Blog Mantra and Music Videos

Kolyada — A Slavic Winter Solstice Song

Kolyada celebration in Russia

A 2017 Kolyada celebration held by the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities in Naro-Forminsk, Russia. Photo by ССО СРВ [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

Kolyada (also known by other names, such as Kaleda or Kaliada) is a pre-Christian Slavic winter solstice holiday that celebrates the return of the sun (after the darkest time of year), and the birth of the infant sun god (also named Kolyada). It marks the beginning of a new year cycle. This holiday was later incorporated into Christmas celebrations.

Kolyada is typically celebrated with the lighting of bonfires, traditional dancing, and the caroling of Kolyada songs from door to door (with carolers usually carrying a monstrance that represents the birth of the sun).

A Koliada parade in Ukraine

A Kolyada parade in Ukraine (2010), where people are carrying sun monstrances to mark the birth of the sun. On the far right someone is carrying an effigy of a Slavic Mother Goddess, with a symbol of the sun across her face. Photo by Hrzoriana [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Below is a Kolyada song by the Russian Slavic revival folk ensemble Svetozar and AuraMira. The lyrics of their song describe a greeting of the newly born sun with a traditional round dance (“khorovod”), where participants form a circle or other formations which incorporate various Slavic symbols (in this case the kolovrat — a sun wheel symbol that portrays the sun in a spinning motion).

The lyrics translate as follows:

We’ll stand in a circle. We’re leading a “khorovod.” Kolyada!
We’ll sing praises to the god of our ancestors, Kolyada!
The sun is born anew, Kolyada!
Covering the world with light, Kolyada!

We’re flowing like streams, like a kolovrat, Kolyada!
Entering the celestial / star gates, Kolyada!
The sun is born anew, Kolyada!
Covering the world with light, Kolyada!

Starry kolovrat, spin, spin, Kolyada!
Create a world of peace through peace, Kolyada!
The sun is born anew, Kolyada!
Covering the world with light, Kolyada!

The lyrics in Russian can be found here (the subtitles in the video below are a Polish translation of the song).

And here’s a live performance of the song by the band:

The song has now been added to our traditional music gallery. More songs like it can be found here:

 

About the author

Jenny Belikov

Jenny Belikov is a researcher and practitioner of the ancient religion of the sun and the Managing Editor for The Spiritual Sun, where she also researches and writes about ancient sacred sites; spiritual texts and practices; the latest discoveries in archeology, archeoastronomy, and related sciences; as well as the exploration of various facets of the lost civilization of the sun.

26 Comments

  • Thank you for this very special video, seeing everyone singing and enjoying this celebration was so beautiful and uplifting,it certainly would be lovely to be there at this very special Solstices celebration.

  • These are such cheerful images and videos full of color and symbolism incorporated in these Kolyada celebrations at the winter solstice. Knowing little about Eastern Europe and Russian traditions, this post opened up a whole other view of the culture and how rich it is and includes traces of the religion of the sun.

    I have been playing the videos shared in this post and in the comments in the background for some time. Although I’m lost at the meaning of the words they sing other than reading the translation posted here, I feel uplifted and festive listening to them. It must be wonderful to live in an area where this tradition is kept up and locals dress up and go from door to door to sing and celebrate the birth of the Sun.

    Thanks for sharing this Jenny.

  • I came across the the Gospel of the Kailedy (now on my to-read list) and I thought perhaps there was a connection to all these old traditional songs from different parts of the world.

    This is what I read describing it: Previously Called The Book of the Illuminators, Having the Authority of the Nasorines : this Being the Second Volume of The Kolbrin. The word ‘Kailedy’ (or Kailedi) originated with the early Christians who came to Britain in 37AD led by Joseph of Arimathea and means ‘wise strangers’.

    This book seems to be available online for free if you do a simple search.

  • Thanks for the videos Jenny, and the explanation of Kolyada. I really enjoyed the second one — seeing the live performance and the glimpses of people in the crowd singing along and joining in the celebration. It’s such a beautiful way to greet the sun at this time of the year, really heartfelt and direct.

  • Hey Jenny,

    Thank you for posting this fantastic song. This is by far the best song I have heard on this site, it’s so beautiful and I love the lyrics. I must have listened to it more than ten times when I first saw it. Somehow the music prompts me to connect to my own roots and where I come from, although I live many thousands of miles away from ‘home’. I felt a connection with my ancient roots and also with everyone doing the work.

