Cossack Traditions of Celebrating Christmas
Cossacks never celebrated New Year or considered this day to be a holiday of great importance. It should be worth mentioning that each Cossack host had it’s own tradition for this time of the year. While little is known of the Zaparozhzhya Cossacks, historians have discovered that the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks did not place a Christmas tree in their living rooms, or wait for a breaded man in a jolly red suit to come down the chimney. Instead, the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks held elections. On January 1st, the Sich would elect it’s Ataman for the year, and on the following days they elected their committees. The Cossacks would celebrate the results of the election up until the nativity of Christ. On this day, all Cossacks would attend Church, and continue the celebrations after divine liturgy. Cossacks held a traditional event on Christmas night passing around a star, symbolizing the Bethlehem star on the night of Christ’s Nativity. It should be mentioned that the Don Cossacks and the Kuban Cossacks, like the Zaparozhzhya Cossacks did not celebrate New Years. While there gathered in the town centers, and Stanitsas, listen and watched performances of Cossack songs, and dzigitovka, most of the celebration was done on Christmas. The Cossacks would gather at a celebratory table and first commemorate their ancestors and close family who has deceased. The Cossacks did not eat on this day, until the first star was seen in the skies. In the streets, many Cossacks would wear their coats inside out along with an animal mask. The Terek Cossacks, while following the same traditions as the Don and Kuban, wearing their coats inside out, would spend the time with friends and family, telling tales of battles in which they were in. While each host had its own traditions, there were many similarities. Celebrations usually lasted until Holy Epiphany. It should be noted that in the Zaporozhye Sech blessing of the waters differed from the original traditions. The Sitch in full force, with artillery, appeared on the Dnieper River, which at the time of the year is usually frozen over. When immersed in water, a Cossack symbolzing the cross and dipping in. Each time a Cossack dipped into the river it was followed by a strong volley from all guns and rifle.
The evening before Epiphany called Epiphany Eve, the Don and Kuban Cossacks followed the same rule as on Christmas, not eating until the first star. After supper the Cossacks would turn inside out their sheepskin coats, to go out and read the prayer" was baptized in the Jordan”. The next morning, everyone would go to attend the church service, which took place on a river. Men cut the ice with wormwood, a cross, and the cross itself. Then, when the priest dipped a cross into the water, the men released doves holiday jubilation ended with celebratory shots into the sky. In the evening, the young people came to the fields, and made participated in a traditional fist fight to mark the end of the celebrations.