Singing In the New Year

Swallow in flight ~ Susan Scheid

On October 5, 1921, the Ukrainian National Chorus performed before a sold-out audience in Carnegie Hall. A song known as Shchedryk, already popular in other parts of the world, was particularly well-received. Composed by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych, it drew on traditional folk melodies commonly heard in that country during celebrations of the Orthodox New Year (January 14 in the Gregorian calendar).

Eventually, American choir director and arranger Peter Wilhousky heard Leontovych’s work. Its bell-like ostinato inspired him to write new lyrics, attempting to capture the sound for his choir. After copyrighting and publishing the song in 1936, several choirs under Wilhousky’s direction began performing “Carol of the Bells” during the Christmas season.

Thanks in part to his Czech heritage, Wilhousky knew the old Slavic legend that, at midnight on the evening Jesus was born, bells began ringing spontaneously in his honor. His ability to capture that echo of ringing bells helped to make “Carol of the Bells” extraordinarily popular, especially in the United States and Canada. 

Though nearly two hundred instrumental and vocal arrangments exist, and despite the occasional use of “The Ukrainian Carol” for a title, neither Leontovych’s Shchedryk nor the folk tunes it drew from make any mention of bells, or of Christmas. The song we know as a Christmas carol began life as a Ukrainian New Year’s carol: one with distinctly pagan tendencies.

When another choir director, Oleksander Koshyts, commissioned Leontovych to write a song based on Ukrainian folk melodies, Leontovych turned to the simple melody and lyrics of an ancient well-wishing song.

There are two main groups of carols in Ukraine: the koliadky — festive, ritual songs sung on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — and a second group called shchedriky: New Year’s carols whose name derives from the Ukrainian word shchedryi, meaning bountiful, or generous, and which are sung in villages on New Year’s Eve.

Both koliadky and shchedrivky include imagery from nature. One tells of a landowner who is awakened by a swallow and urged to prepare for three guests coming to his house: the sun, the moon and the rain. The shchedrivka known as Shchedryk tells of a swallow coming to a landowner’s house and inviting him to survey his bountiful flocks and fields.

The koliadky and shchedrivky depict scenes from farm life and express the desire for good harvests, prosperity, good fortune, and health. They are remarkable for their wealth of subject matter and motifs, which vary with the person who is addressed and praised in each carol.
There are carols dedicated to the master of the house, the mistress of the house, the young bachelor, the girl, the daughter-in-law, the son-in-law, and so on.
The carols dedicated to the master deal with farm work: they glorify prosperity, the happiness of a well-off farmer, and his well-being. The songs for the young bachelor depict his strength, courage, and good looks. The carols for girls praise their unmatched beauty, wisdom, deep love, diligence, and respect for parents.
The descriptions of prosperity, beauty, and wisdom are magical incantations intended to secure the described effects.

Leontovych’s Shchedryk perfectly captured the beauty of Ukrainian shchedrivky: the well-wishing tunes were a beloved tradition.  Unfortunately, not everyone wished Leontovych well. He became a martyr in the Eastern Orthodox Ukrainian Church after being assassinated in his parents’ home in Markovka on January 25, 1921, by an agent of the Cheka (Soviet Secret Police).

прилeтiла ластiвочка (A little swallow flew) ~ Susan Scheid

Victoria Frolova, a Ukrainian native now living in Brussels, recalls:

Visiting my grandparents in their small hamlet near Poltava, I loved walking around on January 13th and smelling the heady aromas in the crisp, wintery air–mlyntsi (crepes), varenyky (boiled dumplings), poppyseed bubliki (bagels), and garlicky holodets (pork in aspic).
As soon as evening falls, groups of boys and girls, with me, a curious city kid, in tow, would go around singing “Shchedryk” and other festive verses. And taking a goat for a walk.
The most intriguing of all Shchedriy Vechir customs is to make visiting rounds with a goat, and not just any goat: a female goat, or “koza.” In many cultures, goats are not considered noble animals, but in Ukrainian folk beliefs, the she-goat is a symbol of fertility, wealth and good fortune. Being visited by koza, a she-goat, on the New Year’s Eve is considered lucky.

Luck, magic, incantation, ritual: there are hints of all four in New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world. While ringing in the New Year with bells is a lovely tradition, singing in the New Year with power-filled incantations has its own appeal. Whether you ring, or whether you sing, may the swallows wing their way to you, and may you be granted a happy and prosperous 2016.

The paintings shown are works of the Russian-Ukrainian painter Vladimir Orlovsky (1842-1914).
The four lines below are written in the Cyrillic script used in Ukraine. A transliteration and full English lyrics follow.

