Ukrainian villages around Easter time often look the following way: young girls, wearing traditional folk costumes and flower wreaths, getting together to do traditional roundelays and decorate the church… In the meantime, men build a ‘tower’ and tease the girls… You hear the church bells ringing… Seems like even the buildings come alive, woken up by melodies of Vesnianky (spring songs), echoing the times past and reviving our ancestors’ legacy.
As soon as the snow melts and the weather gets warmer, people start performing various rituals to welcome Spring. In the past, the change of seasons was often perceived as the fight between two forces – cold and heat. To help spring win and come into full power, people made ritual straw bugadoos, symbolizing winter, and either burnt or drowned it in the river. They would also wear symbolic spring signs – sun and flowers, all while doing various spring songs and roundelays.
The songs performed during this time were called vesnianky (from Ukr. vesna / весна – spring). These were invocatory verses, called to attract warm weather and favorable conditions for farming. Among the most famous spring songs, one can find many songs-games, like «А ми просо сіяли, сіяли!» (We were sowing millet), «Зелений шум» (Green noise), «Подоляночка» (Podillian girl) etc. The steps and moves in spring dances were mostly designed to resemble field work – plowing, sowing, weeding, shearing etc. The lyrics, in the meantime, explained the plot. In different regions, one can come across alternative names for Vesnianky: in Polissia they’re called mayivky or mahivky; in Western regions – hahilky, hayivky; in Yavoriv region – ryndzivky; around Volyn – rohul’ky.
Some believe that hayivky (from Ukr. hai / гай – grove) are actually a specific subtype of spring songs. The difference, allegedly, lies in the timing – hayivky were performed specifically and only during Easter time, and vesnianky covered a broader scope – these could be performed throughout the spring.
Our ancestors believed that spring was brought on the wings of birds, returning from warmer climes. That’s why people baked ritual cookies or buns in the shape of birds. Calling upon spring they also made round kalachi, symbolizing the sun.
Vesnianky are not just folk songs. Many writers and poets created a series of works inspired by this topic. Ivan Franko for example, created a series of works called “Vesnianky”, where Spring was a collective image for the Ukrainian people fighting for a better life. Lesia Ukrainka also wrote a verse called “Vesnianka”, where she welcomed and glorified the coming of spring.