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Pokrova and other Virgin Mary feasts
There are several religious feasts widely celebrated in Ukraine that are dedicated to Presvyata Bohorodytsya, Most Holy Mother of God or the Virgin Mary; among them: Persha Prechysta, First Most Pure Feast is celebrated on August 28; it is the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Druha Prechysta, Second Most Pure Feast is celebrated on September 21; it is the feast of Rizdvo Presvyatoyi Bohorodytsti, the Birth of the Virgin Mary;
Tretya Prechysta, Third Most Pure Feast is celebrated on December 4; it is the feast of the Presentation in the Temple of the Virgin Mary;
Pokrova, Protecting Veil of the Virgin Mary, is celebrated on October 14; it is the Feast of the Patronage (Protection or Intercession) of the Most Holy Mother of God.
The Virgin Mary has always been regarded in Ukraine as a protectress, a mediator between man and God, and people turned to Her with their prayers, thanking Her for intercession or seeking her help.
Even at the time when soviet atheism was at its most virulent and any form of public manifestation of religious feeling was either suppressed or restricted, the feasts dedicated to the Virgin Mary were clandestinely celebrated, particularly in the countryside. A special, festive meal was a natural part of the celebrations.
Persha Prechysta Feast was celebrated within a stretch of time known as Spasivka fast, but the absence of meat dishes did not prevent lean dishes to be cooked. Beans, peas, mushrooms, eggplants, squash and fish were widely and ingeniously used to make the table truly festive. Sweet peppers were stuffed with vegetables; fish was boiled, fried or baked; all kinds of vegetable salads provided a colorful and wholesome touch.
Druha Prechysta, the feast of Rizdvo Presvyatoyi Bohorodytsti, the Birth of the Virgin Mary was celebrated particularly lavishly. After a church service, a festive meal was prepared which included all kinds of meat and fish dishes: borsch with meat or chicken; vegetables stuffed with minced meat (for example, holubtsi — minced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves); meat pies, pancakes, varenyky, soft cottage cheese cooked in various ways, and fruit.
Tretya Prechysta, the feast of the Presentation in the Temple of the Virgin Mary, celebrated on December 4, falls on the time of fasting and that is why no meat was cooked but a wide variety of dried or pickled mushrooms, pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, apples and water melons, varenyky stuffed with poppy seeds, potatoes, buckwheat, cabbage, berries or fish, borsch and pancakes provided enough nutrition to the body and joy to the palate.
Pokrova, the feast of The Protecting Veil of the Virgin Mary, celebrated on October 14, is believed to have been borrowed from Byzantium where it originated in the tenth century.
The Ukrainian Cossacks believed that the Virgin Mary extended her protection over them and they built churches dedicated to her. Cossacks usually carried around with them small icons of the Virgin Mary as a protective charm. In the medieval and later times, Ukrainian women looked to the Virgin Mary for help and protection.
On Pokrova, long-term weather forecasts were made. If on that day, the wind blew from the south, then a mild winter was expected; if the wind came form the east, then it was a sign that the winter would be severe; a strong wind on the Day of Pokrova suggested a windy spring. If on Pokrova cranes had not started yet flying away to the warmer climes, then a long warm autumn was predicted. It was considered to be desirable to finish all the work in the fields and vegetable gardens before Pokrova. Those who had not finished the work in the fields sowing the winter crops, were looked upon disapprovingly as “lazy-bones” and, by sowing the seeds so late into the season, were said to be in danger of waking up venomous snakes that had already gone to sleep in their holes underground — the snakes, it was feared, very much annoyed by their rude awakening could attack the disturbers.
Those who had finished all the field and vegetable garden work were praised; also, it was believed that such diligence was essential for enjoying a good health in winter. Pokrova was considered to be a turning point in weather — from that day on freezing temperatures could be expected.
The time of autumn up to Pokrova was a period of arranging marriages and celebrating weddings. It was considered to be desirable to have a marriage arranged before Pokrova and to celebrate the wedding not later than early December, before the Feast of Dmytro.
The girls who were getting married indicated the change in their marital status by donning head kerchiefs (namitka, or khustka). Married women could appear in public only with their heads covered. The girls of marriageable age who did not get married before Pokrova were often made fun of, and indeed they did feel the threat of spinsterhood becoming quite real.
On Pokrova, it was hoped that the next two weeks would be a pleasant time of babyne lito — literally — the women’s summer, or Indian summer. It was the time when people were saying goodbye to the last warm days of the year and bracing up for the cold to come.
There are a great many Ukrainian folk sayings, proverbs and songs connected with Pokrova and the changes in weather and in life it brought with it: Pokrova has come, leaves and grass will die soon; Pokrova comes — make sure you heat your house; Pokrova comes — stay at home; Pokrova, Pokrova, cover my head (that is, help me get married); Pokrova, Pokrova, I’m tired of being unmarried, give me the wedding crown; Pokrova has come and gone — the girls lament their lost chances, plus many others (unfortunately, so much is lost in rendering ancient rhyming sayings and proverbs into a modern tongue that translation gives only a very general idea of what they are all about – tr).
There are a great many churches in Ukraine which are dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to the feasts associated with her — it would require a separate article just to mention the most important of them.
Probably worthy of a separate mention here are churches and monasteries carrying the name of Pokrova that can be found in Kyiv — the Pokrovska Church in Podil, built in the mid-eighteenth century by the prominent architect Ivan-Hryhorovych-Barsky and the Pokrovsky Nunnery, built at the end of the nineteenth century.
An important part of the celebrations of the Virgin Mary feasts were festive dinners which were held communally and privately. The families participating in communal feasts brought some food and drinks with them; all this food and drinks were put on the tables set up in the open and were shared by all those present, These celebrations were good occasions for socializing, enjoying the food and respite from hard work. The communal festive dinners featured home-made bread, pyrohy, varenyky, sour cream, ryazhanka (fermented baked milk), holubtsi, fish, cooked cabbage, pickles, fried marrow, all kinds of pancakes with honey, sweet pies with berries, apples or poppy seeds. Some of the dishes were cooked right at the place where festive meals were held — for example, borsch, cabbage soup, kulish, potatoes baked with meat.
We offer the recipes of some of the dishes which were cooked for festive meals during the celebrations of the Virgin Mary feasts.