Щедрик щедрик, щедрiвочка,
прилeтiла ластiвочка,
стала собi щебетати,
господаря викликати…


Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka,
stala sobi shchebetaty,
gospodarya vyklykaty:
“Vyydy, vyydy, gospodaryu,
podyvysya na kosharu,
tam ovechky pokotylys’,
a yagnychky narodylys’.
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku groshey,
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku groshey,
khoch ne groshey, to polova:
v tebe zhinka chornobrova.”
Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka.

English Text:

Shchedryk, shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
A little swallow flew [into the house]
and started to twitter
to summon the master:
“Come out, come out, O master [of the household].
Look at the sheep pen;
there the ewes are nestling
and the lambkins have been born.
Your goods [livestock] are great,
you will have a lot of money [by selling them];
if not money, then chaff [from grain you will harvest].
You have a dark-browed [beautiful] wife.”
Shchedryk, shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
A little swallow flew.

As always, comments are welcome.
Many thanks to Susan Scheid for her lovely photos from a previous blog, Raining Acorns. Today, Susan posts about music, poetry, and the natural world at Prufrock’s Dilemma.

98 thoughts on “Singing In the New Year

    1. І щасливий Новий рік для вас і Єви (I shchaslyvyy Novyy rik dlya vas i Yevy) = And a Happy New Year to you and Eve

      Who knew that “shch” would prove so useful, so soon?

    1. The instruments that were accompanying them were great, weren’t they? I especially enjoyed the percussion. I can’t be sure, but I think I heard some rhythms that Dave Brubeck could have included in “Time Out.”

      A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you, Yvonne. I hope it’s a good one in every respect.

  1. We both really loved the lyrics of Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka, The music also made me think ot the American composer Philip Glass whose music featured in the rather heavy movie of Leviathan.

    1. I’m glad to have chosen something to feature that both you and Helvi enjoy, Gerard. Best wishes to you both in the New Year — and all good wishes for the projects you have lined up.

    1. It’s a common one, and one you either get to hear, or can’t escape, depending on your point of view. I think our Christmas carol is nice, but I’m more than fond of the Ukranian version.

      Happy New Year to you. May all your snow be fluffy and light!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed them, Jean. I was especially pleased to find the Ukrainian version with the paintings. It’s well done, and was better for my purposes than a video showing a choir or performer.

      Happy 2016 — I have no doubt you’ll make it a good one.

  2. You make learning new material so exciting and satisfying. I’ve heard this music but never paid attention until your introduction to it. Thanks.
    Happy New Year, I hear the fireworks starting in my neighborhood.

    1. It’s a wonderful song, in either version. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Oneta. There were few fireworks here, apart from the commercial sort, but it was a coldish, damp night, and that may have discouraged some of the merry-makers. A happy New Year to you.

  3. Linda, this is so interesting. Birds are so significant in mythology and traditions. Swallow is a repeating symbol in Lithuanian mythology, it is a national bird in Estonia. It is not surpirising that you mention being woken up by a swallow to prepare for sun, moon and rain. My grandma used to watch swallows carefully, and when they fly low, rain is moving in. It is very true, and you can definitely spot it.

    Singing to birds or to any element of nature used to be a very spirital connection to the world around, getting out beyond the every day life.
    I think there are myths/beliefs that the world was created by birds, who created it all and then took care of it by digging up the rivers, and swallows brought the fire from the underground world.

    Thank you, great post. Happy New Year to you!

    1. That’s so interesting about your grandmother, the swallows, and the rain. When I was growing up in Iowa, we called a different bird rain raven, and you could tell rain was coming when they began to ride the wind in a certain way. Now, I watch the seagulls when I’m waiting for a front. They know, and they tell — if we watch.

      I found that Bulgarian folklore has some of the same themes. There even is a Bulgarian song called “A Little Bird Flew Over” that has the same themes. From what I’ve found, and what you say, it’s not at all surprising that the Singing Revolution took hold in that part of the world.

      I’ve read a few posts from people who were choosing their “word for the year.” Most of them sounded quite purposeful: “strive,” “persevere,” “create,” and so on. It occurred to me while I was writing this that, even though I don’t usually make lists of resolutions or choose just one word as a guide, if I were to do so, “sing” wouldn’t be the worst choice in the world.

      Happy New Year to you and yours, Bee,

  4. I need to come back when my head isn’t pounding and listen/follow all the links. I know I’m going to love every note of this post. And as for the birds, well, Ahhh. Lizzie and I love our little birds! And when you delved into the stories and tales — they are magical.

