If you’ve ever sung or listened to “Carol of the Bells”, you’ve indirectly partaken in one of the oldest Ukrainian traditions of shchedrivky. The old style New Year’s Eve on January 13th is called Shchedriy Vechir, which means Bountiful or Generous Evening, and part of the celebration includes young women and men visiting their neighbors and singing shchedrivky, couplets wishing good fortune, health and much of bounty in the new year. The most famous song associated with Shchedriy Vechir is “Schedryk” (Щедрик), which was arranged by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1916 and later adapted by Peter Wilhousky as an English Christmas carol, “Carol of the Bells”.
Old traditions are closely intertwined with the customs. Shchedriy Vechir also has the alternative name of Malanka in honor of Saint Melania the Younger whose feast is celebrated on the same day. But the old, pre-Christian customs color the festivities.
Different from carols, which are performed starting on Christmas Eve on January 6th and until the Epiphany on January 19th (the Ukrainian Orthodox calendar still follows the one established by Julius Cesar), shchedrivky focuses on the bounty of nature. The original Ukrainian lyrics for “Carol of the Bells,” for instance, tell the story of a swallow visiting a household and describing all of the rich gifts the family is to see in the spring.