Folklore – Tales, Customs, Tradition and Clothes

One of the best ways to gain insight and understanding into the ways of a nation is to take a deeper look at their folklore – and there is plenty of fascinating folklore in Ukraine! From fanciful dress to brightly painted eggs, the traditional Ukrainian folklore is usually an artistic expression of many of the fundamental beliefs of Ukrainian society.

Many of these practices have been enjoyed for hundreds of years and have continued to play an integral role in society despite political and religious reforms. In many ways, Ukrainian folklore is a way for the common people to express their ideas about the world around them. In this folklore page, we will focus on a few basic aspects of Ukrainian folklore.

Perhaps the first aspect of folklore you are likely to notice is a strong nostalgia for ancient clothing. Many of the older men and women today may fondly remember a big celebration from their youth where traditional garments where worn and traditional customs where followed. At particular events – especially in rural areas – the occasion and season has a large bearing on the choice of dress. Great care was take to present beautiful, well-made, hand-sewn garments that reflected the customs and traditions of the region from which the wearer originated. These beautiful old garments are often lavishly adorned with embroidery and braiding. The particular style of dress would usually change from one geographical area to the next and this means that there is a stunning variety of old garments which can now be seen in museums in Ukraine. Shirts, in particular, give an interesting insight into the culture surrounding Ukrainian clothing. A well-made, nicely-embroidered shirt would be worn by the maker as an advertisement of her sewing skills and an indication of her suitability as a housewife. The embroidery patterns they chose changed with the fashion of the time but certain symbols – such as the tree of life or the sun or moon – would be used quite frequently. Most of the embroidery work was done in the cold of winter when outdoor activities were limited.

The average person had a small number of outfits – each befitting certain usage. A chequered ‘plakhta’ was a colorful garment used on festive occasions, while the more durable ‘zapaska’ skirt was for everyday wear. Young, unmarried women would take great pride in their hair and wear it braided, decorated with ribbons and flowers and open to the elements during the summer months. Once married, it was considered a matter of great importance to keep the hair hidden under an ochipok – most likely due to the magical qualities attributed to hair in times gone by. Winter coats sported sheepskin for warmth while heavy winter boots would often be packed away in summer when women would often walk about barefoot. Even today the clothing that is usually on display in museums or stowed away in a chest can tell the most enchanting story.

Another aspect of folklore which is especially prominent during Easter is that of pysanky. Pysanky are the Ukrainian version of the Easter egg and the tradition of painting eggs during the Easter months was started long before Christianity was brought to the country. In fact, the tradition has its roots in ancient pagan traditions wherein the egg serves as a symbol of the sun, spring and the renewal of growth and nature. This ancient tradition – which is at least 3300 years old – was absorbed into Christian teachings and has emerged as a major custom in the world today. The eggs are delicately decorated with beautiful patterns and pictures and an admirer has to turn the egg to view all facets of its beauty. The patterns are distinctly Ukrainian and are pleasurable to see.

There are many other facets of folklore of Ukraine which are not discussed here. The best way to learn more about folklore and to see the beautiful articles from Ukraine’s past is to visit a few of the many great museums in Ukraine which are dedicated to this subject. Doing this will greatly add to your visit and help you gain a better understanding of the history of the Ukrainian people.

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