Radunitsa (Ancestor Veneration Day) Date in the current year: May 14, 2024

Radunitsa (Ancestor Veneration Day) Radunitsa, also spelled Radunica, Radonitsa, or Radonica, is an ancient ancestor veneration holiday celebrated by the East Slavs. It falls on the second Tuesday (or, in some places, Monday) after Orthodox Easter. In Belarus, Radunitsa is a public holiday and a non-working day.

The ancient Slavs used to visit graves of the deceased family members in spring. After the Christianization of Kievan Rus, this tradition transformed into the Orthodox Christian festival named Radunitsa. The name of the festival is derived from the word “radost”, which means “joy” in Russian, and can be translated as “the Day of Rejoicing”. According to another version, the word “Radunitsa” is related to the word “rod”, meaning “kin” or “family”.

It may seem strange that a memorial day for the departed is called joyful. However, there is no contradiction. The Christian belief that lies behind this holiday is the remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus and the hope and joy brought by it. The main tradition of Radunitsa is to inform one’s deceased relatives that Christ has risen.

On this day, people visit the graves of their deceased relatives and clean them up (scrub the headstones, sweep the dry leaves, get rid of weeds). Once the grave is nice and clean, they have a picnic right there, symbolically sharing a festive meal with the departed.

Traditional foods consumed on the occasion include kutia (sweet grain pudding served as part of a funeral feast), kulich (a type of Easter bread), draniki (potato pancakes), and painted Easter eggs. Traditionally, the number of the dishes should be uneven, and all dishes should be dry (i.e. no soup or gravy). The paschal foods should be consumed with joy rather than sorrow. During the meal, people recall all the good things about their deceased relatives and tell younger family members various stories about them.

If there’s food left after the meal, it’s forbidden to take it home. The food should either be left on the grave or given to the poor. Many people leave Easter eggs, cookies, sweets, and candles on the graves of the deceased. When placing an Easter egg on the grave, one should utter the traditional Easter greeting: “Christ is risen!” In some regions, it is customary to give Easter eggs and other gifts to one’s in-laws (“God-given” family members), so that joy may be in every house.

In the folk tradition, Radunitsa also used to mark the beginning of the marriage season. Since it’s forbidden to get married during the forty-day-long Great Lent as well as during Bright Week (the week following Easter), with Radunitsa came time for weddings. Of course, now that civil marriage is more common, the holiday is not so closely associated with weddings anymore.

Interestingly, Belarus has two festivals dedicated to commemorating the dead. The first is Radunitsa and the second is Dziady, celebrated on November 2. Actually, many of the customs associated with Radunitsa were originally associated with Dziady and have their roots in pagan rituals. However, only Radunitsa is an official public holiday in Belarus, while Dziady is observed unofficially by many people.

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Religious Holidays, Folk Festivals



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