    As for Carol of the Bells it is clearly one I greatly enjoy. But perhaps my favorite spoof version is from Saturday Night Live’s “Dysfunctional Family Christmas (you can find on YouTube — some of the classic actors, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartmann, Mike Myers, others) doing their K-tel record spoof on holiday songs. They call Carol of the Bells the Carol of Intimacy. Every time I feel down in the dumps I watch this segment and at least I’m smiling!

    Happy New Year, my friend. I look forward to learning tons of wonderful and unexpected things from you in 2016!

    1. Sorry you’re feeling a little under the weather, Jeanie. I suspect it might be allergies rather than too much celebrating, but then again, it was New Year’s Eve. Did the cork-poppers gather?

      I’m as much a fan of parody as anyone, but there came a point where SNL’s parodies didn’t amuse me any more.

      Part of my problem is that it’s hard for me to “unsee” or “unhear” things. I went to a Christmas concert early in December, and when the orchestra played “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” I heard the lyrics from the parody I wrote for the Cat Carols: “Stalking in a Winter Wonderland.” I “heard” them all, through the entire piece. My friends wondered what I was giggling about, and I couldn’t tell them about building the snow mouse until after the concert.

      Of course, your fondness for the “Life of Brian” is a bit beyond me, but to each her own. That’s waht makes life interesting, no?

      Happy New Year to you all. Tell Rick I thought about him a couple of days ago when I saw a bicylist riding along in what appeared to be a Spandex Santa suit!

  5. Once again I am thinking of this, music is the only language in the world. This is so beautiful post dear Linda. But always your posts are like that. It is so enjoyable reading your posts. I loved the music, Thank you dear Linda. Happy New Year, Love, nia

    1. Ah, but if we eliminated all music from places that have experienced tragedy, we’d live in a desperately silent world. Better to enjoy the traditions that endure, admire the people who preserve and expand upon them, and join with them in song.

      Thinking about this, I remembered a quite different video I found while looking for a suitable version of “Shchedryk” for this post. It’s a version sung by the Bel Canto Choir of Vilnius, arranged in the style of “Carol of the Bells.” It was used together with footage taken from the Euromaidan in Kiev, the night of the Okean Elzy concert. When it comes to the intersection of old and new, this is fairly impresive. And here’s some of the same concert footage, in a different context.

      One of my favorite posts, from the same part of the world, involves “Reclaiming the Freedom to Sing. As these things happen, one of my current readers was standing in the human chain that I featured. Some of our protest groups could learn a thing or two.

  6. Linda, May your 2016 abound with the precise word. May your curiosity continue to produce dazzling pieces of writing and may all of your readers continue to enjoy your diligence and finesse. Cheers!

    1. Happy New Year to you, Cheri. Those are wonderful wishes you’ve offered, and I appreciate every one of them.

      After reading your post on curiosity, I found and printed out a brief paragraph from the artist, Chuck Close. I suspect you’ll appreciate what he has to say, and may already have read it:

      “All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you…if you just get to work. Something will occur to you, and then something else will occur to you, and something else, that you reject, will push you in another direction… You feel like you need this great idea before you can get to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

      Here’s to year filled with curiosity, and precisely that kind of work.

  7. Oh, dear. I didn’t get a visit from the she-goat. It’s a good thing I’m not very superstitious, or I’d be worried my 2016 is going to be a bust!!

    Most interesting tale, Linda. Having not a drop of Czech blood, I wasn’t familiar with these stories and legends. But our church choir used to sing Carol of the Bells at Christmastime, and none of us knew of its pagan roots!

    Happy New Year to you and yours — may it be wonderful!

    1. Aren’t the various traditions and superstitions fun, Debbie? I suspect you know (and maybe participate in) the most widely-spread tradition down here: black-eyed peas and greens, for luck and for money in the new year.

      I knew that “Carol of the Bells” had Ukrainian roots, but I’d assumed that the English version simply was a translation of the Ukrainian. It surely was a surprise — and a delight — to learn the truth about the songs.

      Let’s see. It’s 1 p.m., ET. I suspect I know where you and Domer are at this point. Happy New Year!

      1. We DO participate in the peas and cabbage, Linda (all except Domer, who swears he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee, ha!) As for that bowl game, well, it was pitiful (but my Rebels played spectacularly, so there’s that!!)

  8. I would love to hear the ringing of the bells. Haven’t heard bells for years. I hope it’s not that we have gone away from them and their appeal.
    Happy New Year!

    1. I’ve always enjoyed watchnight services at a cathedral because of the pealing bells at midnight. It’s a rare pleasure — we’re a little short on cathedrals around here — but even the ringing of a single church bell in the countryside is a delight.

