Kuban Cossacks at the Christmas tree
The Kuban and the North Caucasus in the 19th century were still a wild land, dangerous and uninhabited. The Cossack villages resembled rather earthen fortifications, bristling with watchtowers, on which a guard was on duty day and night. Pickets were set up around the villages. And in secret places there were secrets with two or three proven Cossacks, who were able to continuously monitor their site for a long time in the cold and heat. Strictly by the hour, according to the charter, Cossack patrols went on patrol.
Despite the fact that during the winter the hostilities in the North Caucasus usually subsided somewhat for objective weather reasons, one could not expect calm holidays. Therefore, the Cossacks of the cordon line and the nearest villages kept watch, and for good reason.
So, on December 26, 1825, in the area of the Catherine’s post on the Kuban River, a Circassian detachment of two hundred soldiers attempted a breakthrough. The enemy was discovered in time by the Cossacks. A fleeting battle ensued, as a result of which the highlanders retreated, having lost four soldiers killed.
On January 4, 1826, the highlanders already attacked the Cossack village of Novo-Ekaterininskoe directly. At the same time, the enemy detachment numbered up to 4 thousand people. However, such a large movement of enemy forces was discovered long before his approach to the borders of the village. The Cossack detachment met with massive rifle and artillery fire. In fact, the enemy was ambushed, therefore, breaking up into groups, he quickly retreated so as not to lose the entire detachment killed.
On December 27, 1832, a heated battle had to be taken by the picket of the sergeant Sura, under whose command only 14 Cossacks were. The term “picket” concealed the smallest fortification of the cordon line, surrounded by a fence with an earthen embankment and a small ditch. On that day, a mountain foot detachment of 300 soldiers approached the Kuban. Only a modest picket stood in the way of the detachment, but the fortification turned out to be unusually “toothy”. For three hours the sergeant and the Cossacks defended their position. And, it is true, the brave fighters would have been killed if help had not rushed from the neighboring post, which finally scattered the enemy across the Trans-Kuban.
On January 7, 1855, a military detachment of highlanders, numbering 1000 soldiers, appeared near Yekaterinodar. The mountaineers chose not the fortified city as their goal, but the village of Pashkovskaya, which is southeast of the capital of the Kuban. At that time, Pashkovskaya, although it was a large village, like other villages, except for a small ditch, an earthen rampart and watchtowers, did not have any other defensive structures. All artillery consisted of one gun.
Instantly played the alarm. All the men capable of holding weapons came running to the rampart. The resilience of the defenders made the Highlanders get bogged down in battle. Finally, the enemy began to retreat, hoping to re-form and again rush to the assault. Fortunately, in Yekaterinodar they already knew about the attack on the village, and after a while a cavalry detachment led by the general and chieftain of the Black Sea Cossack army Grigory Ivanovich Phillipson arrived at Pashkovskaya. The Cossacks scattered the enemy detachment and began to pursue the enemy.
War by war, and Christmas on the calendar
Despite the almost blockade position of most of the Cossack villages, the holidays were celebrated with solemn rituals and according to certain rules. Moreover, despite the reforms of Peter the Great, who instilled the celebration of the New Year from December 31 to January 1, the Cossacks, distinguished by their patriarchal way of life, stubbornly continued to celebrate Christmas according to the old tradition, weaving the New Year at the same time into Christmas time, but on a different basis.
And here it is easy to get confused, because until 1918 the whole state lived according to the Julian calendar, according to which Christmas fell on December 25, followed by the New Year, and Epiphany, in fact, coincided with modern Christmas.
Filippov’s fast lasted until Christmas, i.e. Christmas. Therefore, there were no stormy feasts on the evening before Christmas. The main ritual at this time was the supper, i.e. dinner, starting with kutya and other lean dishes. It was also customary to wear kutya and pies for relatives and friends. Usually the guests were either children or young families. Of course, it could not do without a share of purely Slavic customs. For example, Moroz was “called” for dinner, or they put appliances on dead ancestors.
On the morning of Christmas, many villagers rushed to church. And the so-called Christos were already walking in the streets. It could be children, youth, and even adult Cossacks. The company of Christos wore a mock-up of a star and sang ritual songs praising the Savior.
And already on Christmas evening, a caroling ceremony was performed. It was attended by children and women. Carollers, like the Christians, sang ritual songs, but their songs were not only religious in nature. Carol songs could call for a bountiful harvest, a happy marriage, or the birth of a child. Caroling accompanied the whole Christmas cycle. Carols were performed at Christmas, New Years or Epiphany.
