Traditional Ukrainian Halloween: Veles Night

, Traditional Ukrainian Halloween: Veles Night, The Travel Bug Bite

You know you’re a third-culture child when at the age of 27 you find out that your birth country has its very own version of Halloween. Turns out that Ukrainians have been dressing up, giving out candy and celebrating this holiday since the 9th century back when Ukraine was Kievan Rus’.

Halloween is actually one of the most ancient holidays in the world and it gained popularity among Celtic tribes. The Celtic holiday was called Samhein and it was believed that on the night between October 31st and November 1st, “the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to humankind, and the gods played many tricks on their mortal worshipers.” – Britannica

So the Celts would dress up in animal skins and scary costumes to avoid becoming a victim. It’s funny now to compare this night when people genuinely feared for their lives to of my favorite lines from Mean Girls: “Halloween is the one time a year a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girl can say anything about it.”

Ukrainian Halloween was slightly different and based on a pagan God. Veles is “a pre-Christian pagan god. He is considered the god of art, music, poetry, beauty, talent, happiness and love. He’s the patron of all creative people, magicians, diviners and clairvoyants. He is also the guardian of all living beings. It was believed that it was he who was responsible for the flowering of the human soul.” – Slavic Girl

On Veles night it was customary to think about deceased relatives and remember all the good things about them. People would light candles to help their souls find their way to their home. It was also a tradition to leave a pastry or something tasty on your windowsill or doorstep for guests visiting from the spiritual world. It was considered good luck to dream of a deceased relative the night of November 1st.

This night was also a time to preform certain rituals to guarantee prosperity or to see if your spouse was being faithful to you. There were also various superstitions about not lending money on the eve of Veles and seeing black animals – black dogs in particular meant that “an enemy would appear and would spoil the life of the family.” Alternatively, seeing a white dog was a good sign. – Slavic Girl

One of the oldest traditions to celebrate Veles including jumping over a fire and walking on hot coals. Another, was to prepare a silent dinner the night before for themselves and their deceased relatives. Despite the name, they did not remain silent throughout the dinner but instead, remembered the good things about their dead relatives.

When Christianity came to Ukraine, the church frowned upon all things pagan. To help people convert from paganism to Christianity, Pope Gregory II founded All Saints Day which later became All Hallows Eve. On this day, Christians glorified all the saints and martyrs. Even today, Halloween is still considered a controversial holiday in Ukraine. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukrainians were introduced to the western version of Halloween which some people continue to celebrate today.

, Traditional Ukrainian Halloween: Veles Night, The Travel Bug Bite

This morning my mom sent me the meme above, which got me thinking about how Halloween is celebrated around the world. When a holiday has roots dating back centuries, it makes sense that different cultures will adapt and put their own spin on them whether it’s the Day of the Dead, Veles Night or Czech Dusicky which you will be able to read about on The Travel Bug Bite on November 2nd.

The featured image of this article was taken from Amazing Ukraine, a great website about all things Ukrainian!


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