Winter Solstice Songs

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WINTER SOLSTICE SONGS . In Europe the celebration of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, is a heritage that goes back to prehistoric times. The classical Greek and Latin authors, as well as the fathers of the church, attest to the fact that the festivities centered around the winter solstice in antiquity perpetuated traditions still more ancient that were deeply rooted in folk practice. Despite regional differences in the evolution of these feasts and in their cultural significance, they all included elements of sun worship, revels, masquerades, and divination since the winter solstice was considered to be a time of great importance. The fertility of the fields, the reproduction of the cattle, the health of the people, and the conclusion of marriages in the coming year were all deemed to depend on the observance of the solstice rituals.

The celebration of the winter solstice also included the singing of special songs. Unfortunately, very little is known about the songs performed during the cycle of the Roman imperial feasts, the Saturnalia, the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the Iranian god Mithra), and the Calendae Ianuari, which occasioned the exchange of congratulations and the start of the new administrative year. All that has come down to the present day are the texts of certain congratulation formulas. From Augustine one learns that in the fifth century ce, on the day of such feasts, songs that from the Christian point of view were "most vain and filthy" were still performed. In comparison with the celebration of the winter solstice in northern Europe, however, the Roman feasts, through their insertion into the official calendar and through their fusion with elements imported from different provinces of the empire, may be considered a relatively late cultural synthesis.

The winter solstice feasts celebrated in northern Europe display different features and have a much more archaic character. Nearly all records of the winter solstice feasts in this area relate only to the Germanic peoples. Nevertheless, this article shall try to demonstrate, most of these customs and beliefs can also be found in the folk traditions of eastern Europe.

According to Latin historians and church chronicles, as well as evidence derived from the laws and capitularies prohibiting pagan practices and early Anglo-Saxon and northern European literature such as the Icelandic sagas, the Germanic midwinter Yule feast celebrated the reappearance of the sun and had a marked funeral character. It was commonly believed that the spirits of the dead were most haunting during the period of the winter solstice. They would return to their former dwelling places in order to participate in the feasting, and unless they were treated with due honor, they would do harm to the living. On the other hand, the welcoming of the spirits, who were impersonated with masks, was believed to insure peace, health, prosperity, and fertility in the coming year.

Despite the relative richness of data about the mythology and customs of the Germanic peoples, precise information about the specific myths, tales, or songs that were performed during the Yule feast is lacking. Sources that mention the performance of Icelandic sagas on Yuletide are not really an exception. The Icelandic sagas, however, cannot be considered specialized songs of the winter solstice since they were also performed on other occasions, such as weddings and night gatherings. It must also be borne in mind that the Icelandic sagas, although partly based on older oral literature, were composed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and thus cannot properly be included among the pagan folk traditions of the winter solstice.

Through missionary propaganda and the skillful strategy of the church, these traditions were partly obliterated and partly assimilated into the patterns of Christian ideology. The winter holy days of the church were originally based on the calendar of the later Roman empire. While ostensibly expelling pagan winter customs, the winter holy days actually adopted some of them under Christian cover, first those of the Mediterranean area, then some of the ancient winter solstice traditions of the Germanic peoples. Thus in the sounds of modern hibernal holy days one can still hear the echoes of the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

But the link that still connects the ancient winter solstice celebration to the present day must be sought in the traditions of the peasantry. If in the urban world the church succeeded in gradually assimilating pagan customs, wiping out their memory and finally supplanting them, its success among the peasants came later and was less definitive. Judging by the repeated admonitions that medieval priests addressed to the country folk, it seems clear that the peasants continued to cling to the pagan customs of the winter solstice, especially in northern Europe, where conversion to Christianity came late. Some of these customs still linger in the folk traditions of the Germanic peoples: To this day, the peasants of those countries attribute magical powers to the ashes of the old "Yule log" burned on Christmas and to the bread especially baked for this holy day.

