So what does it take to have a successful kolyada (caroling 'spree')? As it turns out – you don’t need much at all! First you need to bring together a group of people, choose a ‘Zvizdar’ (star bearer) who will be the leader, and a ‘Mikhonosha’ – the bag carrier, where the group’s gifts will be placed. And then you just need a good mood, great voices and some holiday cheer. If people in the group know how to play musical instruments it will be a great addition to your Vertep!
The carolers’ bag is something special. It’s where the hospitable hosts place generous gifts for good wishes and songs of the carolers. The bag is carried by the Mikhonosha, but just like the rest of the group, Mikhonosha can’t take any of the treats in his hand, the hosts always must put in directly inside the bag. You can decorate the bag with embroidery or applique, or paint some ornaments. It is appropriate to decorate it with symbols of the sun, the moon and stars or a tree with birds.
When a group first approaches a house they open with a carol summoning the owner of the house.
It’s good when the carolers have candles with them and can enter each home bringing in the flame, symbolizing the birth of Light. When the carolers leave they leave the candle for the hosts to keep.
Once the hosts let the group in they first ask for the permission to carol. When the owner agrees, the carolers take their hats off to honor the people living here and the holy icons. After finding out who exactly lives in the house and what everyone’s names are, the carolers begin a series of songs individually designed for everyone in the family – the father, mother, children etc.
When they’re done caroling the Star bearer spins his star and wishes everyone luck and health in the coming year.
For their sincere congratulations carolers get generous gifts. And they make sure that the hosts truly are generous. They have a rich stock of jokes to mock a scrooge or even ‘threaten’ them: to smash the gates, flip the house, ruin the kiln (all three are symbols of peace, comfort and order); break plates and pots, steal the cow and ‘unscrew’ its horns (symbols of prosperity).
That is why everyone always tries to leave the carolers in abundance of treats. Once the carolers are done with songs and wishes, the hostess of the house brings out goodies and puts them in Mikhonosha’s bag. Thanking the family the group goes on to many more houses.
Once they’ve visited every single house in the neighborhood, the carolers divide all the treats they’ve earned and usually celebrate with a big zabava and a meal together.