Think jack-o'-lanterns are frightening? Try being a man in Ukraine. Then you'll truly understand what it's like to fear a pumpkin. For centuries in the Eastern European nation, a pumpkin meant one thing: No, I won't marry you.
An old tradition held that a would-be suitor would visit a woman's house to propose. If the answer was yes, there was family toasting and celebration. If no, the poor guy was silently handed a pumpkin.
The tradition dates back to medieval times and sources say many Ukrainian men would only propose at night so they wouldn't be seen with a pumpkin in their hands if rejected. Why a pumpkin? As vegetables go, pumpkins are not the prettiest. And maybe that was the message for the boyfriend.
The tradition as a marriage ritual has died away. But even today, Ukrainians may use a pumpkin — or harbuz in Ukrainian — in conversation. If you say no thanks to a business deal, you might say, "I just have to hand you a pumpkin on that one."
While in Ukraine Oct. 31 – Nov. 1 is still mainly celebrated as All Saints’ Day, for people to remember Christian martyrs and benefactors, as well as their passed away loved ones; following global trends, the past couple of years, young people in Ukraine have also been more than eager to acknowledge also the evil spirits, vampires, zombies, ghosts, and the rest of the horror movie industry ;)
Ancient Ukrainian beliefs warn that evil spirits lurk for people every step of the way, not just on Halloween. And some of them could even live in your house.
So, to bring a little Ukrainian flair to your costume – here are some ideas from Ukrainian mythology!
For example, Barabashka is a Ukrainian poltergeist that lives in each house. Can’t find the keys, a matching sock or your favourite book? It was taken by Barabashka. But there is no reason to worry. He will eventually give it back.
Domovyk (‘a house man’) is a spirit that keeps order in the house. Actually, from Domovyk's perspective, you live at HIS house, and not the other way around. Thus, wait for trouble if you do not like to clean. In Ukraine there are several beliefs about how to get on the Domovyk’s good side. For example, you could keep some food near the stove or fireplace, as the Domovyk lives there. Try it on Halloween!
Komirnyk (‘a storekeeper’) is an evil, but very profit driven spirit. You could summon the Komirnyk to you home and make a deal with. Then, throughout his life, he’ll try his best to make his owner very rich. But after the owner's death, Komirnyk comes for his soul and takes it to Hell.
Nichnytsi (’night women’) are demons that attack small children and bring them nightmares. According to Ukrainian beliefs, Nichnytsi resemble birds, bats, or may even look like worms. Less often they appear to children in the image of women with long black hair wearing black clothes. Nichnytsi may even enter the house on Halloween night through the window or door. And outside the house, they destroy birds' nests.
Rusalky (‘mermaids’) are known as witches in Ukrainian culture. They can mostly be found in lakes, rivers or bogs; disguised as beautiful women singing enchanting songs. Rusalky were known to lure and drown their victims, so people always wanted to keep them happy. A holiday most associated with these creatures was Ivana Kupala – a night, quite similar to Halloween in Ukrainian mythology, when evil spirits walk freely and have extensive magical powers. Regular people would use this night for fortunetelling and making faith be good to them. For example young unmarried women would make flower wreaths for themselves as well as the mermaids and ask them to give out information about their future husbands, wedding day etc.
Evil spirits and creatures have been researched and described in many Ukrainian literary works – starting with kids’ bed time stories like ‘Ivasyk Telesyk’ (Івасик Телесик) and ending with controversial and haunting pieces of fiction like ‘Viy’ (Вій) or ‘Evenings on a farm near Dikanka’ (Вечори на хуторі близь Диканьки) by Mykola Gogol.
Hope you enjoy our Fun Fact Friday and make your Halloween appearance extra special this year!