      Here’s to a new year filled with wonderful sounds: the bells, if we’re lucky, but also the streams, the wind in the trees, and the birds. They’re far more than a poor substitute!

  9. Ahhh Linda – this is the way history should be offered – rich in music, verse, culture, language and imaging. Beautifully written and filled with aspects of humanity, good and evil. Am saving this one for more tastes.

    1. Here’s an idle thought, Sammy ~ in the end, history is all of those things, and we tear history apart at great risk to ourselves.Every story I hear of another statue being torn down, another book being banned from the classroom, another word being deemed “incorrect,” the more apoplectic I become.

      It’s remarkable to ponder that, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, one of the first goals was the destruction of the “Four Olds: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, Old Ideas.” One day I may grow bold enough to write about how familiar those goals seem in 2016.

      But! It is 2016, and a day for swinging on the hinge between old and new. I hope the new year is a good one for you, and that your projects continue to be satisfying and pleasurable.

  10. Oh my dear linda, this is so beautiful, and I wish I were where I could play the video.

    The blue/white swallows decorate the airspace in front of the ‘chalet’ house where I stay, and they give amazing comfort. Seeing the illustration reminds me that i need to swtich to birds soon, as I have some great reference photos, just little time for painting.

    Have been thinking of you on many tangents.. one is that Mississippi River risin’ and knowing what that means to the lower part as well – always wondering if the shoe will drop… the clarksdale updates have been interesting —you’ll find some of interest here.

    Another is a personal challenge I’m working thru.. you’d make a great sounding board, but I know I’ll emerge with integrity intact and the devil put back in his place!

    love you lots, and may your new year smile on you!

    1. When you get a chance, Lisa, you do need to hear the video. There’s not a bit of sentimentality to it. It’s strong, bold music, much like that which surrounds you there.

      I was so interested to hear BeeHappee mention the return of the swallows in Lithuania and Bulgaria. I need to pursue that a bit, since our swallows arrive each year exactly when they return to San Juan Capistrano. If they come to Eastern Europe at the same time — well, that’s just an amazing thought. Yours must be there year-around, yes? It’s hard for me to imagine swallows and toucans in the same world, but for you as an artist, it’s wonderful.

      Speaking of personal challenges, here’s an article from a travel writer whose luck ran out: he got typhoid, dengue, and schistosomiasis (that’s one we worried about in Liberia). He didn’t get them all at once, but his poor body — well, you’ll feel his pain, I know. It may not be something you want to read right now, but it’s a good one to have in your files, perhaps even to pass on to other unlucky sufferers.

      As for the river? She’s on the move. I’m following a met in Lafayette who’s already posting good information about the possible consequences for the Atchafalaya basin. We’ll see.

      Best wishes for the New Year. Any idea how long you’ll remain in the Cloud Forest, or is that still up in the air (so to speak)?

      1. I told a friend about the Atchafalaya on Monday as I read to her an email from my son who said that three of my friends are moving out of their homes ‘behind’ the river… reminds me so much of Barry’s Rising Tide, which I brought w/me and should read soon… Do you ever read Robert Scribbler’s posts? I like to read them about a week later, when the comment queue is long and oh so very full of interesting data/feedback.

        I do worry about that spillway and the lower end of the river. thanks for keeping me in touch.

        1. I took a look at his posts, Lisa, and believe I’ll pass on any regular reading. There are several reasons, but what I read of the posts and comment threads reminded me of another weather site I left, after it stopped being a weather site and turned polemical.

          However: here’s some good news you can use. The Corps of Engineers opened the Old River Overbank Structure a little over a week ago, in order to send even more sediment down to the Wax Lake Outlet. The land’s replenishing itself there in a most interesting way. This NASA article is interesting and informative. One of the best archives I know for easily obtained information — especially about the last big flood — is Quinta Scott’s blog. It’s well worth a bookmark, believe me.

  11. Happy New Year!- not from just any old goat (Had to smile at the goat info)

    Never really knew what the swallows were all about, but they are always depicted around Christmas and the new year. Lovely post – bells and birds always ring up joy.

    SNL parodies were funny at one time – but so much of the material now is so shallow, weak, and with cheap shots – where’s the wit and cleverness? Sad to see such deterioration in the scripts.

    Nothing like music to start the new year right. Thanks

    1. Now that you mention it, Phil, the collection of old postcards I have often feature swallows in Christmas illustrations. I’ve always assumed they simply were bearers of good tidings, but there might be folk tales or superstitions lurking around, because there certainly aren’t any swallows in most of the country at Christmas.