    Very powerful experience- as if in an ancient past there was a global connection of which my culture was part of and now only exists in echo’s of memory deep inside me, veiled by centuries of distraction, destruction and amnesia. I am happy to have found the work to uncover those echo’s step by step.

    Thank you very much for sharing this exceptional beautiful video.

    • I agree Bogdan, I also really appreciate the opportunity to connect to my ancestral roots through the spirituality of the Sun.

      I am also surprised to see so many different and beautiful sun monstrances being used at this time in many Slavic countries, like the ones shown in the video. Even though being Slavic, I never noticed that before! I guess its because I have never been involved in the communities that were preserving this heritage, and the mainstream media and television (especially during socialism) didn’t give these traditions a coverage.

  • This was actually very uplifting – the lyrics, melody and the beautiful solar imagery in the video. They seem astonishingly relevant to the Religion of the Sun! It’s wonderful to see this thread that has woven its way through history still being so alive in Svetozar and AuraMira’s work.

    That’s a great picture too at the top of the post, seems like a lot of people are attending. I’m kind of surprised also to see this Ukranian picture, just because I’ve never been aware that such beautiful things so connected with the sun are taking place at Christmas/the solstice and so many people seem to be interested and actively participating.

    Wishing everyone Happy Solstice! Thanks for sharing Jenny!

  • Thank you for sharing the video Jenny. Clothing and scenery are quite similar to what one would find in the rural Eastern Poland. I was not aware of the original meaning of the word Kolyada (Polish: Kolęda) – it is very interesting. And of course the music is very nice too! 🙂

  • This is really beautiful!

    I am really in awe about how these cultures celebrate these important times of the year. I can see a lot of reverence and at the same time a lot of joy! So much to celebrate and be grateful for with the birth of the Son.

    The words of the song are, as usual, simple yet meaningful and inspiring.

    I look forward to one day having the opportunity to celebrate this special time in the Northern hemisphere and experience the birth of the Winter Sun/sun.

    thanks Jenny again for sharing this lovely song with us. I would love to learn to sing it in the original language.

    • Hi Paty, I sang this song in Russian before with some non-Russian speaking friends and we had fun with it. I transcribed the sounds for them into roughly what they would sound like English, so here you go if you want to give it a try and sing along with the video 🙂

      V-sta-nim mi oo ko-lo
      Ho-ro-vod po-vee-diom, Ka-lia-da!

      Bo-goo pried-kam sla-voo
      Vos-po-yom, Ka-lia-da!

      Soln-tse no-vo na-ro-di-lo-siya
      Ka-lia-da!

      Zem-lya sve-tom os-ve-ti-lo-siya
      Ka-lia-da!

      Mi te-chom roo-chiya-mee
      Ko-lo-vra-tom, Ka-lia-da!

      Vho-dim v zvio-z-niye vo-ro-ta
      vo-ro-ta, Ka-lia-da!

      Soln-tse no-vo na-ro-di-lo-siya
      Ka-lia-da!

      Zem-lya sve-tom os-ve-ti-lo-siya
      Ka-lia-da!

      Zvio-z-ni ko-lo-vrat ti v-rash-ai
      v-rash-ai, Ka-lia-da!

      mi-rom mir so-tvo-riyai
      Ka-lia-da!

      Soln-tse no-vo na-ro-di-lo-siya
      Ka-lia-da!

      Zem-lya sve-tom os-ve-ti-lo-siya
      Ka-lia-da!

      • Hey Jenny, I just tried to sing along your English transcription – quite funny! Seeing it written like this, it reminds me of the transcribed Sanskrit mantras that I sometimes sing along with friends, I guess those must look funny for Indians too. 😀

  • I find it very interesting that many of the pagan traditions that followed the religion of the sun quickly allowed themselves to be assimilated by the wave of Christianity — obviously they recognised the common source. Yet, in retrospect Christianity hasn’t seemed able to maintain its purity that the old pagan traditions kept. It’s great that this tradition of Kolyada has managed to preserve itself under the shroud of Christianity however.

    I love how there’s so much color in the midst of Winter! I love the monstrances!

