Lemko folk traditions, especially those related to the sun, the seasons, and the harvest, still contain many elements of pagan belief and superstition, but most (even the non-liturgical) celebrations have assumed an overtly Christian character. Most of the major observances common to all Lemkos included numerous local variations, many of which were based on superstition.

After Easter, Christmas was the most festive and endearing holiday in the Lemko villages. A very special dinner was served on Christmas Eve; the Holy Supper (svatyj vechur or velyja). The women spent the day cleaning the house and preparing the food. For all winter holidays, a special bread (krachun) made with beans, corn, poppyseed, or garlic, was baked in every home. For Christmas, the krachun with a candle representing the star of Bethlehem served as the centerpiece on the dinner table, on which hay had first been placed, then covered with a cloth upon which seeds and garlic were scattered.113 As the culmination of the forty-day fast before Christmas, the Christmas Eve Holy Supper was free of both meat and dairy products. The meal consisted of up to twelve separate foods: fish, mushroom soup, meatless stuffed cabbage, sweetened dumplings (bobal'ky), stewed plumbs, honey, garlic, and others. After the meal, carols were sung and the family proceeded to the church.114

Beginning Christmas Eve and continuing for twelve days thereafter, processions of young people dressed as angels and shepherds (sometimes the adults had their own separate procession) went from house to house singing Christmas carols, exchanging greetings and wishes for the new year. The children would usually receive treats at the homes they would visit; adults would receive a drink. A large star on a pole was carried at the head of the procession (these groups were referred to as zvizdary - "star carolers"). In villages closer to the Presov Region, the procession may have included a miniature church and nativity scene (these groups were called jaslychkary - "visitors to the manger"). The carols of the Lemkos are generally of native origin, though some are also found among the Poles and Slovaks. Of western European carols, only "Silent Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" were widely sung in the Lemko Region.

The following Christmas carol shows how a song concept and lyrics are shared among neighboring cultures. The Lemko melody differs from that of the Presov Region Rusyn and Slovak carols, but the common origin is obvious:


Kedy jasna hviezda (Slovak)

Kedy jasna hviezda

Z neba vychodila

Vtedy Paneka Maria

Syna porodila.

Ked' ho porodila

Krasne mu spivala

L'ul'aj buvaj sam syn Bozi

Bo ja by tak spala.

Pockaj mamka moja

Za jednu hodinu

Dokial ja ti pojdem priniest'

Az z raju perinu.

Koly jasna zvizda (Rusyn - Preson Region)

Koly jasna zvizda

Z neba zasvityla

Tohda Prechistaja Diva

Syna porodyla.

Jak ho porodyla

Krasno mu spivala

Ljuljaj syne Bozhij

Bo ja by barz spala.

Pochekaj mamochko

Od jednu hodynu

doky ja ti ne prynesu

Iz raju perynu.

When the brilliant star

From heaven shone

That is when the Most Pure Virgin

Gave birth to her son.

As she gave birth,

She sang beautifully to him

Lullaby, lullaby o Son of God

For I really must sleep>

Just wait mother,

For only an hour

I'll bring back for you

A blanket from heaven.

V hlubokij dolyni (Lemko)

V hlubokij dolyni

Zvizda sja javyla,

De Prechysta Diva Maty

Syna porodyla

Jak jeho zrodyla,

Tak jemu spivala:

Ljuljaj, ljuljaj, mij synochku,

A ja budu spala.

Zasnyj mamcju zasnyj,

Choch by na hodynu,

A ja pidu ta j do raju,

Prynesu perynu.

In a deep valley

A star appeared,

Where the Most Holy Virgin Mother

Gave birth to a son.

As she gave birth to him,

She sang to him:

Lullaby, lullaby my son,

And then I will sleep.

Fall asleep mother, fall asleep,

Even for an hour,

And I'll return from heaven

Bringing a blanket (for you)>

The feast of Theophany / Jordan (the Baptism of Jesus Christ, January 6) was observed, in addition to church services, with the entire village gathering at the local stream of lake. The priest blessed the body of water, which was also then carried home in containers by the people for use throughout the year; the priest also visited the homes to bless them with the "Jordan water."