It is not by chance that only in eastern Europe is found a living folk tradition that in part continues the ancient pagan winter solstice traditions. In this outlying region of the continent, at the turn of the twentieth century, and in some areas even until the onset of World War I, the numerically superior peasant class continued to live in relative isolation, under conditions that were in many ways archaic. Owing partly to this gap in socio-historical evolution, elements of the sun worship referred to among the Germanic peoples in the sixth and seventh centuries can still be found in eastern European folklore. The survival here of winter solstice traditions is also to be explained by the fact that in this area the fight against pagan customs was far less methodical than in the west. Lacking adequate theological training, the village priests of eastern Europe were not intransigent adversaries of paganism; they themselves sometimes contributed unintentionally to the survival of pagan customs or to their symbiosis with Christianity.

The eastern European solstice songs, performed by organized groups of adults during the winter holy days, resemble Christmas carols in the time of their performance and in some minor parallels in subject matter. Unlike Christmas carols, however, which circulated mainly in manuscript and in printed editions, the eastern European songs belonged to oral tradition. At their core, they preserved pagan rituals and myths that are integrated into a rich complex of folk customs of eastern Europe.

Circulating in impoverished form among the Poles, Bylorussians, Moravians, and Serbians, and still in use in certain districts of Greece, the repertoire of winter solstice songs of eastern Europe is rich and well preserved among the Ukrainians, Bulgarians, and especially among the Romanians. The composer and ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók, who collected Romanian folklore from before World War I, noted that "among all the eastern European peoples, the Romanians have preserved best till this day these partly ancient songs of the winter solstice" (Bartok, 1968, p. xxviii).

It can be demonstrated on linguistic grounds that the terms designating the winter repertoire in eastern Europe (i.e., the Ukrainian koliada or koliadka, the Belorussian kaliada, the Bulgarian koleda, and the Romanian colinda or corinda ) are all derived from the Latin calendae. When one adds to this the fact that early Christian documents, as well as archaeological evidence, prove that the Roman winter feasts enjoyed great popularity in the Eastern Roman Empire, one can conclude that the folk terminology designating the eastern European repertoire of winter solstice songs almost certainly referred originally to the Calendae Ianuari. However, whether or not the eastern European songs themselves derived from the Roman winter feasts may be decided only by an analysis of the genre at the level of ritual acts and at the level of verbal expression.

The performance of the eastern European repertoire of solstice songs, which this article shall conventionally call "winter carols," is governed by unwritten regulations and occasionally shows traces of rituals, representations, and beliefs of mythological origin. Because of the present-day decline in the performance of the winter carol, in what follows this article shall take into consideration not only contemporary evidence but also certain data concerning regulations and beliefs that were obtained from the older generation of carolers or that were recorded in archives.

Owing not only to local circumstances but also to the multiform, diffuse character of the myth itself, the performance of winter carols differs not only from people to people but very frequently from district to district inside the borders of the same country. Thus while this article shall insist on the commonality of the custom among the Ukrainians, Romanians, and Bulgarians, the writer shall also point out certain local peculiarities that eventually could contribute to clarifying the significance of the winter carol.

As mentioned above, the winter carols are performed during the period of the Christian holy days. According to certain witnesses, this period was once dedicated exclusively to winter carols, the performance of other songs being forbidden. In the past, various benefits were attributed to the performance of winter carols during the traditional period: an increase of the wheat and hemp harvest, welfare and health, the fecundity of the cattle. On the other hand, the performance of the carols at other times could harm the harvest and impair the health of children. Such opposing effectsbeneficial and harmfuloccasioned by the observance or neglect of the time period prescribed by tradition bears witness to the sacred character of the carols.

According to tradition, winter carols are performed by groups of varying composition and organization. Widely distributed and well structured among the Bulgarians, Romanians, and Ukranians are groups composed of young men, and this may be considered the predominant traditional type. Some of the traditional rules connected with this type of group emphasize the ritual character of the caroling. Thus among the Bulgarians, illegitimate children and those having a physical defect were not permitted to join the group of young men. Archival records and frequent references in the carols to "lads" and "youngsters" show that in the past, at least in certain districts of Romania, caroling was the exclusive prerogative of young unmarried men. In certain districts of Romania, during the winter holy days, the young men of the group were obliged to live together in one dwelling and avoid sexual relations with women. During the same period, young carolers were permitted to behave rather wildly, even to cause minor damage, without being punished.

