The Ukrainian tradition states that on the eve of the annual winter celebration, there is a meal of twelve dishes. The meal may commence at the sighting of the first star in the sky. At this time, the head of the household summons all animals, sorcerers and spirits to partake. The koliadnyky (winter song singers) gather and pay a visit to each home, singing songs of prosperity. Good fortune will not arrive unless every home in the village participates. After twelve days of singing, the koliadnyky and the priest gather at the river around a hole cut in the ice. The priest dips candles and blows into the water, thereby blessing it. Now the ancestor spirits who were invited to dinner are sent off down the river. The heavens are closed and the winter songs cannot be sung again until next year. Residents from the community take home pails of river water to be used on special occasions throughout next year.
The ritual of Ukrainian winter songs is maintained today, even during my youth in Rochester, NY we became koliadnyky during the holiday season. Shuffling around in winter gear, we were driven around to homes of the Ukrainian community. Each foyer embodied a magical presence as we sang before the celebratory meals began. As I sang the familiar melodies, I imagined spirits, bears, wolves, sorcerers, foxes and farm animals joining us in song. My community managed to keep the tradition alive from house to house, from year to year.