Easter Celebrations in Lviv: Tradition & Modernity
default, Easter Celebrations in Lviv: Tradition & Modernity, Easter procession in Lviv, photo: Monika Oleksy/Forum, lwow_procesjawielkanocna.jpg
An Easter celebration cannot take place without youthful games. Almost everywhere in Western Ukraine, ‘haiłki’ take place – games for children, accompanied with song. These traditional rituals greet the coming spring as the Earth gathers its life force.
Spring games and songs are a part of many different Slavic peoples. The Ukrainian version – haiłki (гаївки) – are different for how they have preserved the original archaic belief in the magic of words and the power of nature.
These ancient traditions have become part of the Christian calendar, tied to Jesus’s Resurrection. Although scholars of 20th-century folklore have signalled concern at the potential disappearance of this tradition, it has seen a rebirth – a clear example of which can be found in Lviv.
Karel Zap’s 1830s memories of haiłki in Lviv
In Lviv, a crossroads of culture, traditional haiłki were enriched with additional elements which came from nearby villages. It’s telling that the first person to note Lviv’s haiłki traditions was not a Ukrainian, but a Czech writer of German heritage – Karel František Vladislav Zap, who lived in Lviv from 1836-1845. The next person was a Polish historian, Stanisław Schnür-Pepłowski, who spent most of his life in Lviv (1859-1900).
The point being: Ukrainian lovers of art and folk culture didn’t turn their attention to their local customs. They considered them to be debased, ‘broken’ variations of the still-lively village customs. Instead, they searched for the traditions of places further away from civilisation, especially in the Carpathian region. Yet representatives of other nationalities found plenty of beauty and poetic resonance in Lviv’s haiłki.
Polish Easter Traditions
In 1927, the Lviv magazine Життя і знання (Life and Wisdom) put out an article by Iwan Bryka dedicated to the haiłki tradition in Lviv. He introduced readers to the ancient – and disappearing – customs that Zap and Schnür-Pepłowski had first recorded. The article was in large part based on Zap’s writing about a celebration which took place place in the nearby St Parascheva Orthodox Church in the Żółkiewski suburbs. He wrote:
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In the afternoon, when the weather is good, it’s interesting to observe the first springtime games taking place under a naked sky. These are the haiłki, also known in Lviv as the ‘hahułki’.
This would point to the idea that in the 1930s, the Lviv haiłki were not solely correlated with Easter, but rather the first few warm days of spring – and their local name of hahułki differentiated them from the better-known haiłki.
Zap noted that Ukrainians had a traditional spot where the haiłki took place – an old cemetery near the St Parascheva Orthodox Church, where crowds of celebrants gathered – while Poles only copied them. The merrymaking attracted the citizens of Lviv. Girls and boys from local suburbs and villages stand in a circle and since different Ukrainian songs, while those from Lviv ruined the fun by shouting and disrupting the circle. He later described the different games the youth partook in, such as climbing up on each other’s shoulders and, in this manner, walking around the church (if, of course, troublemakers from the city didn’t knock them down first).
The Czech author also paid attention to the beautiful apparel of the village girls, humorously penning portraits of the admiring city folk. Karel Zap’s report managed to capture the specific character of the haiłki – a youthful, free-spirited celebration full of enthusiasm and jokes, spoilt by city-dwellers, which the author noted down with sympathy.
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Panorama of pre-war Lviv, photographer unknown, photo: 'Przedwojenny Lwów: Najpiękniejsze Fotografie' (Pre-War Lviv: the Most Beautiful Photos) by Żanna Słoniowska, RM, Warsaw 2013
Schnür-Pepłowski’s records of the Lviv haiłki
Another witness of the Lviv haiłki, Stanisław Schnür-Pepłowski, related his experiences in the second half of the 18th century. These Iwan Bryk only glossed over.
A Lviv citizen, Schnür-Pepłowski was the son of the merchant Edward Schnür and Apolonia of Pepłowski. A lawyer, historian, journalist and editor, Schnür-Pepłowski managed, in a short span, to amass quite the literary output – more than 20 books, most of which were dedicated to the history of Galicia, Poland and Polish theatre. His most well-known books are: Teatr Polski we Lwowie (1780–1881) (Polish Theatre in Lviv, pub. 1889), Teatr Polski we Lwowie (1881–1890) (Polish Theatre in Lviv, pub. 1891), Tomes 1 and 2 of Z Przeszłości Galicyi (1772–1862) (From Galicia’s Past, pub. 1894); Tomes 1 and 2 of Kościuszkowskie Czasy: Szkice i Obrazki (The Times of Kościuszko: Sketches and Drawings, pub. 1895), Galiciana 1778–1812 (pub. 1896), Z Tajnego Archiwum: Kartka z Dziejów Galicyi (From the Secret Archives: A Page from Galicia’s History, pub. 1896) and Teatr Bogusławskiego: Ustęp z Dziejów Sceny Polskiej 1778–1795 (Bogusławski’s Theatre: A Section from the History of the Polish Scene, pub. 1896).
