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Fortunetelling rituals on the Feast Day of St Andrew
Among the Christian religious feasts, which are celebrated in Ukraine in the fall and winter, the Day of St Andrew stands as one of the more important ones. This feast, which absorbed some of the pre-Christian traditions, is celebrated on December 13. St Andrew’s Day was the time of fortunetelling and get-togethers, at which young people looked out for prospective spouses.
Christian tradition has that it was St Andrew, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, who was the first to bring the Christian teaching to the lands which later became known as Ukraine.
The night before the Feast Day of St Andrew in the countryside engaged in fortunetelling, trying to find out who their prospective husband might be. They hoped that the saint would help them in this.
One of the fortunetelling rituals involved a hen. A girl put a bowl with grain and a bowl with water on the floor and brought in a hen from the hencoop. It was believed that if the bird flopped its wings and clucked, the girl’s husband-to-be would be unkind to her and might even beat her. If the hen pounced on the food, the girl’s fiance would be fat and greedy for food; if, however, the hen rushed to the bowl with water, the girl’s future husband might turn out to be a drunkard. If the bird just walked quietly around the house, it gave hope to the girl that her husband would be kind and well-disposed to her, and would not pick up fights or drink too much.
Another fortunetelling ritual was called mosty (bridges). Girls poured water into a bowl and then put several straws across the bowel thus forming “a bridge.” Next, they placed the bowl under their bed. In their dreams they hoped to see their sweetheart cross the bridge. If the bridge broke, it prophesied some misfortune in the future — the couple would either break up or one of them would die.
Many fortunetelling rituals involved bread, pancakes or pastries. A girl cut off a piece of a loaf, sprinkled it with salt and hid under the pillow. If in her dreams she saw a young man with who she would share the bread, it would be the one with whom she would share her life. Or a girl would eat a salted slice of bread; at night she would get thirsty and if she saw a man in her dreams who would give her water to quench her thirst, he would be her future husband.
The girls, who wanted to learn the name of their fiance made pancakes, picked the largest one and ran outside with it. They then addressed the first male they saw in the street: “What is your name?” If his name was Vasyl, the girl’s husband would be called Vasyl, if the stranger’s name was Mykola, the girl’s husband would be Mykola, etc. Yet, more often than not, men made fun of the gullible girls by giving them some silly, ridiculous names.
The most wide-spread Ukrainian fortunetelling ritual involved balabushky (bread shaped like a small ball). Girls gathered at someone’s house and brought flour to make the dough for balabushky. For making the dough they needed water — and they had to bring water from the nearest well in their mouth. On their way back inside, the girls were surrounded by the young men who did their best to make the girls with water in their mouths laugh. The girls either swallowed the water or spit it on the ground with laughter. Sometimes, the girls had to take many trips to the well before they finally succeeded to bring enough water for the dough. In some cases, the girls had to give the boys kalachi (padlock-shaped buns), halushky (dumplings) or varenyky (stuffed dumplings) as a fee to let them deliver the water in their mouths safely.
After making the dough, they made balabushky and baked them. Each girl marked her balabushka in her own special way. Then they let a hungry dog into the house. The girl whose balabushka was the first the dog ate would be the first to get married. If the dog ignored somebody’s balabushka, it meant that the girl who had marked it would have no chance of getting married any time soon. A half-eaten balabushka prophesied a divorce or an illegitimate child. Smarter girls resorted to all sorts of tricks to cheat the dog. They stuffed their balabushka with a piece of fat, thus inducing the dog eat their balabuska ahead of other balabushky.
During still another fortunetelling ritual, girls poured melted beeswax into a bowl with water. If the wax shaped into a sort of the wedding crown, it gave hope to the girl who poured the wax that she might get married soon.
On the Feast Day of St Andrew and on the following day young men and girls usually played a game called kalyta. The name of the game coincides with the word for a flat dry bread called kalyta. It had a hole in the centre and was decorated with poppy seeds, dried cherries or raisins. Then it was smeared with honey and hung in the middle of the house.
The young men who were invited to the party took part in the kalyta game doing their best not to laugh or even smile at the funny situations that developed or at the jokes that were meant to make them laugh. Those who managed to suppress a smile while acting out their part would be allowed to take a bite of the bread. Those who joined the general roar of laughter, would have their faces daubed with soot and were not allowed to come close to the kalyta bread. With all the boys having taken their turn in the game, the kalyta bread was taken off the hook and was shared among all the guests. Then a festive dinner followed.
The rituals connected with the kalyta bread could have been an echo of a pagan feast that celebrated ‘the birth of the new sun’. The sun-like shape of the round flat bread that featured in the games the young people played during several days before the winter solstice, may be regarded as evidence that these rituals had ancient pre-Christian roots. After the conversion to Christianity, the bread rituals were performed on the Feast day of St Andrew, St Andrew being the patron of the young.
A blind eye was turned to mischief and pranks which were played by the young people on the Feast Day of St Andrew — such pranks would be punished on any other day. If it was known that in a certain household, there was an unmarried young woman whose parents did not allow her to go out with boys, the young men, for example, could take the gate off its hinges, take apart a fence or a wagon, steel a plough and throw it on the roof or take it to a different place in the village. Ethnographers believe that such pranks were part of rituals connected with courting and marriage proposals — such barriers, for example, as gates or fence were removed “to clear the way to marriage.”
Kalyta, a flat dry bread used in playing ritual