Today the group of young carolers includes married as well as unmarried men. The organization of such groups starts at the beginning of the Christmas fast (November 15) or at the latest a couple of days before Christmas. On this occasion different duties are assigned to the members of the group. Among the Bulgarians, Romanians, and Ukrainians, it is standard to elect a chief invested with absolute authority over the group and to name a young caroler whose task will be to carry the presents that are given as rewards to the carolers. Among the Ukrainians, the local priest traditionally arbitrated the election of the chief, and the carolers carried the cross with them.

Caroling often entails more than simply singing songs. In certain districts of eastern Europe the caroling is accompanied by the noise of bells, drums, or trumpets, probably aimed at neutralizing the influence of the spirits of the dead, who are widely believed to be especially dangerous during the winter solstice. The Hutzuls, a Ukrainian ethnic group living in the northeastern Carpathian Mountains, associate caroling closely with dance and perform hieratic dances while singing the carols. In certain districts of Romania young carolers would dance with girls after singing the carols in order to bestow upon them joy and good health. In some areas caroling has also been associated with masks. In various districts of Romania, for instance, the dance of the Turka or the Stag (both zoomorphic masks) is performed while, or after, a certain carol is sung.

In Bulgaria, Romania, and the Ukraine, the actual performance of the winter carols takes place on the night of Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day, and sometimes on New Year's Day as well. In certain regions of Romania, groups of carolers sing a special carol at dawn while facing in the direction of the rising sun. The carols may be performed while standing by a window outside a house, in the house itself, or on the road as the carolers go from house to house. By custom the carolers must perform their carols at all the houses of the village, and in turn the people must welcome and reward them. The most common gift is a pastry especially baked for Christmas. It is believed that by eating morsels of this cake or, alternatively, by burying it in the ground or feeding it to cattle, one can ensure the good health of one's children and animals, as well as increase the fertility of the fields. Possibly related to Mediterranean and Near Eastern vegetation rituals is a custom recorded at the beginning of the twentieth century in certain districts of Romania: At the time the young men's group is disbanded, a simulation of the death and resurrection of one of the carolers is enacted. Finally, at the end of the holiday period, the carolers hold a banquet to which they invite the girls of the village.

Winter carols are classified in different ways. Some are named in accordance with the time or place of their performance, for example, "Carol at Night," "Carol at Dawn," "Carol at the Window." Most of the titles refer to the person addressed, such as "Carol for a Girl," "Carol for a Young Man," "Carol for a Widow." Very often the titles refer to the profession of the addressee: "Carol for a Shepherd," "Carol for a Plowman," "Carol for a Midwife," "Carol for a Priest," and so forth. Here and there, in houses where a member of the family has died, the carolers sing a special piece called "Carol for the Dead." Such titles, which have become rare in modern times, derive from an earlier period when the carols were connected with funeral rituals. While some of the winter solstice rituals were intended to repel the spirits of the dead, others were aimed at winning their good will by inviting them to join the feasts and honoring them with songs, offerings, and banquets. The belief that during the period between December 24 and January 6 the souls of the dead come out of their graves and haunt the living is widespread in eastern Europe. In order to appease them, both Slavic peoples and the Romanians used to leave a table laden with food and drink on the night of December 23.

Despite the Latin etymology of the terms designating the eastern European winter carol, the analysis of beliefs and rituals that underlie the performance of the genre does not support the hypothesis of a Roman origin of the custom. It may be assumed that the substratum of the winter carol precedes the romanization of the Thracian populations of eastern Europe. The regulations regarding the organization of young men's groups, as well as other related features, suggest the preservation of vestiges of puberty rituals. Most of the rituals and beliefs associated with the gift of the cake to the carolers, as well as certain remnants of sun worship (e.g., "Carol at Dawn"), seem to belong to a much more archaic stratum than do the Roman winter feasts, and they bear striking resemblances to the northern European celebration of winter solstice. One may deduce that the introduction of Roman winter festivals would not have entailed the abolition of the local festivals. The coincidence of data and certain analogies between the two traditions (revels and masquerades) could not but favor the perpetuation of the local folk tradition under the emblem of the conquerors. The Romans, for their part, were adept at assimilating foreign customs, rituals, and gods through their well-known system of interpretatio Romana. It seems very probable that, due to the political and cultural prestige of the imperial winter festivals, local customs relating to the winter solstice, as well as rituals performed at other periods of the year (such as the agrarian rituals performed on the vernal equinox, the old New Year), came to be focused around the new Roman New Year.

