Malanka is a Ukrainian folk holiday celebrated on January 13th, which is New Year’s Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar. Malanka commemorates the feast day of St. Melania. On this night in Ukraine, carolers traditionally went from house to house playing pranks or acting out a small play, with a bachelor dressed in women’s clothing leading the troop.
In Ukraine the tradition varies between villages and regions but a common theme is that it features a masquerade play. In the evening before the Malanka night, young men put on all kinds of costumes, some of them weird and bizarre — Devils, Warriors, Police, Witches, Old Women and Men, Death, Blacksmith, Jews, Gypsies, Turks, Hutsuls and representatives of other nationalities. All of these people in their disguise move from house to house performing their little plays and improvisations for those who would care to see their performance. They make very much noise, and in addition to music, they play practical jokes on people — but no one ever gets harmed in any way. Well, the celebrants try to attempt to kiss a beautiful girl, or do some mischief, but it’s all in jest.
The celebration of Malanka symbolizes the beginning of Spring being released from captivity and on her arrival bringing the flowers and greenery to life again. This tale is clearly similar to that of Persephone in Greek mythology who was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. In Latin she was known as Proserpina. The story may indicate a cultural link between ancient Greek civilization and ancient Ukraine, since Greek colonies flourished on the Black Sea coast 2,500 years ago.
Malanka caps off the festivities of the Christmas holidays, and is often the last opportunity for partying before the solemn period of Lent which precedes Easter. Today, around the world it is traditional for Ukrainian organizations and associations to celebrate Malanka with a banquet and a dance.