Tag Archives: New Year

Silvesterklausen, a New Year’s Eve ritual

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On New Year’s Eve men and boys in Urnäsch, Switzerland, disguise themselves in various costumes and, bearing harnesses with heavy bells, walk in groups from house to house; at each house they sing wordless yodels. The custom is called Silvesterklausen, and the men and boys are known as Silvesterchläus.

At the crack of dawn they march off in single file. Arriving at a house, they shake their bells rhythmically to announce their presence. The inhabitants are expecting them, and the husband and wife step out to greet them; the wife bears a tray with a bottle and glasses.

The Silvesterchläusen then form a circle and sing polyphonic yodels, which are received with great favor by the household. Each visitor is offered a drink; the yodelers accept their drinks, shake hands with their hosts, and march off to the next house.

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This according to Progress and nostalgia. Silvesterklausen in Urnäsch, Switzerland by Regina Bendix (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985). Below, Silvesterklausen in 2013.

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The Krk kolijani season

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The kolijani-koleda event on Krk, which takes place in the Christmas and New Year period, is marked by processions moving from house to house expressing good wishes, together with a choosing-the-king custom. Through changes and innovations this ritual has ensured its firm entrenchment in the consciousness of the people.

The symbolic presentation of village unity moves from the secular to the religious sphere; their mutual permeation is constant and inseparable, and the performance of the ritual is the present expression of collective identity and feelings. The dialectical relationship between tradition and revival is confirmed in the interweaving of the old pre-Christian symbols (although they are expressed with new meaning or just repeated as a rule) with the most contemporary expressions of identity.

This according to “The kolijani ritual event on the island of Krk, Croatia: Continuity or revival?” by Tvrtko Zebec (Yearbook for traditional music XXXVIII [2006] pp. 97–107). This issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, excerpts from a 1989 documentary on kolijani in Dubašnica.

BONUS: The season in 1972.

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Carnival in Monastīraki

Arapīdes, also known as Carnival, takes place on 5 and 6 January (Epiphany Eve and Epiphany Day) in Monastīraki, Greece. Rooted in ancient Dionysiac worship, the ritual involves performances by four groups: arapīdes, masked men in black capes holding wooden swords; gkiligkes, men wearing women’s local dress; pappoudes, men wearing men’s local dress; and tsoliades or euzōnoi, men dressed as guards.

Starting in the morning, the assembled troupe visits each house in the village and dances with the head of the household, who then presents a donation. In the afternoon the troupe performs in the village square; then all of the villagers join in the dancing, which lasts into the night.

This according to “Ritual acts and dance: The case of the Arapides in Monastiraki” by Ioannis Prantsidis (Studia choreologica VIII [2006], pp. 81–120). Below, the troupe dances in the village square in 2011.

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A New Year’s liturgical drama

Ludus Danielis (Beauvais, 13th century), one of the most discussed and performed liturgical dramas of the Middle Ages, is found in only one manuscript (GB-Lbl MS Egerton 2615) together with the New Year’s Office from Beauvais, indicating an association with that celebration.

Chants at certain important points of the play are intriguing not only for their musicological interest or for their theological or liturgical associations, but also in terms of time representation and the genre, which does not easily lend itself to the scholarly categories of liturgy or drama.

This according to “Danielis ludus and the Latin music dramatic traditions of the Middle Ages” by Nils Holger Petersen, an essay included in The past in the present (Budapest: Liszt Ferenc Zeneművészeti Egyetem, 2003) pp. 291–307.

Above, Daniel interprets the Writing on the Wall to King Belshazzar in a painting by Benjamin West. Below, the corresponding scene of Ludus Danielis as performed at The Cloisters, New York City, in 2008.

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Surva: Dancing for the unripe year

On 14 January, which is both New Year’s Day and the Feast of St. Basil according to the old Orthodox calendar, villagers in Bulgaria and Macedonia perform the costumed ceremonial dance known as  Сурва (Surva, “unripe year”). Children between 4 and 14 years old participate in the малечка Сурва (small Surva), while adults between 15 and 35 perform in the голема Сурва (big Surva).

On the eve of the event, youths go from house to house collecting wood for the ceremonial bonfire. In the morning the participants choose their roles and don the corresponding masks and sheepskin capes. The stock characters may include a groom, a bride, a devil, a priest, a gypsy, and a dancer with a bear. To the accompaniment of drums and shawms, the dancers parade through the village with abundant comical antics. The ceremony culminates with a spirited dance around the collective bonfire.

This according to “Сурварските обичаи од неколку струмички села” (Old customs performed on New Year’s day in villages of the Strumičko region) by Ivan Kotev, an essay included in Rad XIX kongresa Saveza Udruženja Folklorista Jugoslavije (Skopje: Združenie na Folkloristite na Makedonija, 1977, pp. 207–212). Below, Surva in Krupnik, Bulgaria.

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New Year’s fertility dances

During New Year’s celebrations, transplanted Northern Thracian farmers perform fertility rites to coax a bountiful harvest from the earth.

Three forms of the important wedding dance type συγκαθιστό (syngathisto)—which is seldom seen outside a matrimonial context—are performed during New Year’s rituals; two of them, ντιβιτζήδικoς (divitzīdikos, “camel driver’s dance”) and κατσιβέλικος (katsivelikos, “gypsy’s dance”), employ phallic objects and involve improvisation. The three forms differ in style, kinemics, and morphokinemics.

This according to “Structure and style of an implement dance in Neo Monastiri, central Greece” by Rena Loutzakī, an essay included in The 16th symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology (Studia musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae XXXIII/1–4 [1991], pp. 439–452). Below, a syngathisto in its usual cultural context.


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