But the New Year, the celebration of which was somewhat “official” in nature at first, was easily woven into the religious calendar. So, the evening on the eve of the New Year was called “Generous” after the name of Saint Melania the Roman woman, who received the name Generous for this character trait. The very first day of the New Year was called “Vasiliev” day in honor of St. Basil the Great. According to tradition, the young couple was dressed as Melanya and Vasily. In the company of women and girls, “Melanya” and “Vasily” walked around the courtyards to the accompaniment of special songs – “generosity”, for which the owners of the courtyards presented the generous people with a piglet, sausage or pies. At the end of the festivities, the generos had a feast.
Much more hooligan was the ritual of driving either a real goat or a Cossack dressed in it. Walking from one yard to another, such companies scolded the owners in every possible way, accused them of greed, threatened to break the fence or take out the gate. The owners were forced to let the “goat” into the house. And then the real performance began, which ended with the fall of the “goat” at the feet of the owners in order to beg for gifts.
Even more hooligan antics followed amusing New Year’s “outrages”, which at the same time had an important social function. So, noisy companies of young Cossacks on holidays had every right, for example, to remove the gates from the neighboring house and carry them to the other end of the village. This was not done with every yard. Such “jokes” were brought up only in houses where a walking girl or a careless Cossack lived.
And, of course, don’t forget the sowing ritual. On the morning of the New Year, boys, youths and even men rushed to visit with a bag of seeds. They were supposed to be the first guests in the new year, which, according to legends, promised good luck to the owners. And here the important point is that women could not participate in sowing, since the appearance on the doorstep of a young lady in the New Year was considered a bad sign. Naturally, the owners’ gratitude followed. At the same time, the “sowing” songs of the Terek, Kuban and Don Cossacks were fundamentally different from each other. However, the above-mentioned “generosity” in their content was also extremely different among the Cossacks of the Kuban and Terek.
By Christmas, meat was traditionally already prepared: wild boar, lamb, turkey, etc. The assortment of dishes was impressive: sausages, jellied meat, wild garlic for fast days, large pies and everyone’s favorite pies. The fillings of the latter were themselves a whole menu. The pies were stuffed with beans and peas, potatoes and cabbage, plum and cherry plum, cherry and apple jam, even sour dogwood was used. And as a drink, the Cossack women cooked uzvar.
A special cult place was occupied by kutia. It was prepared from wheat, barley and even corn, adding raisins to this, in fact, porridge. The finished dish was seasoned with sweet viscous honey. The ritualism of the dish was emphasized by the fact that the kutyu was immediately transferred from the oven to the “red corner”, ie to the icons. But not only kutia had a sacred meaning. A special bread was prepared for Christmas together with the kutya. These were the “folds of the Savior” (bread in the shape of an envelope) or “sacrestia” (loaves with the image of a cross).
At the same time, although the Cossacks of various troops had festive dishes for Christmas time, although they had common features, they also had certain differences. So, for example, among the Cossacks of the Tersky and Grebensky Cossack troops, a special recipe for a festive Cossack goose was distributed. At the same time, they began to prepare the goose for Christmas with the first snow that fell. It was believed that by this time the animals had grown up a sufficient amount of fat. A fresh goose carcass was plucked, boiled in 5-6 liters of water with 500 grams of salt over low heat for an hour and a half. After that, the goose is dried and then smoked. Such meat could be stored for about two, and sometimes three weeks. By the end of Filippov’s Lent, i.e. at Christmas, you could break the fast with this meal.
Thus, on the Christmas holidays, the principle of the Kuban feast was fully realized. The table of the owner of the house, according to legends, should have been covered with such a number of dishes that the owner himself was not visible behind them. Sometimes it came to funny moments. So, if the treat was not of the proper height, the owner of the house sat down at the lowest bench to hide from sight.
In addition, Christmas dishes were obliged to feed not only household members, but also numerous guests, among whom might even be not very close people. Feeding a lonely Cossack veteran or needy was also a tradition on holidays. And by the end of the 19th century, the Cossacks even created charitable foundations for their poor compatriots, so even poor Cossacks could count on a festive meal.
Alas, most of these colorful traditions have sunk into oblivion in the tumultuous times of the Civil War. And some just became dangerous. Thus, for example, fistfights timed to coincide with the holidays in the land, where the winds of the revolution divided the people, became deadly. On one side, the Red Army Cossacks stood up, and on the other side the former Cossacks of the Volunteer Army could be. The veterans of the Civil War fought desperately. Therefore, the traditions that could bind society from now on did not work, remaining in the memory only as a historical heritage.