Orthodox Christians in Eastern European countries, including Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Slovakia, etc., have a unique tradition related to the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Groups of young people and children go from house to house singing special Christmas carols, called kolyadki and asking for sweets and cakes in return. Most of the carols praise the Mother of God and Child Jesus; other songs are dedicated to popular saints, such as St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The children often carry a pole mounted star as a symbol of the Bethlehem Star, which led the wise men from the east to the manger of Jesus.
The Monastic Choir of St. Elisabeth convent decided to support this folk tradition by recording a Christmas album. The album consists of two parts – the Akathist to the Nativity of Christ and ten Christmas carols. “Silent Night” (track No. 12), probably one of the most recognizable carols in Western Christianity, became very popular among the Orthodox Christians too. Other carols are well-known in Eastern Europe and represent an inherent part of the cultural heritage in this part of the world.
The tradition of singing kolyadkas dates back to pre-Christian times, when people celebrated the winter solstice and prayed to the winter deity in the hope of collecting abundant harvest later in the year. As a result, some “rigid” Christians denounce this custom as having pagan roots. From this point of view, singing kolyadkas becomes a controversial if not a sinful act. Is that so?
Back in the 4th century AD the Church chose December 25 as the day of the Nativity of Christ, the exact date of Jesus’ birth being unknown to early Christians. The Church fathers wanted people to cease worshipping a solar deity on the day of the winter solstice and pray to the Sun of righteousness, the Lord Jesus, instead. It is just one example of how the Church adopted a pagan festival and transformed it into one of the greatest Christian feasts. The same is true of other traditions, which have been borrowed from paganism and changed according to the doctrines of the Church.
Naturally, all Church choirs should carefully select the carols they are going to perform at Christmas. Of course, it is better to avoid the songs with ambiguous or dubious texts. In my opinion, although the track No. 8 “Moon Was Walking in the Sky” is beautifully arranged, however, its text is rather questionable.
The album does help create a cheerful atmosphere of Christmas in my home. But, let’s hope this is not the last album of Christmas carols recorded at St. Elisabeth Convent. Apart from the Monastic Choir there is also the Festive Choir that is yet to create its own Christmas album.
By Vladimir Sypchu,
the chorister from the parish of
the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the
Temple, Minsk, Belarus
The Catalog of Good Deeds, 2018