      I hope your holidays have been great.Apparently the fun officially is over, as they’ve turned off the Christmas tree atop the conference center, and the stuffed toys for Valentine’s Day have shown up at Randalls.

      I think that’s why I stopped watching SNL and etc. It wasn’t fun any more. I loved Dana Carvey as the Church Lady, and the bit about the motivational speaker who lived in a van down by the river was hilarious. But somewhere along the long, I felt as though they stopped being edgy, and started being something else that wasn’t so amusing. Ah, well.

      Music’s a great way to start the year. I listened with great pleasure to the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s concert. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve heard any of it, and I now have repented or the error of my ways.

      On we go! Greetings to the furry ones.

    1. Thanks, Sheryl ~ I’m glad you enjoyed it. Speaking of traditions, take a look at the second illustration down on this page. I think you’ll find it as nostalgic and amusing as I did. It’s a little later than the time frame you work with, but it’s still a grin.

      Happy New Year to you. It’s going to be fun to see what treats you have for us in the coming year.

      1. I’m so glad you shared this link. It’s a wonderful post. It’s so much fun to see how illustrators portrayed New Year’s during the mid-1900’s. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you via our blogs.

  12. You know, Linda, listening to that video clip makes me think of the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, maybe because of the Ukrainian musical instrument (is it the dulcimer in there?). Anyway, I like those swallows. We have them here, and I think I’m still seeing them now.

    1. I’m not sure which instruments they were using, but the wooden flute is obvious, and I think the dulcimer-like sound you’re hearing is the Bandura. It’s considered the Ukrainian national instrument, and is just lovely.

      You can hear one of the masters, Julian Kytasty, here. And, for a thoroughly modern take, there’s a great video of the Ukrainian singer Ruslana and the Ukrainian Bandura Chorus in Massey Hall in Toronto last October. You might nearly have crossed paths with them.

      I had no idea you had swallows. Of course, swallows are showing up in every sort of place I never imagined. It’s no wonder they’re such prominent symbols in art and music.

      I’m happy the New Year’s here, and I’m feeling fairly certain it will be a good one for us both.

  13. I am playing the music as I write Linda. “Fun” Peggy says. She is listening in. “Almost Asian,” she adds. I liked the part about leading the goat around. Rambo, the neighbor’s ram got out again today. Last time he escaped he made a beeline for our patio and hung out with me while Peggy called Jim to come and get him. This time he wandered off up the mountain, leading Jim to talk about goat curry. I don’t think Rambo would lead very well, however. I suspect someone would get a good head-butt for his or her efforts. Happy New Year! –Curt

    1. There’s a reason those Ukrainians considered only the she-goat good luck. I think Rambo just proved their point. I have some suspicions about how he got his name, too. I trust he’s back home and un-curried: in every sense of the word.

      I’ve always enjoyed Klezmer and Gypsy music, at least since I was introduced to it. The Klezmorim were just getting their start in Berkleley in the mid-’70s, and things are still pretty lively there, from what I’ve been told. If your travels happen to land you there on a second Friday, you might want to check out the Balkan Bacchanal.

      I began getting interested in Ukrainian music after I heard Ruslana’s speech and performance at the Euromaidan in Kiev. I hadn’t heard of her at that point, but she’s a favorite now. I think Peggy would enjoy her, too. Check her out here.

      Happy New Year to you both!

      1. There are at least a couple of interpretations as to Rambo’s name. (laughing)
        I am always fascinated to follow where your interesting mind takes you, Linda.
        I’ll keep in mind the Balkan Bacchanal next time I head for Berkeley. I always enjoy my time on the campus and in the town. My Wi-Fi wasn’t cooperating downloading videos this morning. I’ll have to check out the Ukrainian music later. –Curt

  14. Thank you for this new year insight! I never equated any kind of singing or bell ringing with “ringing” in the new year—gives it a new meaning, though. Down the bayou, a long-gone tradition. old ladies banged on their favorite cooking pots with spoons to ring in the new year. Maybe I’ll resurrect that tradition this Dec. 31st? (Now that I might be considered an old lady!) Happy New Year friend, and I’m watching for my swallow . . . . .

    1. There’s one place in Louisiana where I’ve heard bells, although it was Christmas Eve rather than New Year’s Eve. In Breaux Bridge. St. Bernard church is just a couple of blocks from the old City Hotel on Washington Street, and the year I was there, they got pretty enthusiastic with their bell ringing at midnight.

      The first time I heard of anyone banging on pots and pans was during the Green Movement in Iran. People went up on the rooftops after dark and did it as a protest. I couldn’t find the video of that, but here’s a more recent one of protestors in the streets of Argentina.

