Malanka or Malania (also known as the Generous Night, or the Vasyl night) is the Ukrainian folk celebration of New Year in accordance to Julian calendar (January 13-14). The most authentic traditions of celebration have been preserved in the Western regions of Ukraine, particularly, Halychyna and Bukovyna.
Anastasia Muzychenko has lived in Ukraine for several years. She enjoys traveling around the country and exploring unseen spots and events. Her story tells us, that there is definitely a lot to do in Ukraine in the winter.
A trip to Malanka
Anastasia: I was my first trip to see real Malanka. I’ve wanted to visit Western Ukraine for Christmas and New Year holidays for quite a while. The villages of Chernivtsi region celebrate Malanka on the 14th of January. On the 15th usually, a festival is held in the city of Chernivtsi. However, this year the city fest was canceled, because the local government decided to invest money and other resources, into a grand fest of 2020. The next year event is about to be truly impressive, with participants coming from all over Ukraine.
That’s why this year I focused on villages. Two of the places I visited weren’t far from Chernivtsi, however, if you don’t have a car, the best way to enjoy your trip is to take a tour.
Carnival in Vashkivtsi
Vashkivtsi village celebrates Malanka in ‘Rio Carnival’ style. There are a lot of participants from neighboring villages who dress in the most amusing way. They all ride old trucks transformed into some kind of floats with loudspeakers. Each float has its own theme: from the Smurfs and Asterix to Cossacks. The theme does not necessarily have to be Ukrainian, sometimes it’s a very interesting cultural mix: like Ukrainian Cossacks singing Romanian songs for example. This part of Chernivtsi region has an incredible mix of Ukrainian, Romanian, and Jewish cultures.
Meanwhile, you can visit a Christmas fair, that is about the size of the Kyiv’s one. You can treat yourself with some mullet wine with food and shop for handmade clothes and souvenirs.
Performance in Krasnoilsk
The population of the second village I’ve visited, Krasnoilsk, is mostly ethnically Romanian. It is a very small village, only about 10 – 11 thousand people. As I understood, the plot of Malanka scene hasn’t changed here for centuries. The village is divided into several ‘corners’. Each corner prepares its own celebration. The main participants of Malanka show are young single guys, and kids. Everyone sings the same song in Romanian. The song has a very distinctive rhythm and is accompanied by drums and whistles.
I’ve looked up the translation of this song. It is about a bear hunt. They tell the story of a big scary bear that came to the village, and now everyone joined to fight it.
Several guys act as those bears, dressed in very heavy costumes (sometimes up to 100 kilos of weight). Those costumes are not always the same, some bears even have wings! The general idea of the plot is taming of a dangerous nature. Young women and children are usually dressed as gypsies, there are also traditional characters of Vasyl and Malania (common for Malanka celebration in all regions of Ukraine).
They parade around the village starting from the evening of January 13th and coming together on the main street in the midday of January 14th.
An outstanding place
The locals don’t really care if there are any visitors for Malanka, they do it all for themselves, and that makes it even more authentic. Although there are a lot of visitors from all over Europe, not only Ukraine and Romania, I’ve even seen some British license plates there.
Krasnoilsk doesn’t host any official Christmas fair for tourists, their party is about drinking, eating and hanging out with the fellows from the village.
I have been to various festivals in Europe, and I find amazing that such an outstanding event still doesn’t have the crowds of tourist, and allows you to enjoy the authenticity.
I think most visitors coming here stay either in Chernivtsi or in neighboring Romanian towns. However, there is a hotel here in the village too.
The performing groups are very different. Some of them appear to enter some kind of ritual trance, while the others are very friendly and communicative. I had a small talk with one of the groups, and they treated me with some homemade alcohol drinks. They were asking me, why am I here. It was a surprise for them, that somebody who’s not a journalist could be interested in their event.
People here don’t live rich, but they always manage to put aside some savings for the celebration. It is normal among locals to tip a performing person with 500 UAH (from a household). At the end of the day, performers usually book a restaurant where they spend all their tips treating everyone with food and drinks.
Dare to go!
While Vashkivtsi has a crazy carnival where you can have fun under any circumstances, Krasnoilsk is home to a magical ritual that teaches you about the life and culture of the region.
I’m so impressed I’ll definitely go again next year! Will try to bring more friends with me this time. I plan to visit villages on the 13-14 and see the grand festival in Chernivtsi on the 15th. It is definitely a must-see event for those who are interested in exploring Ukrainian culture.
PHOTOS: Anastasia Muzychenko