Religious traditions & customs

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Podlasie is where East meets West, where different traditions co-exist and, along with the rhythm of nature, shape local life. Traditional customs used to very numerous and diverse but they are passing away with the older generation. Some of the customs from the past are reenacted at local festivals of traditional music and culture, for example in Studziwody near Bielsk Podlaski.

In the past local towns were home to many Jews and celebrations of big Jewish holidays were a part of everyday life in the region. Nowadays only Jewish cemeteries, kirkuts, are witnesses of those days. Instead of flowers stones may be brought and put on the graves with Hebrew inscriptions, as it is in Jewish tradition.

At present two religions dominate in the region – Catholic and Orthodox Christianity (with the biggest numer of faithful.) Apart from these two confessions, there are two liturgical calendars in Podlasie – Gregorian in the Catholic Church and Julian in the Orthodox Church. They differ by 13 days, that is why Orthodox holidays are celebrated 13 days later than the Catholic ones. Thus, Christmas for example is celebrated twice in the region, and so on. Only Easter and Easter connected holidays do not fall under this rule and their date is changeable. So, sometimes both traditions happen to celebrate Easter on the same day, and sometimes the time span between two Easters can range up to five weeks. 

For the local people seasons are strongly connected with particular celebrations and events.

Winter is the time of big festivities beginning with Christmas. (Orthodox Christmas is on January 7.) Christmas Eve dinner is eaten in the evening one day earlier.  It is a fasting meal, traditionally no dairy products should be served. Cabbage, mushrooms and fish dominateon the table. Kutia made of barley with poppy seed, honey and raisins is simply a must. Traditional Christmas songs are sung. Kolędnicy, children with a colourful star fixed on a stick, lighted inside and turned round during singing, walk from house to house singing about new born Christ and collecting money and treats.

At Epiphany (19.01.) in small towns by a river, Narewka for example, Orthodox people go in a procession to a river bank, where water is blessed. When it is frosty and the river freezes, a cross is cut out of the frozen surface.

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Spring is the time of Lent and Easter.

On Palm Sunday palms are blessed. They are beautifully decorated. In the Orthodox Church these are willow twigs, as they  put out buds and leaves very early. This is a Christian and rural tradition at the same time that throughout the whole year fruits of Earth are brought to church and blessed.

On Orthodox Holy Thursday flames of candles can be seen in the dark, as they are carried home from church. People walk around their houses with  lit candles in order to ensure them protection from evil. On Good Friday streets of towns are filled with Catholic faithful taking part in the Way of the Cross. Holy Saturday is the time when food that will be eaten on Easter morning is blessed. In the country baskets with specially prepared food are brought and put under a cross in the village and then blessed by a priest.

The most popular Easter tradition is painting eggs. Pisanka, a colorful egg, can have intricate patterns made with warm wax and egg dye or can be simply reddish or brown when dyed in onion peels. Pisankas are also put on graves a week after Easter when people go to cemeteries to share the joy of Resurrection with the deceased, and when the graves are blessed.

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Later comes Pentecost, a holiday associated with green colour of vegetation. And indeed, churches are often decorated with green birch twigs. The most famous celebrations for the Orthodox take place in Krynoczka, which is an ancient site in the forest not far from Hajnówka. They pray in an old chapel and drink water from a Holy Spring, which is believed to have healing power.

At the Feast of Corpus Christi (on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday) in the streets of towns Catholics prepare elaborate altars full of flowers and walk in processions of the Blessed Sacrament.

The beginning of summer is strongly linked with the Feast of St. John the Baptist, called the night of Kupala (21.06.) Many people still stick to the rule that nobody should swim in a river before that feast. In Białowieża, Narewka, Dubicze Cerkiewne and sometimes in Leniewo concerts are organized, bonfires lit, wreaths are floated on rivers. Whole families come with picnic baskets and celebrate.

August is also time of other great feasts – Theophany, when fruits are blessed and Dormition of Virgin Mary, when after harvest crops are blessed in a thanksgiving. Processions with icons and flags take place, as such is the custom, around churches bearing the name of the feasts.

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Gradually autumn  will be taking rule and bring its silence. Belarusian and Ukrainian folk songs will still be sung, but winter will be sneaking in. The New Year’s Eve will soon come and two weeks later – Belarusian Malanka. A new year will start and the cycle will roll anew.

 

Celebrations of Pentecost at Krynoczka

Holy Week and Easter

RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS

 


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