November 01, 2009

Winter Holidays

A sheaf of this year’s crop is mixed with the seed for the coming year… children wander from house to house, asking permission to serenade the occupants, and expecting an edible reward in return… masked young couples engage in ribald games that presage marriages…

These are but a few of the 19th century winter holiday traditions of Russian villages. And, as with many Russian folk traditions, they have often been described as influenced by dvoyeveriye, “dual faith/belief.”

The concept of dvoyeveriye began with the Slavophiles, a nineteenth-century philosophical movement, whose members believed that Russia’s future lied in validation of its own heritage, not in the adoption of western institutions (opposed since the time of Peter the Great by the Westernizes who argued that Russia should embrace western traditions). Relying on native Russian traditions, including the folk traditions and the Orthodox faith, the Slavophiles argued that Russia had a distinct national identity from the nations of western Europe. The Slavophiles claimed that the Russian narod (“folk”) had retained its pre-Christian traditions nearly intact throughout the centuries. By contrast, in Western Europe such ancient connections had been eradicated through the influence of the Christian church. The Russian peasant was therefore said to participate in two belief systems: paganism and Orthodox Christianity.

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