    Thanks for sharing Jenny!

  • Thank you for bringing back the true meaning of the word Kolyada Jenny! In Slovakia, we have the same or similar word (Koleda), but it mostly means a carol now, or carolling. It is unbelievable how its original meaning has been shifted from the connection with the Sun to just denote carolling.

    I just had a look at this wikipedia page now – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Slavic_god_Koleda.jpg , where it says that “Koliada or Koleda is a Slavic mythological deity, that personalizes the newborn winter infant Sun”, and there is a nice picture with it. Its unbelievable how we weren’t taught these things at all, even though its a part of our (Slavic) heritage!

    I have actually been thinking for a while what “Kolyada” meant exactly, as there is this very old “Book of Kolyada” that contains a lot of interesting spiritual information, and it just didn’t make sense that it would just be a “Book of a carol”, or “Book of carols” as it is often being translated. So your article sheds a light on this, and now it makes more sense. 🙂

    I also liked that live concert of Auramira, and how the audience seemed to spontaneously join in with Svetozar, must have been a nice atmosphere!

    • Hi Lucia, I know what you mean. I found the case to be similar with the Russian carols (Koliadki) — most seem to be focused on the mirth of the season, and more common day-to-day customs and conventions. Some mention something about the sun in passing, but usually not much is said about the birth of the sacred sun and sun god (at least in the Koliadki I’ve come across so far).

      I’ve read the book you mentioned by the way (The Book of Carols). It’s a relatively recent book (published in the 1990s) so its authenticity is often called into question. The author (Asov) explains that it’s a collection of stories passed down orally in villages through the generations (which is one of the few ways to grasp at remnants of many elements and the history of the Slavic culture, since so much of it has been wiped out or forgotten). It contains a Slavic story of creation, as well as the mythology of many of the main Slavic deities. It’s quoted several times in the new Religion of the Sun book in the Slavic section (starting on p. 97) so you can get an idea of what it’s like from there.

      In the live performance, at the beginning he actually invites them to sing the chorus, but I think the crowd became more and more engaged as the song went along 🙂

  • Hi, Jenny. Thanks for this update! I had no idea they have this sun monstrance tradition in Ukraine. Do you have any idea if it’s particular for a certain region or all throughout the country?

    In Bulgaria people also call Christmas Koleda, but almost no one knows where the name comes from! I remember asking this question as a child and no one was able to give me a satisfying answer.

    I came across this Bulgarian folk song which seems to be performed by the American women’s vocal group Kitka.

    https://youtu.be/jN9iU_J1cQw

    The song’s name “Замъчи се Божа Майка” can be translated as The Mother of God Began Her Labour. A few relevant parts of the lyrics that I can hear:

    The Mother of God, Kolade, Koladele, began her labour, Kolade, Koladele,
    From Ignazhden* , Kolade, Koladele, to Bozhiche (Christmas), Kolade, Koladele,
    And she gave birth, Kolade, Koladele, to the Young God, Kolade, Koladele,
    God was born, Kolade, Koladele, yesterday night, Kolade, Koladele

    *Ignazhden is a Christianised pagan celebration. The original celebration was on Dec 21st and was called Mlad bog or Mlad den (Young God or Young Day).

    Someone made the point that in some folk songs you can clearly see the pagan link as the Divine Mother usually isn’t referred to as Mary but as Mother of God. The Sun God or Christ is also often referred to as Mlada Boga, rather than Jesus.

    In a way it’s funny how the video to the song contains only Christian imagery as if you listen to the lyrics there is a clear Pagan link. 🙂

    • Hi Pavlin. Thanks for sharing that — what a pretty song. Interesting it speaks of the Mother Goddess giving birth to the sun god!

      That parade photo with all the colorful sun monstrances is from Lviv, Ukraine. I’ve also seen similar large Kolyada celebrations in Kiev. From what I’ve seen Kolyada is something present in many East and West Slavic countries, from as far south as parts of Macedonia all the way north up to Russia, and also westward into Poland as well as into the Baltic tradition and regions. I’m not sure whether there are specific regions within these countries that celebrate this holiday more prominently.

      With the monstrances, pretty much every country I’ve seen that celebrates Kolyada uses similar monstrances for its caroling processions, and the monstrance is either topped with a sun symbol or a star. The star is meant to represent the birth of a young sun (which in the context of Christmas is symbolic of the midnight sun and the Christmas Star that heralds the birth of Christ).

