Ukrainian non-carol winter song

This is one of my favorite traditional “turning of winter towards spring” songs, that my grandma used to sing. Few days late according to the calendar, but hopefully still timely in spirit…

The translation the lyrics:

Is there or is there not the mister at home?

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

He is not at home, he went to the forrest.

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

He is cutting the stone and building a church.

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

In that church, there are three altars.

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

And at those altars there are three guests.

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

The first guest in the beautiful Sun.

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

The second guest is the radiant Moon.

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

The third guest in the fine Rain.

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

The Sun says:

When I begin to shine on Sunday morning

When I throw light on churches and [catholic] churches

And all places worship,

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

The Moon says:

When I rise on Sunday evening

And when I throw light on rivers and bridges

And simple [straight] roads,

On people on the road and bullocks at their carts,

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

The Rain says:

As I sprinkle three times in May

Then rye and wheat,

And all other crops will rejoice,

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

Farewell (and be healthy), oh good mister,

And not only you yourself, but with all your people,

and with the whole household,

and with dear God!

         Glorified are You, in the heaven!

Now, for those of you who would like to know a bit more.

Some of you might have heard me say that the original “Carol of the Bells” is neither a carol, nor of the bells. That is because the song was composed in 1904 as an arrangement a Ukrainian folk song of a very particular type. These songs, some more archaic than others, stem from a pre-Christian tradition, so they are not related to Christmas. They are beautiful and inspiring in their own special way. Sadly, the inventive person who promoted the original “Carol of the Bells” to the American audience in the 1930s (after the first American performance in 1921) decided to completely re-write the lyrics, and left absolutely nothing in the English version from the original meaning of the song.

A bit of a background. Ukrainian winter celebrations cycle, the way we used to have it back home, was quite long, it started in mid-December with St.Andrew’s and later St.Nicholas’ days (or, perhaps even earlier, in late November with archangel Michael’s day?), and then in January, there would by the “old calendar” Christmas, New Year, and orthodox Epiphany, that is, when Christ was baptized in Jordan by John the Baptist. The two main traditional feasts would be the Christmas Eve, which in Ukrainian is called “the Holy Eve” on January 6th, and the eve of Epiphany, called “the Generous Eve”, two weeks later. It is onto the latter, that the great amount of pre-Christian traditions have been mapped, and this is when these special songs were sung, their name derived from words for generosity and abundance.

In general, these songs were about wishing all sorts of wellbeing and abundance and good fortune in the coming season – in the fields, in the stables, in families, in personal life. In our extended family the grandma, and everyone else joining her, would sing a song for the host and the hostess, wishing them all kinds of goodness, and then for each particular grandchild, referring to their future one and only true and happy love, or, if they were too small, then to some other good qualities. Who got which song changed sometimes, settling by the time we grew up and there was no more younger cousins being born. “Mine” was usually a song about me sitting in an apple tree with apples, no wonder apple is my absolutely favourite fruit! The songs for the host especially were often invoking the sun, the moon, and the stars, the forces of nature and their clemency.

This particular song for the host is typical in some ways, but quite special in others. In it the Sun, the Moon and the Rain are not only invoked, but actually invited to be worshipped on their respective altars, while the “chorus” refers to God in the heaven, without however, naming Him. It is also rather unusual to hear them give “speeches” :). Another aspect which I find quite moving is that while the Sun is blessing the people in the temples, the Moon is taking care of those who travel and have to stay overnight on the road (with their bullocks resting near their carts). The Rain, of course, is nourishing the crops, and it is also a bit unusual to see the Rain put on the same or similar level with the Sun and the Moon.

Hope you enjoyed!

8 thoughts on “Ukrainian non-carol winter song

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