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The symbolism of Kalyna in Ukrainian Culture


Kalyna (‘калина’ - viburnum) is the ethnic and national symbol of Ukraine, which represents beauty, love, motherhood, blood, the immortality of family, fire, national resurgence, womanhood, life, love for the homeland etc. This is an encoding mechanism in Ukrainian ethnic culture, the color of the ‘nation’s soul’, the core of the Kozak spirit and the symbol of national unity.


In early summer viburnum bushes covered with white buds among green leaves resemble a bride in white dress. Viburnum blossoms look like a wreath (a circle). It is not coincidental that viburnum is considered to be a female symbol (whereas oak and sycamore trees are typical male symbols) that embodies a girl’s virginity and innocence, purity, love, maturity, beauty and youth, family and marriage, fertility and joy, sorrow and grief.

Going to the meadow to pick viburnum flowers or berries was considered a favorite pastime for Ukrainian girls. Traditional expressions connected to picking viburnum can be interpreted metaphorically as finding love.

If one’s house had kalyna branches hanging by the roof, this meant that there was an unmarried girl living there and men were welcome to send their ‘svaty’ (matchmakers) to propose to her. And when someone was saying that "kalyna wasn’t ripe yet", it meant that a girl was still too young to go get married. If a girl bestowed a viburnum twig to a young man, it symbolized her consent to the marriage proposal.


At weddings kalyna branches were used to decorate the korovai (wedding ritual bread), hiltse (wedding tree), the house and the bride’s clothes. Girls used kalyna berries for makeup – as lipstick or blush. The red color of ripe berries embodied feminine beauty, white flowers symbolized innocence and purity. Kalyna blossoms were incorporated into flower wreaths, it is also a traditional element of Ukrainian embroidery.


Broken or blackened viburnum was the symbol of an unhappy and betrayed wife. An important component in the Ukrainian people’s poetics and mythology is the so-called "Kalyna bridge". In folk tradition, a regular bridge symbolized a relationship or unity. A kalyna bridge, on the other hand, had a far more vast meaning. It's the good opposed to evil, the place of transition from the world of the dead to the world of the living. This is the line, where aging begins, ending the time of youth. Every woman was supposed to 'cross the Kalyna bridge' to unite with the three ‘inseperable sisters’ - Faith, Hope and Love - waiting on the other side. In folklore the phrase "walking down the kalyna bridge" means falling in love. In the collective imagination of Ukrainians kalyna, just like a living being, is able to hear, see, think, suffer, speak, experience pain and joy, ask for help etc.

Just like Kozaks always seemed to find consolation in their ‘loyal horse’, Ukrainian women always turned to the kalyna tree in times of sorrow, grief or suffering. In Ukrainian songs and poems, kalyna trees were often the meeting place for dates and romantic reunions. Kalyna is also known as a symbol of eternal memory of the deceased. If there was ever a grave by the road or in the field, local girls felt obliged to plant kalyna trees around it. Such kalyna groves were considered sacred. It was forbidden to graze cattle, cut down bushes nearby. The desecration of a kalyna tree would automatically bring shame and disdain upon those who did so. In general, viburnum, planted on a grave was symbol of love – conjugal, as well as brotherly, sisterly, parent etc.

For Zaporizhian Kozaks kalyna was a poetic embodiment of the "Motherland", of the "parental house", of familiar places left behind. Kalyna as the representation of love for Ukraine is even more symbolic because the viburnum berry seed is heart shaped.

Kalyna also symbolizes motherhood. The bush is the mother, the flowers and berries - the children. Kalyna growing near the parental house is always a talisman of good fortune. This is a symbol that always reminds of home, of the mother, her care and love.

There are many legends involving the kalyna and its symbolism. One of them explains why viburnum berries, once being sweet, are now bitter.


A beautiful girl fell in love with a blacksmith who used kalyna branches to cool off each of his minting works. Every day he would go into the woods to collect new branches and never noticed the girls' feelings. In desperation, the girl decided to burn down the forest. And so when the man set out to his favorite place in the forest he discovered that everything had burned to ashes except for the viburnum bush, where the girl had spent days pouring bitter tears. Once he saw the girl next to the kalyna he fell in love with her, but it was already too late. The wood burned and the girl’s youth and beauty withered with it. Saturated by the girl’s tears, viburnum berries were never again sweet, they were bitter as a symbol of unrequited love.


Let’s not forget about the healing properties kalyna is believed to have. In folk medicine veburnum is used to cure diseases ranging from common colds to nervousness, vascular spasms, hypertension, epilepsy, liver damage and more. Young twigs of Viburnum are also often used for weaving baskets.

In Ukrainian culture viburnum symbolically sprouts through ages and generations, withstanding various difficulties and hostile environments, coming out stronger in the end, just like the Ukrainian people.

Info source: www.kozatstvo.net.ua Photo source: www.pinterest.com



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