      Even if we don’t have anything to protest a year from now, I think a couple of pot lids or a spoon and a saucepan could be pretty satisfying. I wonder how much noise the two of us could make? I’ll bet we could wake up the swallows!

  15. I enjoyed, reading, listening and taking in all of this interesting information.I have always enjoyed watching folk dancing and I can visualize the women in their bright costumes…

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Roberta. I like folk dancing, too, and always have been glad we were “forced” into it when I was in grade school. It gave me an appreciation for it I might not otherwise have had. There are some places around here that offer clogging, step-dancing, zydeco, and such. I’m thinking about it — but I think I need to spend three months getting myself in shape aerobically, first.

      That’s not quite a New Year’s resolution, but it’s close. I hope 2016 is good to you, too, and your new paths (like the work in the library) are enjoyable.

      1. Linda, I hope you do pursue some kind of dance. I have some clogging experience and if I could I would be in a class in a minute. There was a woman in southern Utah the 90’s. Her name was Polly and she offered a class for older ladies. It was a blast. I think there might be clogging in Salem, Oregon, but a bit far for me to travel for a class. I still have my shoes. Line dancing is fun too. Go for it. The first dance I learned while clogging was to Rocky Top…

          1. When I was young and watching musicals I was always moving things around. I’d also placed pillows on the floor to practice back-bends and other antics. Lol.. I also love Messianic dance or it is also called Davidic dance. So pretty and graceful…

  16. I have heard The Carol of the Bells quite a bit, but never like this and I think I like this better…especially with the period instruments and most certainly better than the commercial use of it (by many). I almost always prefer the original of most things.
    Susan’s swallows are lovely accompaniments to your prose.

    1. We’ve all heard “The Carol of the Bells,” sometimes a little too often and sometimes in truly terrible versions. It started life as a perfectly nice song, but some of the versions are just too saccharine-sweet for me.

      That’s one reason I like this song — although it’s neither a Christmas song, nor about bells. What’s interesting is that it’s come full circle. First, “Shchedryk” became the “Carol of the Bells,” and then the musical arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” was adopted for “Shchedryk.” Share and share alike, I suppose.

      I didn’t know if Susan had any photos of swallows flying, but I knew she had some nice, stationary swallows in her header. As it turned out, she had these photos in a previous blog, and I’d just forgotten. We met because her blog was “raining acorns,” and I posted about “acorn rain” on my blog. Google did the rest, somehow. I’m sure glad.

  17. Very nice piece of Ukrainian history and folklore! How beautiful is The Carol of the Bells video and the history behind it with the marvelous paintings! Thanks for sharing this. We, on the other hand, inherited more Spanish traditions.

    You might find interesting that we inherited the Tuna (music) genre:
    ( and I really like it because it always has a chorus:
    This is really cheerful music mainly singing about Holy Night.

    1. I’ve never heard of this kind of music, Maria. It’s delightful.

      Now, I’m really intrigued. How in the world did the same word — “tuna” — end up being applied to a fish, the fruit of a cactus, and a musical form? In the Online Etymology Dictionary, “tuna” referred back to “tunny,” and the entry there at least hints at a way that the fish and the musical form could be related: from “thynein” — to “dart along.” But that certainly doesn’t apply to the cactus fruit, which just sits there.

      (NOTE: The three “tunas” aren’t at all the “same word.” Thanks to Steve Schwartzman, who provided this helpful entry at his Spanish-English Word Connections blog for a third meaning of “tuna.”

      Thanks for introducing me to something else brand new. There are so many pleasures in this world, aren’t there?

      1. The way I see it is that it is a compound of a ‘term’, coming from French “roi de Thunes” (king of Tunis), a title used by leaders of vagabonds. But there is also a legend of a real King of Tunis, known for his love to music and party that usually liked to walk around the streets at night playing and singing. That explains why the term “roi de Thunes” was applied. Apparently, the etymology goes even further back with Tunis which is both the capital and the largest city of Tunisia. However, this is a term, and has nothing to do with the word cacti nor the fish. The influence of the Arabized Mozarabic language in Spain and of Arabic itself is more noticeable in the Spanish dialects from regions with a longer history of Moorish domination than those where it was shorter-lived. For this reason, the dialects of the southern half of the country, known collectively as castellano meridional or Southern Castilian, seem collectively to show a higher degree of preference for Arabisms.

        1. I found this, too — equally interesting:

          “Francisco Alamo, of Tuna Agrícolas Sevilla (Spain), said:

          ‘We are continuing a tradition from the sixteenth century in which Spanish students to afford college would go and sing for money. They were also called ‘sopistas’ because they would always have a fork and a spoon with them in case someone gave them food. They used music as a way to finish their education.'”

