Profs and Pints DC presents: “Slavic Solstice Magic,” a look at traditional paganism-based East Slavic rituals to embrace the longest night and the onset of winter, with folklorist Philippa Rappoport of George Washington University.
Rather than curse the cold and the darkness, people in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus learned long ago to celebrate it, turning to various festivities and rituals as the days shorten and the snow falls.
With temperatures dropping and the winter solstice just a day away, you too can learn to find new meaning in the season with the help of Professor Rappoport, a folklorist who previously has captivated Profs and Pints audiences with talks on East Slavic nations' mermaids, place spirits, and netherworlds.
She’ll introduce us to a series of pre-Christian rituals performed in such nations between the winter and summer solstices. These included the creation of season-honoring effigies which would be paraded through town, given mock funerals, and then ritually dispatched in some way, with their remains often scattered in the fields as a gesture to help bring about new life. Fortune tellers would describe the futures of marriages. People would gobble up rich and fatty foods to bring a rich new year. Into the picture would pop Snegurochka—the “snow maiden” of a beloved folktale—and her grandfather, Father Frost, who visit at Yuletide to bestow gifts on those who celebrate their arrival with dances and songs.
Throughout their culture death and life were celebrated in tandem or in ways you might not expect. Learning how they geared up for the winter offers a lens for better understanding and appreciating the symbolism of Christmas and Chanukah, and how other traditions greet the darkest time of year and prepare for the return of light. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)
Image: A winter solstice ritual in Russia. Photo by the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities / Creative Commons.