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Tradition of Merry Russian Sleighing
January 12, 2011 22:01


Sleighing has been a traditional Russian winter entertainment, especially popular during Christmas-tide , Maslenitsa (Pancake week), and saints’ days.

In Russia before Peter the First due to insufficiency of roads and streets, as well as comparative cheapness of sledges they were the most widespread means of transportation even in summertime. Moreover, in Old Russia sleighing was considered more honourable than using wheeled carts; and so sledges were used on all solemn occasions, especially by the higher ecclesiastics, who preferred them even in summertime until the late 12th century. The ancient sledge looked like a boat with its edges bent in front and behind, or a long box narrowed to the front, and it was possible to lie in them. Mostly it was driven by one horse with a coachman on its back.

Sleighing was especially bright on the Pancake Week. Dwellers of all neighboring villages took part in it. People made careful preparations for festive sleighing: horses were washed, their tails and manes were combed, and harnesses and sledges were fixed and cleaned. The youth usually went sleighing early in the morning, newly-weds could go for a ride at any time they wanted, and married couples, especially important and rich peasants were supposed to do it toward evening.

Guys and girls went sleighing with noise and merriment: horses rushed forward, bells ringed, towels tied at the back of the sledge fluttered in the wind, somebody played the accordion , and everybody sang songs. A newly-married couple was expected to go sleighing in a sedate and dignified manner, and bow to all villagers they met on the way, and stop at their first request to accept their congratulations and wishes.

Parade departure of a rich family was performed in quite a ceremonial way. The master of the house deliberately led harnessed horses to the gates, the mistress of the house carefully stacked elegant cushions into the sledge, arranged a fur or felt sleigh robe, and beautifully adhered ribbons and shawls to the shaft-bow. Then the smartly dressed family sat down into the sledge. The front seat was intended for the master and sons, and the back seat – for the mistress and daughters. The old folks went out to the porch to observe the parade departure, and small children ran after the sledge with merry shouts.

All those arrived at the sleigh meeting place would usually drive for five to six hours long, from time to time interrupting for a short feast at the relatives’ and giving rest to horses. Those who sleighed had to observe established rules: one sledge was to go behind others along the central street of the village or around it, without overtaking and overspeeding.

Lads would give a ride to girls walking in the street, after inviting them politely into the sledge. Decorum obliged a guy to ride the same girl for no more than three or four circles, and then invite another one. By way of gratuity the girls tied small shawls to the shaft-bow of his horse. Newly-weds, for whom sleighing on Pancake Week was obligatory, stopped by requests of their fellows villagers in order “to salt saffron milk caps”, i.e. to kiss each other in public.

Sleighing amusement reached its peak in the afternoon on Shrove Sunday, when especially many sledges gathered together, and their speed increased a lot.

Dashing guys, trying to show off their daring to girls, would stand when driving running horses, jump into the driving sledge on high speed, and play the accordions, whistle and shout. Sunday sleighing was supposed to be finished instantly, right after the first chime of the vesper-bell. This moment was especially joyful for the youth, who rushed headlong from the village in sledge teams, overtaking each other.

Source: Russian Wiki

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Tags: Russian Traditions Russian Winter Sleighing Russian Customs  

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