          That reminds me of the custom in Liberia of traveling with a rice bowl and spoon, to be always ready to partake of a meal if it was offered.

        2. I asked Steve about this, too, and I’ve linked an entry he provided in my comment, above. It mentions the “Roi de Thunes” also, although your details flesh it out a good bit more.

          I still can’t quite get over the fact that the cactus tuna, the tuna fish, and the music-making tunas are named with a word that appears to be the same, but isn’t.

      1. I just tried explaining a little a minute ago. It’s more of a term, borrowed from Moorish influence in Spain. Spanish has a lot of Arab influence, which not many like to mention.

        1. This really is interesting. I was just browsing a forum, and saw some truly magnificent example of folk etymology — so obvious that even I knew they weren’t right.

  18. Wonderful words, explanations, paintings, and song. So interesting to see such different words to a song I’ve always enjoyed. Well done. Happy New Year

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. This all has been a bit of a revelation to me, too, and I thought that others might enjoy it as a different kind of New Year’s post.

      I hope 2016 is a wonderful year for you. I think all of us are hoping for a little more peace, and a little less chaos. Time will tell. In the meantime, we can keep sharing wonderful things.

  19. Thanks for the background work on this carol. It is intriguing how we layer new texts/rituals on antecedents so close to the earth and sky. Our ancestors knew a truth we can sore forget. Surely singing (as per your response above) is a good way into this practice of remembering. I, too, am reticent to make lists, but like words and so would match your “singing” with my own need to “be still.” Best to you this year, Linda!

    1. I very nearly tackled “stillness,” rather than singing, for a New Year’s post, but decided to hold off until I’d clarified some things. What triggered my thoughts was a reminder that the Taos Pueblo Indians set aside a period of time (about a month over December/January, although I’ve seen various dates) which they designate as “the time of being still.”

      There’s an interesting relationship between singing and stillness. Some singing disturbs stillness; other singing seems to deepen or expand it. Like other pairs held in necessary tension (law and gospel, freedom and necessity) I suspect reflections on stillness and singing could fill all of 2016.

      Has your choir included any Ukrainian music? The Ukrainian community is so strong in Canada, it surely would be appropriate.

      A happy new year to you, too, Allen. I hope it’s one of the best, ever.

  20. The Carol of the Bells is one of my favorites. I was very interested in learning about its roots, which were unknown to me. The Ukrainian (and Belarus) cultures have a significant Viking “input.” In fact, the Belarus are known as the “white Russians” because of it. That’s what the”bela” or “белый” in Belarus means — “white” as in “fair haired.” Viking “entrepreneurs” sailed up the Dnieper, Vltava, and lower Danube and founded trading empires and made significant contribution of blond and red hair and blue eyes to the gene pool, which made their descendants stand out from the dark haired, dark eyed Slavs to the east of them in Russia.

    The Ukrainians had to contend with not only the Mongols, but also the Ottoman Turks (who almost conquered Europe — they got as far as Vienna). There is a strong Cossack strain in their culture, Their Cossack cavalry was expert, fierce and feared (a legacy of their years of fighting off the Mongols) and they are a fiercely independent people, as Stalin discovered when he tried to collectivize their farms. When they refused, Stalin deliberately engineered the famine in 1932-33 that killed an estimated 2.5-7.5 million Ukrainians.

    Because the Ukrainians, Belarus, and Russians were proselytized by the Greek/Constantinopol-centric Orthodox Church, their languages were transliterated using the Greek alphabet. The Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks, whose languages are very similar, were proselytized by the Latin/Rome-centric Catholic Church and like the rest of western Europe and the British Isles, their languages were transliterated using the Roman alphabet.

    I studied Russian for about 18 months during my salad days. It is not a language for the faint of heart. It, and Ukrainian, has case endings like Latin and a fiendishly baroque verb system, as well as such linguistic curiosities as a hard and soft “L” One of my Russian teachers was a Lithuanian man in his 80’s who remembered the Prussian army of WWI which invaded Lithuania and set up a command post at his family’s farm. He was a gentle giant of a man whose mingled Slavic and Viking heritage was written on his massive features..

    You can hear the Mongol and Turkish influences in their folk music — the genuine, old folk stuff, not the “singing Kalinka for the tourist stuff” — it has a “wildness” to it with the high pitched, almost childlike women’s voices at one end and the deep male voices at the other. The women use a style of singing “on the voice” i.e., without vibrato, that is an obvious eastern influence. It is a singing style that has many similarities to the ethnic music of Mongolia.

