Before the establishment of Christianity, slavic people had their own pagan holiday calendar. Throughout the year they celebrated the change of seasons, honoured their gods, performed divinations and fortune-tellings.
The pagan year began with Koliada. It is a slavic holiday that took place on the winter solstice, on 24th – 25th of December. It was the time to celebrate the start of the new yearly cycle. One of the main parts of it was dressing up as animals, mostly as bears, horses, goats, or geese. People in costumes performed ritual dances, made a lot of noise, and sang special songs – kolyadki. These songs were a form of well-wishing and their lyrics were different for different listeners. For example a young girl heard kolyadki about a happy marriage, and the head of the family about the wellbeing of his wife and kids.
In some regions the holiday was celebrated with fires, magical rituals to ensure abundant crops, special dishes, divinations.
The time after the celebration of the new year was reserved for honouring the god of animals and forests Veles. In those Days of Veles people prayed to him asking for his mercy and protection, remembered their ancestors, celebrated by having abundant feasts. Dressing up was also an important tradition. People wore masks of a bear, that was considered to be an animal form of this god.
Komoeditsa, that signified the coming of spring, took place on the day of the spring equinox. Slavs celebrated the end of winter and honoured the Bear god. People cooked blini (thin pancakes that remind crêpes) and left them in the forest as an offering to the deity. It is considered that Maslenitsa, an important slavic holiday that is still widely celebrated by people, developed from this particular fest. There are still many traditions that connect the modern holiday to it’s ancestor.
The old holiday Krasnaya Gorka was the time to celebrate the warmth of spring, when young girls and men hoped to find their future spouses. They wore their best clothing and met to sing, dance, and have fun together. It was considered a bad omen to stay at home for one could have missed their one true love.
On this day it was also necessary to prepare coloured eggs as a form of a ritual offering. Usually they were painted yellow or green – the colours for honouring the deceased. Remembering the dead family members was also a vital part of this day’s tradition.
The end of June was marked by the celebrations of the god of summer fertility – Kupalo. Kupala Night was a joyful time full of cheerful songs, mystery, fun, and fortune-tellings.
On this day men and women wore colourful flower crowns and herbal wreaths. In the evening, girls tenderly laid them in the river to see if their love will end in marriage. If the wreath drowned it meant that the feelings will die out and there will be no wedding. It was also the time of purification, and swimming at dawn was seen as a way to cleanse yourself. People burned bonfires and frolicked in the dark waters illuminated by their light. Later, the folk would dance around the flames and jump over them.
There is also a legend, that at mindnight you could see a fern bloom. The mysterious flower showed the place were a treasure was hidden.
Day of Perun is connected to the art of war and craft, and on this day people honoured the slavic god of lightning and thunder. Slavs filled a boat with offerings for Perun. Along with it, ritual sacrifices were performed, when people killed a rooster or a bull in the name of their deity.
The sacred bonfire was used to consecrate the protective amulets that were worn by warriors when they left for the battle. When the fire went out, two men, disguised as Perun and Veles began a fight. It always ended with Perun winning, which signified the beginning of a new period of the year.
Another important holiday of ancient times was Rodogosch or Tausen. Celebrated on 21st of September, when the harvesting season came to an end. It was the day to purify your soul, throw big feasts, and perform rituals to secure the abundance of crops the next year.
The Day of Mokosh, goddess of weddings and birth, was honoured by women on the 10th of November. It was the day when all females paid their respect to the deity and weren’t suppose to work.