The foregoing considerations can be extended through an analysis of the actual repertoire of the winter carols themselves, their fundamental types and motifs. Here one encounters the same problems that are involved in the description of the practice of caroling but now at the linguistic level of the carol itself.

Students of the winter carols generally divide them into two groups: secular and religious. In doing so they mean to distinguish between winter carols that were not influenced by the church and those in which Christian characters or references do appear. A good number of both secular and religious carols contain properly mythological materials, such as the types of carols that present a non-Christian myth of creation in Christian dress. One type of carol, for example, tells how, at the beginning of the world, Judas plunged the universe into darkness by stealing the sun and the moon. Saint John or Saint Elijah then brought the celestial bodies back and thus dispersed the darkness. Another type relates how God created the world by placing the sky on four silver pillars. Despite the references to saints or to God, the versions of creation disclosed by the winter carol have nothing in common with the biblical account in Genesis and obviously convey pagan myths about the foundation of the world.

Another category of winter carols, very possibly produced by peasant women, may be connected to feminine rites. In Romania until World War I a female folk society, called Ceata Fetelor, preserved traces of initiation rites for girls, practiced matchmaking charms, and was deeply involved in caroling. Apparently similar societies once existed among other east European peoples as well. Of course, only some of the carols dedicated to unmarried women may be associated with feminine rites. Most of the Romanian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian carols in this category bear the mark of the traditions and history peculiar to each of these peoples. Common to all three is the well-known allegory of the wedding, which presents the bridegroom in the form of a hunter who pursues a deer.

The Romanian and Bulgarian repertoires contain a large number of carols that deal with hunting. Usually dedicated to young men, these carols were no doubt originally connected with puberty rites. The ritual significance of the hunt as a task preliminary to marriage can still be discerned in the carols that culminate with the killing of the game. As a rule, the victim is an edible wild animal, very often a stag, and the young man plays the part of an accomplished hunter. In a further extension of meaning, the hunter is frequently called the bridegroom, and the hunt is sometimes viewed as a preliminary condition for marriages. Particularly relevant for the relation between the hunt and marriage is the ending of this type of carol: In its death agony, the wounded animal announces the impending marriage of the hunter. It follows that the young man hunts as a candidate for marriage and that the shooting of the game makes him eligible as a bridegroom.

In a distinct group of carols, the hunter-quarry relation is associated with the miracle of metamorphosis. The hunter is confronted by an ambiguous character whose human or social identity is hidden behind the outer form of a wild animal, usually a stag. The creature's ambiguity is manifest from the very beginning: The stag has white or golden horns (colors with a well-known ritual significance); it laughs, sings, and openly defies the hunter. At the revelation of the animal's hidden identity, which entails the recognition of its prestige and authority, the hunter silently gives up the hunt, sometimes breaking his bow into pieces. Here the hunt becomes the scene of a young man's encounter with the sacred. There is undoubtedly a relation between such metamorphoses described in the hunting carols, the dances with zoomorphic masks that sometimes accompany caroling, and the confrontations with disguised characters that often take place in puberty rites.

In addition to carols focused on hunters, shepherds have produced a repertoire of carols of their own. Many of these are clearly related to rites intended to encourage the growth of the shepherd's flock. Others have a cryptic character. For instance, in "Mioritza, the Clairvoyant Lamb," a carol known only to the Romanians, a shepherd is ritually condemned to death for reasons that remain obscure.

While the exact ritual significance of some of the carols sung within the restricted circle of the shepherds remains unclear, the significance of caroling within the context of the more ample agrarian rituals is more explicit. This is especially true of the Bulgarian, Romanian, and Ukrainian carols. These carols tell how God, the saints, or the carolers themselves sprinkle the courtyards and fields with water in order to increase the harvest. Quite often, the carol text preserves not only the ritual formula but a descriptive trace of the ritual actions as well:

Water in his mouth he has taken.
The cornfield he has sprinkled.
And thus he spake:
"Wheat, grow you up to my belt
And you, hemp, up to my armpits."

