Burning of Morena (two weeks before Easter) is one of the most ancient customs preserved until these days in Slovakia (as well as Czech rep. and Poland) held late in the winter and it expresses the peoples desire to do away with the cold weather and to call the warm rays of the sun. This custom has its roots in the pre-Christian era. Morena symbolized the winter and so when people wanted the spring to come, they had to kill her, drown her in a stream or burn her. She was presented as an effigy made of straw clothed in women’s dress. Young girls carried her singing towards a stream. When they arrived at the bank, Morena was undressed, set on fire and thrown into the waters of the defrosting stream. The most frequent date of burning of Morena is the so called Dead Sunday (Smrtná nedeľa) two weeks before Easter. In some regions young men burnt, instead of Morena, a straw effigy of the Old Man.
Morena, Pagan Goddess of Winter, is Set Aflame and Cast into Water
Slovak girls traditionally threw out winter and prepared for spring during the first days of Holy Week.
Spring and Holy Week were closely connected in the traditions of the Slovak village. Slovaks continued the age-old pagan custom of throwing out the winter. This was done in the custom called the Vynášanie Moreny – the tossing out of Morena, the pagan goddess of winter. Long after Christianity, they continued to practice this rite of passage to spring. Slovak girls of marriageable age traditionally threw out winter and prepared for spring during the first days of Holy Week.
After starting the week with the typical customs involving willow branches (bahniatka) on Kvetná nedeľa.
On Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week, the Vynášanie Moreny was the talk of the village. The young men and ladies of the village would gather in groups segregated by gender. The girls would take the lead in throwing out winter and welcoming spring. Having made a straw dummy of Morena dressed in old tattered clothes, the girls made it represent the witch of winter.
After preparing the witch, they would parade around the village with their prize. Then they would gather in a circle and sing a medley of folk songs before sending the winter witch on her way out, usually into a nearby stream, lake or swamp. When they arrived at the place where they would toss out the witch, they sang in high-pitched voices:
Ach Morena, Morena,
Pre koho’s umrela?
My vieme, preto zaspievame:
Pre staré dievky,
Pre švárne dievky!
Oh Morena, Morena,
Whom did you die for?
We know thus we sing:
For the spinster girls,
For the young maidens!
After singing three verses, the young people stripped the straw witch of her clothing, set the straw lady ablaze with fire, and heaved her into the water. They would watch the witch dummy as it flowed away, making certain that she was destroyed. Ding Dong, the witch was dead! Then the girls and boys returned home in silence, hoping that the worst days were over and that spring and good fortunes were forthcoming. Now with winter put in its place, it was time to prepare for the holy days.
There were loads of preparations to be made for Easter, and church services to attend on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Houses would be cleaned, fresh baked goods were prepared and all looked forward to the joy of Easter.