The "Great Fast" of forty-day Lent before Easter was observed with a restricted diet free of meat and dairy products. Church services were held frequently during the week. The Great Fast would end the day before Holy Week. On Palm Sunday (Kvitna Nedilja - - "Flowery Sunday") the churches and villages would be filled with the newly-blooming pussy willows, since palm leaves were impossible to obtain. The dramatic church services of Christ's passion and death in Holy Week were mournfully observed. However, on Holy Saturday, the families would prepare the pysanky and foods (meats, cheese, and a richly decorated sweet bread - paska) to be taken to church in a basket the next morning. The midnight services would last several hours, and the people would return in the morning for further Resurrectional services. Easter (Pascha - "Passover" or "Velykden" - the "Great Day") was the most festive observance of the entire year. The baskets blessed after morning services were taken back home to break the long fast with a veritable feast of kolbasa sausage, ham. Eggs, cheese, and the paska bread. The usual greeting became "Chrystos voskres!" ("Christ is risen!") and for the whole Easter season every activity was begun with the singing of the anthem / tropar' of the resurrection. The Easter season ended fifty days later with the feast of Pentecost / Rusalja / Zelenyj Svjat (the Descent of the Holy Spirit, "Green Holyday"), at which the church and every home were adorned with branches of linden trees.

Other important church holidays with which were integrated the themes of Lemko life were the Transfiguration of Christ, at which the first fruits of the harvest would be taken to church and blessed; and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, at which the same was done with the late-summer flowers.

The most elaborate tradition not tied to a Christian festival was the wedding. Weddings were usually held in the fall when the homes were well stocked with food. The festivities lasted for several days, perhaps even a full week.115 The most important person. Aside from the bride and groom, was the starosta (elder, master of ceremonies), who wielded a special authority, symbolized by his holding of the marsalka (a staff decorated at the top with a bouquet of periwinkle flowers and colored ribbons). The starosta supervised all the groom-related wedding rituals, which included the betrothal and dowry settlement (usually three months before the wedding), and processions to and from the parent' homes. The women's activities were guided by the svasky (matrons of honor), who helped to invite the guests, to weave the special "crowns" (used in the church wedding ceremony) of periwinkle leaves (barvinok) and the wreath (riscka) symbolizing the groom and the family's well-being, and to bake the round bread (korovaj) which symbolized the bride and the family's prosperity and harmony.

The day of the wedding began with the groom and his attendants (druzby, carrying ceremonial axes / topirci) summoning the guests, musicians, and "matchmakers", after which the wedding party visited the homes of the bride and groom's parents to receive their blessings. Afterward, the bride and groom met at her home, at which time they exchanged a bouquet and kerchief (the cepec) respectively. The svasky then sewed bouquets on the lapels of the druzby; the riscka and korovaj were brought together at the table, a vodka toast was made by the starosta, and all sang (save the young couple who must remain silent). The procession then went to the church for the liturgical marriage ceremony; it was there that the "crowning" of the bride and groom was performed. After the church ceremony, everyone returned to the bride's home to begin the celebration. The next day, the festivities moved to the groom's parent's home. The following day began with the pocepyny ritual of putting on the bride's cepec signifying her married status, after which the korovaj was cut and distributed, gifts exchanged, and singing and dancing continued through the night. 116

Upon the death of a Lemko, the entire village would participate in the funeral. From the time of death until the burial, the village church bells would ring three times a day. The deceased would be laid out on straw, in the home, dressed in his finest clothes with a candle placed in his hands. Lighted candles were placed around him with a wooden crucifix in the center. As a sign of mourning, girls unbraid their hair and women wear black dresses. The evening before the burial, the Psalter (book of Psalms) would be read continuously during and after the evening vigil, at which the priest would celebrate a wake service (parastas). The next morning, the funeral services were held in the church, with the deceased in an open casket in the middle of the church. The body was then carried to the cemetery by the pallbearers or in a wagon (summertime) or by sleigh (wintertime). After the burial, a meatless meal, usually of bread, cheese, cabbage and barley was served at the home of the deceased. One week later, another meal, this time of veal and lamb, was held; the priest would have a memorial service (panachyda) at which all present would sing "vichnaya pamjat" (eternal memory) for the soul of the deceased.117

The custom of kermes (celebration of the patronal feast of the village church) was observed in most villages, as an all-village celebration of food, song and dance. This custom was so popular that it survived in the emigration to America.118 This custom seems to have been superceeded in recent years by the annual "Vatra" festival, likely as a result of the virtual disappearance of the phenomenon of the "Lemko village."

An interesting season custom is called the vecirka, or "spinning evening." In a Lemko village, women and young girls would gather together during autumn and early winter evenings in homes to do spinning, feather teasing, and other such domestic chores. They would sing songs, tell tales, play games, and even perform short plays with masques.119

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