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Stanisław Schnür-Pepłowski was able to create insightful observations and weave in stories of everyday town life into his works, painting faithful likenesses of the citizens. This is the case in Z Przeszłości Galicyi – the author was able to enliven the historical chronicle with interesting facts about Lviv as a place of amusement, richly describing the different balls, games and dances. A small sample cites the 1971 decree as to the ‘order of dances’ and includes a description of stylish outfits and masquerade costumes.
The author took plenty of interesting of information from archival sources, which he studied with delight. One of Schnür-Pepłowski’s lesser-known works includes Obrazy z Przeszłości Galicyi i Krakowa, 1772-1858 (Images from the Past of Galicia and Kraków). In the first section, published in 1896, the author creates a wide cultural panorama of Lviv, showing off its buildings, streets, suburbs, public institutions, schools, collectives, customs and various amusements as well as known figures from the town. It’s amazing that this fascinating resource was never translated into Ukrainian.
In this book, we find a description of haiłki. The opening, which Iwan Bryk cites in his work, is based on the author’s own experience.
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On Franciszkański Square, on the second night of Easter, the Old-Slavic haiłki took place. In the afternoon hours, curious spectators gathered in crowds, circling around a bevy of village girls, who performed dances amidst singing and laughter. One of the dancers, standing in the middle of a circle formed out of her friends, crooned a song, which her cohort repeated back to her, while she, holding a twisted kerchief in both hands, tried to by surprise wrap it upon the neck of one of the men watching the celebration. The caught man paid his ransom with gingerbread, nuts and cheap treats, bought from the Jewish women who wove through the crowd with their baskets of goods. This is a folk game in the literal sense, as the only participants are maidservants, fresh from the countryside, dogsbodies and lower-level servicemen.
Schnür-Pepłowski further noted that haiłki, from their origin to his time, took place in all of Ruthenia and can be traced back to the Old-Slavic celebration of Marzanna. He also included this description of the ceremonial game:
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In certain areas, the dancing girls create a line and raise their intertwined hands in the air, letting a second row of girls pass through under their improvised gate. Sometimes the song leader carries a rod of pussy willow, chasing someone as they try to escape the circle. However, the leader, known as the ‘abbess’, always tries to illustrate the text of the song with her hands and facial expressions.
The author borrowed this description (with certain errors) from Żegota Pauli’s collection entitled Pieśni Ludu Polskiego w Galicyi (Polish Folk Songs in Galicia), published in 1838. To illustrate his point, he included the Polish lyrics to Pomaga Bóg Ksieni (God Helps the Abbess). It’s a dialogue between the abbess-leader and the choir of girls. The abbess takes on the role of the mother who doesn’t allow her daughter to attend the celebration, while the girls first begin by pleading to let their friend go to the party. When the abbess refuses, they state: ‘your daughter is with us, a serene queen standing amongst us’.
The story of the mother who won’t let her daughter go out, and the disobedient daughter, is a characteristic springtime song in a number of cultures. God Helps the Abbess is one of many haiłki songs. Whether Schnür-Pepłowski heard this song on Franciszkański Square in Lviv – that’s hard to ascertain.
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Krakowska str., photographer unknown, photo: 'Przedwojenny Lwów: Najpiękniejsze Fotografie' (Pre-War Lviv: the Most Beautiful Photos) by Żanna Słoniowska, RM, Warsaw 2013
An unknown variation of the ‘Zelman’ song
Pauli’s chronicles regarding the song Zelman are worth noting. The author wrote: ‘Next to these songs, in which marriage and an erotic element play a key role, we heard one a few dozen years ago, sung during Haiłki in Lviv – a song about Zelman, of which we remember only the two following verses’:
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Zelman comes, Ms Zelman and the whole family,
He comes, Zelman comes,
He comes, the whole Zelman family comes.
What does Zelman want?
What does her brother want?
What does the whole family want?
Mr Zelman wants maidens,
The whole Zelman family wants maidens.
The maiden hasn’t awoken,
She hasn’t brushed her hair,
And hasn’t attended church
Don’t thank Mr Zelman for her yet.
The author continues, ‘the choir repeats this verse, except for the ending, changing it as follows’:
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The maiden has awoken,
She wove the wreath,
She brushed her hair,
And attended church.
Thank you, Mr Zelman,
Thank her brother,
Thank the whole Zelman family.
Later, Schnür-Pepłowski claims that this particular haiłka is characteristic for ‘all of Ruthenia’ and has innumerable variations. He also evokes different ideas for the genesis of the song, tied to the real figure of Zelman: ‘in Zadnieprze, before the Khmelnytsky Uprising, he was the keeper of the Orthodox church keys, for which the people had to pay him’. It must be stated, however, that the genesis of the song Zelman (Żelman, Dzelman), in which Zelman, his brother and family seek a ransom for a maiden, is not altogether clear. Orysia Hołubiec, a Ukrainian scholar of haiłki, believes Zelman contains ancient erotic themes, which disappeared over time. Scholars are sceptical as to the existence of a real-life counterpart to Zelman.
