist maly vecheriaty - vmylysia slíozamy..."

As with practically every Ukrainian song, there are many versions of the lyrics. The UPA songbook gives quite a few variations. But the basic text remains: A very sad Sviatyi Vechir (Christmas Eve) in the year 1946 or 1947 [the years of arrests and deportations to Central Asia and Siberia], with weeping wherever you go all over Ukraine. As the family sits down to supper, the mother with her little children, she and they are crying, and the children ask where is our father. Mother, why is he not sitting down to supper with us? Because our father is in Siberia/in a distant land/imprisoned, and is remembering Sviatyi Vechir at home, in Ukraine. In another home, parents are weeping for their sons, one in Siberia, one in Berlin and one in the partisans (i.e., in UPA), and they will never see them again.

One version begins with "Chy chuly vy brattia" (Did you hear, brothers), the sad news, that our mother Ukraine has been chained. She is in chains, in prison, and thousands of innocent people have been placed in the raw earth. Then, the family sits down to the supper.

The koliada has been recorded on at least two albums: "Temnenka Nichka: Carols of Ukraine" by Savelia Curniski, including singers and musicians from Lviv (Savelia Curniski, 330 Sixth Ave. N., Saskatoon, Saskatoon S7K 2S5; 306-653-4646;; and "Pisni z-za Grat" (Songs from Behind Prison Bars] by Ne Zhurys, recorded in Lviv in 1990. (AV-Systems, 3253 Lakeshore Blvd. W., Toronto, Ontario M5V 1M3; 416-253-9314;

The latter is a collection of prison folklore of the Stalin-Brezhnev concentration camps and of UPA songs. The artistic director of Ne Zhurys was Viktor Morozov. This tape, if still available, is a chilling, haunting, yet truly beautiful record of that horrific time. Possibly the Yevshan Corp. and the Ukrainian Bookstore in Edmonton may still have this audio document of history in song.

In "Pisni UPA," there are at least 33 different traditional koliada melodies with many more versions of contemporary wartime and Soviet-era lyrics. These are followed by Easter songs, also with new lyrics.

In hearing "Sumnyi Sviatyi Vechir," I am again reminded that for my parents' generation - one that encompassed both Displaced Persons and the population remaining in Ukraine and imprisoned in Central Asia and Siberia - Christmas Eve was not a joyful time. Even though it should have been, instead it was an evening of grief, mourning, remembering, wondering and hoping.

As one "vinshuvannia" or Christmas greeting, cited in the UPA songbook, put:

"Bazhayem zdorovlia, veseloho sviata, i v spokoyu schaslyvomu druhoho dizhdaty. Dizhdaty svobody, pry svoyii rodyni khvalu Bohu zaspivaty v vilnii Ukraini!" (We wish you health and a joyous holy day, and may you be here for the same holy day next year, in peaceful bliss. May you live to see freedom, and with your family to praise God in a free Ukraine!)

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, January 19, 2003, No. 3, Vol. LXXI

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