Koliada or koleda (Cyrillic: коляда, коледа, колада, коледе) is an ancient pre-Christian Slavic winter festival. It was later incorporated into Christmas.
The word is still used in modern Ukrainian ("Коляда", Kolyadá), Belarusian (Каляда, Kalada, Kalyada), Russian (Коляда, Kolyada), Polish (Szczodre Gody kolęda), Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian (Коледа, Коледе) Lithuanian (Kalėdos, Kalėda) and Bosnian, Croatian, Czech, Slovak, Slovene (koleda). The word used in Old Church Slavonic language (Колѧда) sounds closest to the current Polish language pronunciation, as Polish is the only Slavic language which retains the nasal vowels of the Proto-Slavic language. One theory states that Koliada is the name of a cycle of winter rituals stemming from the ancient calendae.
In modern Ukrainian, Russian (koliada), Czech, Slovak, Croatian (koleda), Kashubian kòlãda, Romanian (colindă) and Polish (kolęda, Old Polish kolenda) the meaning has shifted from Christmas itself to denoting the tradition of strolling, singing, and having fun on Christmas Eve, same in the Balkan Slavs. It specifically applies to children and teens who walk house to house greeting people, singing and sifting grain that denotes the best wishes and receiving candy and small money in return. The action is called kolyadovannya in Ukrainian and is now applied to similar Old East Slavic celebrations of other old significant holidays, such as Generous Eve (Belarusian: Шчодры вечар, Щедрий вечiр) the evening before New Year's Day, as well as the celebration of the arrival of spring. Similarly in Bulgaria and Macedonia, in the tradition of koleduvane (коледуване) or koledarenje (коледарење) around Christmas, groups of kids visiting houses, singing carols and receiving a gift at parting. The kids are called 'koledari' or rarely 'kolezhdani' who sing kolyadki (songs).
Koleda is also celebrated across northern Greece by the Slavic speakers of Macedonia, in areas from Florina to Thessaloniki, where it is called Koleda (Κόλιντα, Κόλιαντα) or Koleda Babo (Κόλιντα Μπάμπω) which means "Koleda Grandmother" in Slavic. It is celebrated before Christmas by gathering in the village square and lighting a bonfire, followed by local Macedonian music and dancing.
Croatian composer Jakov Gotovac wrote in 1925 the composition "Koleda", which he called a "folk rite in five parts", for male choir and small orchestra (3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, timpani and drum). There is also a dance from Dubrovnik called "The Dubrovnik Koleda."
The ancient god of the underworld Veles was known to regularly send spirits of the dead into the living world as his heralds. Festivals in his honour were held near the end of the year, in Winter, when time was coming to the very end of world order, chaos was growing stronger, the borders between worlds of living and dead were fading, and ancestral spirits would return amongst the living. This ancient celebration of Velja noć (Great Night) still persists in folk customs of Koleda, which can happen anywhere from Christmas up to end of February.
In pre-Christian Croatia, "koleda" was a celebration of death and rebirth at the end of December in honour of the sun and god - Dažbog, whose power once more begins to increase in those days. Krijes, meaning bonfire in Croatian, is another festival honouring the sun, during the summer at the time of his greatest strength; a celebration for good harvest.
Koledari are Slavic traditional performers of a ceremony called koleduvane. Both words come from the Church Slavonic word Koleda, a celebration incorporated later into Christmas.
In Bulgaria this type of caroling is called "коледуване" (koleduvane), whereas in Ukraine called "колядування" (kolyaduvannya), in Macedonia it is called "коледарење" (koledarenje), or "коледе" (kolede).
The koledari carolers traditionally start their rounds at midnight on Christmas Eve. They visit the houses of their relatives, neighbours and other people in the village. The caroling is usually performed by young men, which are accompanied by an elder one called stanenik. Each caroler carries a stick called gega. They wish the people from the village health, wealth and happiness. The time for the koleduvane is strictly defined by tradition - from midnight to dawn on Christmas Eve. With the power of the songs they have to chase away the demons. By sunrise they lose that power and stop to koleduvat. Preparations began on 20th of December. Men are in traditional festive attire with a special decoration on their hats.
In Macedonia, the caroling starts early in the morning on 6 January, which is the Christmas Eve or known in Macedonian as Badnik. Usually kids are caroling in Macedonia and they go from house to house wishing a lot health, happiness and luck. The wishes are expressed through songs called koledarski pesni or carols. After the song is finished, the person, that the song is sang for, rewards the kids with money, fruit, candies and other gifts. Traditionally, the kids are wearing masks and they go around the whole neighborhood or village.
One of the most popular kolyadkas (songs) in Macedonia is the following:
Коледе ледепаднало гредеутепало дедедеде се мачибаба го квачисо четири јајцагускини, шаткини.
Денес е Коледе,утре е Божиќќе колеме телетеле вика лелене колете менеќе ви купам зељеда месите питада јадете сите.
КоледееKolede ledepadnalo gredeutepalo dededede se mačibaba go kvačiso četiri jajcaguskini, šatkini.
Denes e Koledeutre e Božiḱḱe koleme teletele vika lelene kolete meneḱe vi kupam zeljeda mesite pitada jadete site.
Koledari prepared themselves during several days before the start of the koleda: they practiced the koleda songs, and made their masks and costumes. The masks could be classified into three types according to the characters they represented: the anthropomorphic, the zoomorphic (representing bear, cow, stag, goat, sheep, ox, wolf, stork, etc.), and the anthropo-zoomorphic. The main material from which they were produced was hide. The face, however, could be made separately out of a dried gourd shell or a piece of wood, and then sewn to hide so that the mask could cover all the head. The moustache, beard, and eyebrows were made with black wool, horsehair, or hemp fibers, and the teeth with beans. Zoomorphic and anthropo-zoomorphic masks might have white, black, or red painted horns attached to them. The costumes were prepared from ragged clothes, sheepskins with the wool turned outside, and calf hides. An ox tail with a bell fixed at its end was sometimes attached at the back of them.
The leader of the group was called Grandpa. The other koledari gathered at his house on the eve of koleda, and at midnight they all went out and started their activities. Walking through the streets of the village they shouted and made noise with their bells and ratchets. Most were armed with sabers or clubs. One of them, called Bride, was masked and costumed as a pregnant woman. He held a distaff in his hand and spun hemp fibers. The koledari teased and joked with Bride, which gave a comic note to the koleda. Some of them were called alosniks, the men possessed by the demon ala. There could have been other named characters in the group.
The koledari sung special songs, in which the word koledo, the vocative case of koleda, was inserted in the middle and at the end of each verse.
Besides the singing, the koledari also chased away demons from the household. First they searched the house to find out where the demons hide. They looked everywhere, at the same time shouting, dancing, jumping, knocking on the floor and walls with sticks, and teasing Bride. When they found the demons, they drove them out of the hiding place, and fought with them swinging their sabers and clubs. After the demons were chased away, the koledari briefly danced the kolo, and then blessed the household. As a reward, they received a loaf of bread which the family prepared specially for them, and other food gifts.