      Seems that as Kolyada became merged with Christmas, many of the songs seem to have taken on more traditional day-to-day themes (with songs about traditional cakes, pancakes, tea, social cordiality, etc.) or are more about the mirth of the Christmas season. When I first learned about Kolyada I was excited to look up Russian carols (called Koliadki) but was mostly disappointed with the lyrics I was finding as I was hoping to find songs that celebrate the deeper nature of the winter solstice. I really like how the song by Svetozar and AuraMira above is so clearly focused on the celebration of the birth of the sacred sun and sun god. One article I’ve read mentioned that in Russia Kolyada caroling suffered the most of any other country from the Orthodox Church’s efforts to eradicate this tradition, which perhaps explains the smaller selection of songs and the lack of a deeper meaning within many of them. Reading that this caroling tradition survived better in other countries I was hoping that maybe others might be able to find interesting Kolyada songs in their own languages. So I’m glad you shared the Bulgarian song — seems a promising start 🙂

      • Thanks for the clarification, Jenny. It’s interesting that the sun/star monstrance doesn’t seem to be present in Bulgaria, or if it is I haven’t seen it. This tradition of caroling is still alive there, it’s called koleduvane and the young men who do it are called koledari.

        Traditionally, they start their journey after midnight between Dec 24th and 25th, visiting one house after the other. With their songs they bring the good news (‘dobar haber’) to each household.

        I was also a bit disappointed that nowadays most of the Koleda songs seem to be mostly about well-wishes and social cordiality as you put it. I find that even in some of those, traces of Kolyada have been preserved. For example in many of them the verse Kolade, Koladele; or Oy Koledo, moy Koledo (oh Koledo, my Koledo) is repeated multiple times throughout the song.

        There are also some rituals and traditions that mark the veneration to the Young God and the Mother of God very clearly.

        This is a small video that captures the spirit of ‘Koleduvane’:
        https://youtu.be/dJ-QhwRAb38

    • How nice to see more of these ‘Kolyada’ songs, thanks for sharing another one Pavlin. Its interesting to see how the original pagan/ethnic groups did what they could to continue practicing, even if it was under the guise and blend of Christianity.

    • Thank you Jenny and Pavlin for bringing in some Christmas spirit. The time is, so quickly it seems this year, already approaching.

      Nice song Pavlin. Although the role of the Mother Goddess in helping with the process of removing all evil and ego represented at the time of autumn onwards is something I’ve heard about quite a bit. I hadn’t really read anything yet that as specifically referenced things related to those incredibly important moments in the final days leading up to the birth of the child, and the obviously intimate role the Divine Mother naturally plays in that.

      Makes me feel it would be nice to especially contemplate the Mother Goddess in those days leading up to Christmas and the completing of her major work of bringing forth this new miracle.

    • It’s really interesting to see how Kaleda is found all throughout Europe! In the Baltic tradition they celebrate the time of “Kalėda” as well, and the word itself has been said to refer to the time of the winter solstice and means “the return of the sun.”

      I like the song Jenny, it’s very joyful. 🙂

    • That’s a really beautiful song Pavlin, thank you for sharing! I really like the blend/harmonies of the Bulgarian voices in these traditional songs. Very meaningful lyrics as well.

    • That’s a great song. It was really interesting to learn a bit about the Bulgarian tradition of how a group of young men would go from door to door on Christmas Eve singing it. There seems to be a very similar Christian tradition in Europe, called ‘Star Singers’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_singers) where kids go from house to house carrying a monstrance with a star. While their songs are altogether Christian, I wonder if it used to be the same pagan solar tradition. I thought that this star monstrance that a group of Finnish star singers are carrying looks very similar to those Ukranian sun monstrances. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_singers#/media/File:Tiernapojat_oulussa.jpg

      I was totally not aware that it might have had a pagan origin as it is still very popular in Finland so it’s very interesting to learn about this.

    • Pavlin that is such a beautiful song. Thanks for sharing the link to it, and for the lyrics translation. It’s so interesting to see these other representations of the solstice celebration — I had never heard of Kolyada let alone that it was present in so many local European traditions.

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