In the Romanian and Bulgarian repertoires one frequently encounters references to the sun, the sister of the sun, and sometimes to the daughter of the sun. Such personifications are typical of the sun worship that is proper to cultivators and seem to have been connected with the winter solstice celebration. In certain Romanian winter carols, the sun is presented as descending from the sky with a sickle under its arm or as the owner of a ship that harbors the soul of the deceased. Some of the refrains of the Romanian winter carols refer to the sun, its rays, or the dawn, and in certain contexts the sun is referred to as "sacred." It would be impossible to distinguish a category of carols exclusively on the basis of references to the sun or to agricultural rituals. Rather, one finds such references scattered throughout carols of all sortshunting carols as well as those influenced by Christianity. It is clear that the point of view and the mentality of an agrarian society are predominant in the winter carol and that it is still rooted in prehistory. Nevertheless, an analysis of hunting carols reveals that many motifs that were passed down from prehistory were reinterpreted to reflect interests of herdsmen and plowmen.

Even the archaic Romanian carol about the hunters who were turned into stags, a carol that served Béla Bartók in 1930 as the libretto of his Cantata Profana, did not escape the influence of herdsmen and plowmen. All the versions tell of an old man who, in teaching his sons to hunt, neglected other professions:

And he taught them not
Any kind of trade:
Neither husbandry
Nor herding of cattle
Only [taught them] hunting.

From the perspective of herdsmen and plowmen, hunting as an exclusive profession becomes a culpable activity.

Another important change can be seen in another set of carols in which the hunter is confronted with strange animals: Not only miraculous stags but also fish that jump out of the sea in order to graze on flowers or pick apples, or (among the Romanians) a lion endowed with horns or equated with a human being or a dragon. Unlike the animals in the carols that feature the metamorphosis of the hunter's prey, however, these creatures do not pretend to have a hidden identity, and consequently they are neither spared nor feared. They are characterized by the harmful role they play. They are considered malefactors not so much because they steal to eat but because of the damage they do. The fish is blamed less for stealing apples than for spoiling them, and the lion is deemed guilty not only for plundering the vineyard but also of ravaging it.

Although it is possible to draw a parallel between the wild behavior ascribed to these creatures and the disorders permitted to neophytes in a puberty ritual, it is nevertheless evident that the relations between the harmful animals and the hunter described in this category of carols overstep the bounds of the ritual. While the hero continues to play the part of the hunter, he is at the same time represented as the owner of a house or a vineyard or as the protector of an apple tree. Crossing the borderline that separates what is wild from what is cultivated, the harmful animals endanger the interests of the farmers. The ritual matrix of the hunting carol is reduced to an empty shell in order to make way for the message of an agrarian society. The young hero has not dropped the emblem of the hunter; he has nonetheless become a manifest representative of the farmers' interests.

It was not only the agrarian mentality that brought about change in the winter carol but other factors as well; first among these was the influence of Christianity, which took several forms. It is probable that the earliest direct influence of the new faith was the introduction of Christian refrains into the carols. One of the oldest of these is the "hallelujah," which one finds preserved in a corrupted form. In a more indirect way, Christianity served as a vehicle for conveying legends and beliefs from the Mediterranean and Near East to eastern Europe. For instance, the story found in an apocryphal gospel, which tells of the Mother of God asking a palm tree to lend her its shade, reappears in a winter carol, where the palm tree has become the poplar and fir common to eastern Europe. Such apocryphal legends form the basis of many of the carols.

Only a part of the corpus of religious carols was inspired by Christian apocrypha spread through the Slavonic-Byzantine church. Many others combine Christian themes with the local folk culture of eastern Europe. Here the distinction between religious carols and secular carols breaks down. Symbolic of this lack of a clear boundary is a magnificent robe, described in the carols as adorned with the heavenly bodies, which may be worn in turn by God himself, by Jesus, by a shepherd, or by the boy who, in the carol, is chosen as chief of the army. Similarly, the fusion of Christian motifs with older beliefs could result in surprising, hybrid characters. Judas, for instance, may be equated with a subterranean demon, with a serpent, or with an aquatic monster.

