There are numerous rites, rituals and folk beliefs in the Ukrainian tradition on finding and catching a mate. Some are associated with specific holidays and others follow day to day routines.
Disclaimer: No guarantees!
In the Spring:
Vesnyanky (Веснянки); Hahilky, Hayilky, Hayivky, Yahilky, or Rohulky
These springtime ritual songs, dances and games were performed in the street, churchyard, cemetery, or field. Their original pagan purpose was to welcome the sun and its warmth back to the earth, to send winter packing and persuade nature to provide the people with a bountiful harvest and a happy life. The main purpose now is entertainment and to attract a mate. Usually held during the Easter season, the girl performers usually wear a light colored embroidered shirt-dress with a sash and a wreath of flowers upon their heads.
Girls give pysanky to guys they like and might write hearts onto the egg. Traditionally gifting pysanky also gifts a wish of protection and love. red is a very traditional color to have on a pysanky. Representing the blood of life, joy and love. Leaving white on the pysanka signifies light, purity and virginity.
In the Summer:
St. John the Baptist Day/ Івана Купала/ Ivana Kupala – July 6/7
Originally called Kupala, it began as a pagan fertility rite marking the beginning of the Mating season. It was adapted into Christian tradition connecting it with St. John’s Day. Kupalo was the god of love, the harvest and the personification of the earth's fertility.
On Kupalo eve, unmarried young women gather and make floral wreaths with scented flowers and herbs to attract a mate. They also make a female effigy called Maryna. The unmarried young men gather and make a male effigy called Kupalo. There is a legend that this night the wedding of Kupala and Marena was celebrated as a combination of two elements – water and fire, male and female. The young men and women gather outside the village in the forest or near a stream or pond. There they built a fire, sang songs and played games around it. Couples hold hands and jump over the fire together. If they lose their grip on each other, their relationship is doomed to break up.
On this one night, the magical flower of the Paporot fern plant blooms. Called the Tsvit Paporoti, the one who finds it will great wealth and happiness. Unmarried women enter the forest first to look for it. They are followed by young men. If the couple comes out with the young man wearing the girl's wreath, they are engaged to be married.
The girls take the wreaths off of their heads, insert a lit candle and then place the wreath onto the waters surface. The direction the wreath floats indicates the direction her mate would be found. The young men try to capture the wreath of their favored girl. Bad luck or a life of spinsterhood follows the girl whose wreath sinks.
On the morning of the actual day, girls washed themselves with the dew that had fallen on Kupalo eve, which they collected in a bowl left outside overnight, and run barefoot through the bedewed fields in the belief that doing so would accelerate their opportunity to get married.
In the Fall:
Wedding celebrations have a number of opportunities for the unmarried to get some luck, like the bride throwing the bouquet or the groom tossing the garter. Ukrainian weddings, which typically occurred in the fall, also have some traditions to help you find a mate.
As part of the Redemption (Vykup/Викуп), after the Groom is finally allowed to enter the Bride’s home, he sees her sitting on an embroidered pillow and he places the shoes on her feet. The Groom kisses his Bride and helps her stand up from the chair with a special pillow on it. The Bridesmaids each trying to sit on the pillow first so that they can be next to be married.
At the end of the church ceremony, the bride drags the rushnyk out of the church with her foot. Tradition dictates that when the bridesmaids follow behind the Pidnozhnyk, they are following the path of the bride and hopefully will be married next.
Fill separate dishes with buckwheat, millet, rice, semolina, oatmeal, pearl barley and water and arrange in a circle. Each girl spins a raw egg in the center of the circle.
Where the egg rolls will determine her future husband.
Ask a yes/no question, then take a handful of grains in your left hand and count the number of grains. An even number of grains means a yes answer to your question while an uneven number is no.
Take an apple and a shape knife. Carefully peel the entire apple to get a whole thin “strip.” If the apple skin tears then you will not marry that year. Take the whole apple skin and throw it over your right shoulder. Take a look at the peel where it has landed and decipher what letter of the alphabet it looks like. The letter you see will be the first letter of your groom's name.
In the Winter:
Vechornytsi/Вечорниці in Ukraine were winter parties specifically for boys and girls to court. They began after the harvesting was done and ended after the Christmas season. The most potent evenings for magical powers and fortune telling occurred around the Winter Solstice. The two main Vechornytsi were St. Catherine's Eve and St. Andrew's Eve.
St. Catherine's Day/Вечорниці на Катерини
The ancient Ukrainian festive day called St. Catherine Day, celebrated on November 25/December 7, was a day to find out your destiny.
Women prayed to St. Catherine for a good husband, pregnant women prayed for an easy birth and men prayed for a good wife.
Women would cut a branch of a cherry tree, put it in water in the sacred corner (pokuttya) next to the icons and then wait. If the branch flowered before St. Malania’s Day (New Year’s Day), it meant that the girl would get married that year.
St. Andrew’s Eve - Андріївський вечір/ Andriyivskyi Vechir - November 30/December 13
On the morning of Andriyivskyi Vechir young women arrive early in the morning to bake the kalyta, a round shaped hard bread with a hole in the middle and little buns called "balabushky," "balabonky" or "korzhyky". They would put a symbol or initial on theirs to tell them apart.
Young men and women gather in a house for an evening of fun and fortune telling. One of the main goals, to find a mate. There are many games and traditions associated with this evening.
