The Four Most Important Celebrations of Ancient Russia

Ancient Russians connected their sun calendar to different astronomical phenomena, such as the solstices “солнцестояние” or the equinoxes “равноденствие”. All of these natural phenomena were very important for Russian culture and for this reason there were several main celebrations associated with them in ancient Russia. The four the most important ones were– Kolyada “Коляда”, Yarilo “Ярило” (Яро, Yaro), Kupala “Купала” (“Красная гора”, Krasnaya gora) and Svetovit “Световит” (“Овсень” Ovsen). The solstice in ancient Russia was called Den' Solncevorota “День солнцеворота”, which meant that the sun’s rotation increased: “прибыль” or decreased: “убыль” during the day.

It was considered that the Sun God took different shapes:

  1. First phase of the Sun – Сhild
    Kolyada “Коляда” – this is the birth of the Sun after the night of the winter solstice.
  2. Second phase of the Sun – Young man
    Yarilo “Ярило” – During the spring equinox.
  3. Third phase of the Sun – Man
    Kupala “Купала” – When the Sun is at its most powerful.
  4. Fourth phase of the Sun – Old man
    Svetovit “Световит” – The Sun during the time of the autumn equinox, when it gradually dies away and represents the death of the Sun during the night of the winter solstice.

Let’s examine these four great celebrations even closer:


Kolyada “Коляда” (коло+да - the start of the cycle or the birth of the Sun), celebrated during the winter solstice, the 21st of December. This is the longest night, after which starts the day of the Gods, (Dyen Bogov “День Богов”) and the birth of the Sun. The sun’s still very weak, like a child, and rises above the horizon just for a little while. Therefore, this day in ancient Russia is always celebrated as the birthday of Sun (Zimnye Svyatki “Зимние Святки”) and devoted it to the “Light of Gods” (Bozhestveniy Svyet “Божественный Свет”). People believed that on this day their dead ancestors would visit them.


Yarilo Ярило (Яр – fertility), the origin of new life. This takes place during the spring equinox, the 21st of March. As if entering a period of youthful vigor, days now last longer and the Sun gets stronger, melting the snow and inviting spring. On this day, the Slavs celebrated Maslenitsa “Масленица”. This day is also the day when guys and girls come together. After all, in nature, spring is the beginning of new life.


Kupala “Купала” (купа – green life or greenery) is the holiday that was celebrated on the 22nd of June, during the summer solstice. This is when the day is longest, after which comes the Night of the Gods (Noch Bogov “Ночь Богов”). On this day all the elements of nature activate and become more active, the Sun gains power becoming the all-powerful “Sun-man”. On that night all the people make crafts out of grasses that symbolize health, strong offspring, and wealth. During this celebration the blessing of the God of Fire is received, and he appears in the shape of the mountains, the sun, water, earth and trees. Cleansing ceremonies with fire and water would take place, and fires would be set. These fires would be lit from a live fire (zhivoy ogon “живой огонь”) – the spark produced from the friction of two pieces of wood. Kupala “Купала” is the celebration of wellbeing (Sohraneniye “Сохранение”).


Svetovit “Световит” (свет + вит – circle of life) was celebrated during the autumn equinox, the 22nd of September. From this date, nights become longer. The Sun grows old, losing its former power and gradually dies. There is a belief that this celebration was in honor of “Dawn of the Beautiful Maiden” (Zarya Krasnaya Dyevitsa “Заря Красная Девица”), which is Mother Dawn of the Sun (Matyer-zarya Solntsa “Матерь-заря Солнца”). Also this is the celebration of the harvest and the New Anniversary (Novoletiye “Новолетие”). Slavic people glorified the Sun, which they believed gave them power for their harvest. People lit fires, formed circles to dance together (vodit horovodiy “водить хороводы”) and read the future. On this day people relit their fires once the old ones would die down.