    1. This is quite a fascinating background, WOL. One of the first things that caught my attention was the distinction between the Belarus and the Slavs. In the song, it’s the “dark-browed” wife who’s called beautiful. It may be only a poetic conceit, but it’s interesting.

      It must have been quite an experience to have such a link to history in your teacher. I have a feeling you learned much more than spelling and grammar. The distinctions between Eastern and Western Christianity are equally fascinating. The Orthodox churches in Houston are quite active, though, and have done a good bit to help people understand the differences among Greek, Russian, and Coptic congregations. Besides, their festivals are great fun.

      Your comment about the women’s voices reminds me of a single detail in the video of “Shchedryk” I particularly liked: the light, almost child-like female voice singing the last word — followed by the triange. It was the perfect evocation of a swallow.

    1. I had to smile at that last video. The needlework shown in the opening sequence looks so very much like a piece my mom did once. Of course, the music’s lovely, too.

    1. I’m so glad you liked the post, Ann — especially since you know a bit about Ukraine. I so much enjoyed the film you included in your Christmas gift to your readers. Isn’t it amazing, the connections that appear in this blogging world?

      Thank you so much for reading. You’re always welcome here. ~ Linda

      1. Yes, dear Linda, this blogging world gives us a unique chance to know so much about far places where you might never be able to visit! You are very kind, I am so glad to find your amazing blog! Hugs!

  21. I love the way you strip down the layers to get to the heart of a story, and then polish it till it shines and reveals nuances one didn’t ever suspect were there. You varnish stories as well as you varnish boats. ;)

    Our swallow is a relative newcomer. which most likely came to us from Australia. And, of swallows in stories and traditions, do you recall the Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. It has the loveliest swallow.

    1. Come to think of it, the putting-on-and-taking-off process called varnishing does have something in common with the putting-down-and-taking-away we call writing. People who’ve never varnished think adding coats without sanding between would be quicker and more efficient, but without the taking-away of sanding, there never would be a shine. Just piling up words without editing? Ummm… not so good.

      I’d never read “The Happy Prince,” but now I have. It’s a lovely and touching tale, albeit a little sad. Maybe a lot sad, actually. In any event, thanks for putting me on to it. I do love that so many texts like this are freely available online. I hardly expected to start the morning with tears in my eyes, but so I did — and was glad for it.

      Your swallows are lovely. One of the unusual but convenient places they build around here is the underside of floating docks. Because the docks float, the nests never are at risk from the water, and people can walk right over them without having a clue there are babies beneath their feet. The creativity of nature is a wonderful thing.

      1. Swallows are remarkably resourceful. And although I only saw them for real in my later life, I was fascinated by them from the first time I heard the Happy Prince read on the radio when I was about 6 or 7. It’s a sad story but beautifully written.

            1. That might be fun. On the other hand, that’s something else that would require learning new skills, and for a few months I have enough skills to learn. But I’m going to let it simmer on the back burner, rather than sticking it in the deep freeze.

    1. Thanks, Anne. I trust you’re well on your way into the New Year, and enjoying it as you should. I hope you’ve not been affected by the weather there. I was happy to talk with my friend in Wales a couple of days ago, and find out that her village hasn’t been affected by flooding. So many have.

      Best for the New Year. It will be fun to share the journey.

  22. Thanks for the history lesson. No dry, old facts and figures here though! Your use of stories to acquaint your readers with “world” history is at once powerful and pleasurable.

    I must confess that, this time around, I enjoyed the paintings and music a bit more than the story.

    A happy and even more creative 2016 to you Linda.

    1. If everyone swore they liked everything equally, I’d think they were fibbing a bit. One thing I find especially interesting about blogging is the readers’ responses: what they like, what doesn’t appeal so much. As the programmers say, it’s a feature, not a bug.

      I loved the paintings, too. I was very happy to find such a nice video to add, rather than a choir. There’s nothing wrong with choirs, but I thought there was much more impact: combining the landscapes with the music that belongs there.

      A happy 2016 to you, Andrew. It’s hard to believe we’re almost to January. And by the way, I finished your novel, and have forgotten to go over to Amazon and leave a review. I’ll put that on my to-do list.

    1. That’s right — Christmas trees and yule logs have quite ancient roots.You can call it syncretism or creative adaptation, but whatever it is, these old traditions certainly enrich our celebrations.

      The sources for carols are quite diverse. Of course the British Isles contributed a few, but another one you might enjoy is called the Kingfisher’s Carol. It’s Spanish, and by an accident of history, the manuscript ended up in a Swedish university library. Best of all, it’s a beautiful song — there’s a link in the post.

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