Once the festivities started, the balabushky were lined up on the floor, and a hungry dog was let into the room. Whichever balabushka he bit into first, that young woman would be the first to get married in the new year.
The girls would also go outside to listen to various sounds. Depending from which direction a dog barked, or a bird sang, that's the direction her husband would be from.
Counting fence posts and marking every ninth one with a ribbon was another game - in the morning, the girl checked what the ribbon-tied post looked like. If it was old, ragged and crooked, she would marry some old geezer. If the post branched off into two, she or he would be married twice. If the post had no bark and was bare, her husband would be just as poor. If the post was very dry, she would marry a widower, and if it had small branches and bumps, he would be a widower with children. But if the post was straight and covered with bark, she would marry a tall, good-looking rich guy.
Girls would stop men walking down the village street and ask their names. The first guy she sees would then be the name of the future husband. Pulling stalks of grain from the grain bin also foretold if you would marry rich or poor - a bare stalk = poor vs. a kolosok, one with a full head of seeds = rich.
On this evening it was OK to eavesdrop outside people's windows, because depending what words you heard, it indicated if you married or not in this year.
Other fortune telling games included: Pouring melted beeswax onto cold water and then reading from the shapes formed also told you your future; Drinking tea and finding shapes in the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup; Toss your shoe and depending on which direction the toe pointed, that is where your fiancé would be from. Spin the bottle and the first to get married would be the one to whom the bottle pointed. Crumple a large sheet of newspaper, place it on a plate, and light the paper on fire. Once the flame dies out, place a lit candle next to the plate and look at the shadow the ash makes on a wall. The shape the shadow makes predicts your future.
Then came the Main Event - biting the Kalyta.
The Kalyta, which the girls made earlier that morning, was coated with honey, and tied to a red belt or ribbon through the hole in the middle. Then the belt/ribbon was hung over the rafters at a height a person could reach with their mouth. The Kalyta had a guard, usually someone talkative and funny. The guard was called Mr. Kalytynsky, he would have a bowl of soot and a brush.
The rules of the Kalyta game are: bite off a piece of the Kalyta without using your hands and without laughing. If you laugh, Mr. Kalytynsky will put a mark of soot on your face with his brush. Kalytynsky had control of the Kalyta and could raise it or make it swing at his pleasure.
When it was your turn to try to bite a piece off you would approach the Kalyta, bow to Mt. Kalytynsky, start this dialogue and then make your attempts:
- Good evening, Kalytynsky!
- Good evening, Kotsiubynsky!
- I came to bite the Kalyta!
- And I will mark your face!
- I'll bite it!
- And I will mark you!
- Добрий вечір, Калитинський!
- Добрий вечір, Коцюбинський! Куди їдете?
- Приїхав Калиту кусати!
- А я буду по лице писати!
- А я вкушу!
- А я впишу!
When you finally go to sleep, your dreams on this night also foretell the future. Dream of a falcon or a rooster? That's your fiancé. A bridge across a river? Take that path to get married. A needle? You love someone. Moon in the sky - a sign of imminent love.
Originally, in pagan times, many of these Winter celebrations would have begun on the Winter Solstice. In Christian times, these events have merged to the Christmas holiday season, December 24 - January 6 by the Gregorian Calendar or January 6 - January 19 by the Julian Calendar. So from Christmas Eve until the Feast of Jordan.
Our ancestors believed that during this time, when the old year was dying and the new year being born, that the magic and spirits of the other realm were able to communicate the fate and fortunes of those who ask.
Young people were mostly interested in the question of who their husband or wife would be. They would divinate in groups and by themselves to see if they could discern whether they would marry and who. They knew that truthfulness and a belief in the process was the only way to get a real answer.
One way to figure it out pits girl against girl. Each girl takes a flower bulb and puts it in in the water. The girl whose bulb sprouts soonest will be the first to marry.
Food is a pretty big deal to Ukrainians, so of course there is fortune telling associated with food.
Cook some porridge, remove the foam. If it has a red tinge, there will be happiness. If the porridge is small and white - there will be trouble. If you got a good response in your porridge divination, eat it; if not, throw it in the river.
And why not... one of Ukrainians favorite foods.... the Varenyk/Perogy divination! Whoever is cooking up these little bundles of dumpling joy puts a little surprise in a few of them. Kind of like a fortune cookie but beware when you bite down, you don't want to lose a tooth!
Here are what the symbols mean:
Need more ways?
Hang a towel outside overnight. If it is wet in the morning you'll get married.
Before going to bed, put a comb under your pillow. If you dream of a man combing your hair, then he is the one you will marry.
Cut out twelve slips of paper representing the twelve days of the Christmas/New Year season called Koliada, the twelve months of the year and the 12 Apostles. Write a wish for something that you would like to receive for the year on each of the slips of paper. Put the paper slips under your pillow before you go to sleep on New Year's Eve. In the morning, reach under your pillow and only pull out 3 slips of paper. These 3 wishes are the gifts that you will receive in the new year.
Anytime of the Year
Before going to sleep eat something really salty. Pickled foods work well. Your dreams that evening will foretell your future.
Know any other ways to Catch a Mate - Ukrainian style? Please send us a message.
Go to the next Traditions section: Forbidden Days to Marry