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9 Jan, 2010 12:00

Christian or pagan? Russian Christmastide kicks off

The two-week feast between Orthodox Christmas on January 7 and Epiphany on January 19 is named “Svyatki” – or Christmastide.

The Orthodox Christmas season is in full swing and there is still plenty of time for the traditional street performances and carol singing.

This traditional pagan festival was once disapproved of by the Church, but was popular among the people. Ethnic songs and dancing, carnivals and games took place at this time.

Svyatki was the time for diverse Christmastide activities like fortune-telling. For example, young maidens melted wax and poured it into cold water or snow. They held molded wax figure shapes in front of the wall or a sheet of white paper and told fortunes by their shadows. By doing so they could tell their fortune about future marriages.

Shadow fortunetelling

An old legend says that during Svyatki the spirits and ghosts were among the living. And people could ask them all kinds of questions about the future. But for that one had to be completely defenseless. That meant shedding everything that protects you, such as belts and rings. Maidens also had to let their hair down.

To do the shadow fortune telling one had to crumple up an old paper, place it on a plate and set it on fire. The shadow of the ashes reflected on the wall allegedly shows future brides their beloved.

Candle and wax fortunetelling

This ceremony requires a lot of candles. You have to light one of them and after a short while pour the melted wax into a pot filled with water. The fortune telling starts when the wax hardens.

There are certain explanations for the figures formed by the wax. If you see something resembling a house, it means you will get married or acquire some property. If what you see looks like a tree, it all depends upon where its branches are pointing. If they’re pointing down– you are in trouble. But if they are directed upwards – prepare for joy and happiness.

Boot fortunetelling

This particular ritual is held outside in the cold. The maidens have to take off one of their thigh boots and throw them in any direction they want. Then they have to jump on one foot to claim them. Legend has it that where the boot’s toe points is where your future husband lives.

There’s always room for fantasy during fortune-telling. One can’t take it too seriously. Besides, most of the symbols and signs are hard to interpret – so it’s up to you to “fill in the gaps.”