“Svyatki”- A Post-Christmas Divination Tradition in Russia - Global Storybook

“Svyatki”: A Post-Christmas Divination Tradition in Russia

Elena Morozova

Elena Morozova

Elena Morozova is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Russia & Ireland).

Elena was born in Western Siberia, in a city called Omsk (on trans-Siberian line). She grew up in Russia, though she also spent the last 15 years living in Ireland. She’s a wife and a mum to a little boy, and she now lives in the UK.
Elena is happy to share stories from her motherland, Russia as well as from Ireland.
Elena Morozova

Apart from being the coldest month in Russia in general, January is also the month when the Orthodox Russians celebrate Christmas.  However, it is not the only tradition in Russia during this month.  Once the Christmas is over, a period called “svyatki” begins.

Before the adoption of Christianity, “svyatki” was the result of “Svyatovit” (one of the names of a supreme God of heaven – Belbog).  In fact, the word “svyatki” means “the soul of ancestors,” in the old Slavic.  Russian culture is full of ancient folk festivals, magical rites, signs, and fortune-telling customs.  And it all starts right after Christmas and goes on until around the 19th of January (before the start of another holiday, known as Epiphany).

“Svyatki”- A Post-Christmas Divination Tradition in Russia - Global StorybookAncient Divination Traditions in Russia

Seeking the sacred knowledge of the future via supernatural means is not a new practice in this World.  However, it is still very popular and very much alive in Russia to this day.  There are also numerous superstitions associated with this special period.  For example, many believe that during those two weeks, starting a new project or a job would end in misfortune.  In addition, it is common for females of all ages to get together and perform various magical rituals.  They mainly want to find out what is in store for them during the new year.

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There are countless divinations that the women and girls can do, depending on their intentions.  One of the popular questions or worries that the young females have is when will they get married, or get back together with a former lover.  The rites commonly involve some simple household objects, such as mirrors, matches, threads, candles, empty walnut shells, newspaper, and others.  They would usually perform them in the dark, under some lit candles.

Magical Rites:

When I was growing up, one of the popular rites that we used to do was to scrunch a piece of newspaper, put it on a plate and then light it up.  Once the paper is burnt, we would move the plate next to a candle and try to interpret the ashes.  This rite is similar to the Turkish coffee reading.  In the end, it is just a product of yours or someone else’s imagination and interpretation.

“Svyatki”- A Post-Christmas Divination Tradition in Russia - Global StorybookAnother popular practice was to write down several events such as a wedding, a lottery win, a new lover, a vacation, and others, on a few small pieces of paper.  We would then take out a large basin, and place it into a bathtub.  We’d fill it with water, leaving some space to plaster the pieces of paper on its edges.

Then we’d create a small “boat” out of an empty walnut shell and stick a tiny candle in it.  Next, we would light the candle and place its boat into the center of the basin.  Depending on where the boat will go and which piece of paper it will illuminate, that’s the event that is bound to happen during the new year.

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Are you ready to try some of these magic rites this January?  They may not exactly predict your year, but it’s an excellent way to spend some time with your friends.  Not only will it be social and fun, but you would also get to think about what you’d really like to accomplish this year!

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It’s actually very similar to the tradition of setting goals in the Western World.  In the end, it’s just a really cute and harmless tradition Russians might like to keep for (who knows?) a few more generations!

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