One occasionally encounters carols that betray a degree of tension between Christianity and the folk mythology. Thus in some of the hunting carols a stag pretends at first to be Saint John, and then denies it and reveals itself to be a sacred beast that measures the earth and the sky. In a large number of the carols, however, there is no such tension. Jesus is depicted dancing with the sister of the sun, Saint Nicholas saves the ships of the sun from sinking, and the birth of Jesus is announced by a fairy. In the mild climate of folk Christianity, which survived until quite late in eastern Europe, the association of the saints with mythological characters was neither resented nor felt to be inappropriate or desecrating.

One of the most straightforward forms of interaction between Christianity and folk motifs was the simple substitution of Christian saints for earlier mythological figures. At a deeper level, however, the Christian ideas of sin and punishment could occasionally give a new meaning to both the motivation and the denouement of the original myth.

Judging by a textual analysis of the carols and related documents, it appears that the process of the christianization of the carols has intensified in the last three or four centuries as a consequence of the increased influence of the church. Yet one can detect in the carol repertoire an old Christian nucleus. The fact that some of the "religious" types conform well to the patterns of the genre and bear folk titles apparently proves their penetration into the winter carol's repertoire at an early date. Among these old Christian carols we may mention the type that represents Jesus surrounded by sheep, a type eventually inspired by the early Christian symbol of the good shepherd, and those that tell of a monastery by the sea or describe the Mother of God with the baby Jesus in her arms.

What one might call the "poetics" of the genre of the winter carol is in fact an ensemble of canons closely connected with the ritual function that the winter carol is intended to serve. Each carol consists of two parts: a first part that is sung, and that includes one or more descriptive or narrative sequences, and a second part that is spoken, and that includes a congratulation formula.

Although relatively concise and placed at the end of the carol, the congratulation formula was of the utmost importance. In a context where ritual formulas were believed to have concrete effects, the wish expressed through the congratulation formula was not intended as the mere expression of a desire but as a means of influencing reality.

The first part of the carol is in a sense the incarnation of the wish expressed in the congratulation formula. Thus, the carol's descriptions and narratives present a series of models, which may be ritual, social, heroic, professional, moral, or physical. Like the fairy tale, the winter carol conveys the singer or listener into a world where dreams come true. But contrary to the fairy tale, which projects the wish into the realm of fiction and places the events in a remote age, the winter carol presents one with a concrete and immediate model of an ideal of life or behavior, an ideal that is supposed to be realized through the compulsory influence attributed to the congratulation formula.

In practice, the carol is always addressed to a specific person, and the name of this person is usually assigned to the hero in the carol. Thus the hero who shoots the stag or captures the lion in the carol is symbolically identified with the person at whose house the carol is performed. A happy ending is dictated by the logic of the ritual: In order to confirm and support the wish expressed in the congratulation formula, the hero, identified with the addressee, must attain victory and receive its rewards. It is to be noted that today this ritual symbolism is perceived as a mere stylistic device, however, or as an homage paid to the host.

There are, of course, exceptions to the aforementioned canons. Some of these are the result of the carols' different ritual functions. As noted, the winter carol can also have a funerary function. In the carols for the dead the rule of the happy ending must naturally be canceled. Other exceptions are to be explained on the basis of the process of a carol's composition. Compiled in stages and from different sources, a carol sometimes includes characters or sequences incongruous with the canons of the genre. The saints, for instance, cannot be identified with the addressee of the carol and consequently cannot take on their names. Various devices are employed to circumvent such difficulties. Thus in various Christian carols, in order to comply with the canons of the genre and at the same time avoid desecrating the sacred character of the saints, a human character is introducedusually "the Good Man"who receives the name of the addressee.

The vision presented by the winter carol is one in which harmony and peace reign over the world. The heroes appear in a halo of happiness, beauty, and glory, and conflicts are attenuated or resolved. Even tragic endings are accompanied by serene images: In "Mioritza, the Clairvoyant Lamb" the moon keeps watch over the corpse of the slain shepherd, and according to a winter carol on the theme of the foundation sacrifice, the baby of the immured victim is not abandoned but is nursed by full-uddered deer that descend from the mountains.

The sparkling festive atmosphere peculiar to the winter carol is enhanced by a profusion of gold and white (both originally magical colors) that pour over the most humble objects and turn them into sources of light and wonder. The broom, for instance, is made of gold, as is the spindle and the cradle, while the sea and the heath are all white.