Characteristic to Lviv and the surrounding region are haiłki performed in Ukrainian, where a maiden can only be given away to a rich family. Thus, according to such songs, she is destined ‘for a wheat role’, chosen instead of barley or rye – meaning for her ‘own’ or a ‘Ukrainian’ position as a wife, instead of a ‘Gypsy’ or German one.
In the first printed Polish language edition of Zelman, by Wacław from Olesko’s Pieśni Polskie і Ruskie Ludu Galicyjskiego (Polish and Ruthenian Songs of the Galician People, pub. 1833), the maiden is given away ‘for a noble role’, rather than a ‘peasant role’ or a ‘tavern role’ (in other words, she is married off to an inn-keeper). The variation we find in Schnür-Pepłowski’s book is clearly different from any other versions. So far no one has been able to find a haiłka about Zelman that is analogous to his version, where the maiden can only be given away after brushing her hair and going to church – it seems this may purely be a local version, probably with a non-traditional provenance. If this is true, then we are looking at a fascinating example of how the tradition of haiłki could have evolved in an urban environment.
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Flower sellers, photographer unknown, photo: 'Przedwojenny Lwów: Najpiękniejsze Fotografie' (Pre-War Lviv: the Most Beautiful Photos) by Żanna Słoniowska, RM, Warsaw 2013
Haiłki as omens of freedom
In the 20th century, Easter celebrations still took place in Lviv, despite the complicated historical situation – oftentimes, haiłki took place under pressure, taking on new meaning. When at the beginning of the 1920s, the games began disappearing from the war-exhausted city, members of Prosvita – a Ukrainian organisation founded in Lviv in 1868 – as well as a Ukrainian teachers’ organisation and the clergy breathed new life into the tradition.
After all, it was no coincidence that Iwan Bryk, who was the Lviv chapter leader of Prosvita, devoted his article to haiłki. Older haiłki, such as Kryvyi Tanec (Crooked Dance), Mak (Poppy), Hrushechka (Pear), Horoshok (Penny), Ohirochky (Little Cucumbers), Zhuchok (Little Beetle), Dyki Kozy (Wild Goats) and of course Zelman all appeared in songbooks which were also used in schools. Such an artificial method of maintaining tradition of course robs it of its spontaneity and natural atmosphere.
As a Lviv citizen named Oleksandr Nadraga (1885-1962) recalled, in the 1920s and ’30s, the youth played, danced, sang, splashed each other with water on Wet Monday – but these were still not the traditional Easter celebrations, and the old songs sounded unnatural. Zelman echoed nostalgically within the church walls as he arrived with his brother and family… And still, as older residents claimed, in the second of the 1930s, haiłki took place in almost every Orthodox church in Lviv.
The heyday of haiłki took place just after World War II, when the now-Soviet town was flooded with a fresh energy due to the influx of youth from surrounding villages. These village boys and girls refreshed the rusted Lviv traditions: in Spring, townspeople flocked to the haiłki taking place at St Jura. Bohdana Kopach remembers that in 1946, all of the students and apprentices spontaneously came to these games.
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People celebrating haiłki at open-air museum 'Shevchenkivsky Gai', photo: Andriy Kyrchiv (Андрій Кирчів), from Natalka Hasiuk's (Наталка Гасюк) collection
Every evening, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, people danced during musical processions: Podolanka; Zasny, Tsarivno, Na Sto Lit (Sleep, Queen, for 100 Years); Yide, Yide Pan Zelman (Mr Zelman Comes). Haiłki began around six in the afternoon and lasted until late into the night. Kopach believes that the Soviet representatives were still overwhelmed by their victory and didn’t know where to begin. After they began exerting pressure, even haiłki were banned.
At the beginning of the 1950s, students from the local polytechnic institute were pressed into fighting against local traditions. One of the members at the time, Myron Burshtynsky, recalls that he had to spend almost a whole month in the square in front of St Jura, where he was under special orders to stop anyone attempting to rekindle haiłki by performing Soviet tunes instead. When such methods didn’t work, officials turned to brutal repression of the game. According to Lviv resident Oleksandr Kitsera, participating in haiłki carried serious risks: rebels were caught, stuffed into trucks and driven away without a trace.
But even prohibition and repression couldn’t stop the Ukrainian tradition of haiłki – they returned in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The Easter games, organised in the Shevchenkivsky Gai museum building during the 1990s by the recently founded Lew Society, became a party of thousands – shaping Lviv’s sense of freedom and unity with a spirit of patriotism and independence.
So in Lviv, thanks to brave youth and their teachers, we can hear the sounds of the traditional haiłki alongside the Easter bells.
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Easter in Lviv, 1989, wideo by Yaroslav Kendzior (Ярослав Кендзьор), digitalization by Ostap Kendzior (Остап Кендзьор)
Originally written in Ukrainian by Olha Kharchyshyn, translated by AZ from a Polish translation, Apr 2020