Typical of the winter carol is its refrain. Although part of the refrains that survive are preserved in distorted versions, one occasionally detects certain analogies with the invocations. The refrains, as well as the versification in general, are closely intertwined with the melody, which, by itself, deserves the highest interest of the specialist.

From a stylistic point of view one may distinguish two types of carols: the Ukrainian type, which has a pronounced descriptive character and long final formulas, and the Romanian-Bulgarian type, which includes epic segments and closes with concise formulas. The stylistic and typological analogies between the Romanian and Bulgarian repertoires suggest that the basic form of the eastern European winter carol was the creation of the Thracians, on either side of the Danube. The fact that a number of mythological carols are common to the Ukrainians, Romanians, and Bulgarians suggests that the Slavs took the custom of the carol from the Thracians at an early date, enriched it with their own traditions, and dispersed it over a wide area. The rich and original character of the Romanian repertoire recommends it as the best source for study of the genre.

This general survey of the complex elements involved in the performance and texts of the eastern European winter carol requires that certain distinctions be made. Thus one may conclude that if the Christian influence is rather insignificant at the level of the customary practices associated with the carol, it cannot be neglected at the level of the text. Without shattering the mythological basis of the genre, the church succeeded in giving a Christian hue to a portion of the winter carol repertoire and, here and there, exerting an even stronger influence. The part played by the congratulation formulas in the structure of the carols may be seen as an echo of the Roman custom of exchanging congratulations on the occasion of the Calendae Ianuari. But in the empire's eastern provinces, the Roman New Year provided only a new label and framework for the well-rooted autochthonous celebration of the winter solstice.

Judging by certain aspects of the custom, and by references within the texts, the eastern European winter songs seem to have served as incantations directed against the evil influences of the dead and to have included elements of sun worship. Viewed from this perspective, the eastern European carol still displays its link with the ancient rituals of the winter solstice, but it has a diffuse ritual character. It incorporated not only the winter solstice rituals but also rituals of puberty, agrarian rituals of the vernal equinox, and the rituals and myths of the New Year.

In the folk traditions of eastern Europe the winter carol represents one of the oldest cultural strata. In it are found the vestiges of prehistoric rituals and cosmogonic myths, and this fact alone makes it important to the history of religions, ethnology, ethnomusicology, and linguistics. But the winter carol is more than a fossilized genre that provides data for the reconstruction of an earlier age. It has conveyed elements of myth and ritual that express fundamental experiences of humankind and thus still appeal to the contemporary reader. Moreover, the eastern European winter carol contains more than ancient myths and rituals; over the centuries, it has integrated a vast range of motifs into a complex synthesis. It may be fairly judged to be one of the purest voices that, emerging from the depths of magical belief, ever reached the heights of poetry. Had it not been embedded in provincial languages, the eastern European winter solstice song would have long ago joined the choir of those perennial songs inspired by faith that delight and strengthen the spirit of humankind.


Bartók, Béla. "Melodien der rumänischen Colinda (Weihnachtslieder)." In Ethnomusikologische Schriften Faksimile Nachdrücke, vol. 4. Budapest, 1968.

Bartók, Béla. Rumanian Folk Music, vol. 4, Carols and Christmas Songs (Colinde ). Edited by Benjamin Suchoff. The Hague, 1975.

Bïrlea, Ovidiu. "Colindatul ïn Transilvania." In Anuarul Muzeului etnografic al Transilvaniei pe anii 19651967. Cluj, Romania, 1969. One of the most valuable contributions to the literature.

Brailoiu, Constantin. "Sur une ballade roumaine (La Mioritza)." In Problèmes d'ethnomusicologie. Geneva, 1973.

Bratulescu, Monica. Colinda Româneasca. Bucharest, 1981. The most complete work on the subject. Offers a typological and bibliographic index with important sections translated into English.

Caraman, Petru. Colindatul la Români: Slavi si alte popoare. Bucharest, 1983.

Dragoi, Sabin V. 303 colinde cu text si melodie. Craiova, Romania, 1925.

Eliade, Mircea. Zalmoxis, the Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe. Chicago, 1972.

Usener, Hermann. Das Weihnachtsfest. Bonn, 1889.

Monica BrĂtulescu (1987)