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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Ukrainian Carolling

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In Alberta's early Ukrainian settlements, carolling was one of the most important events that occurred during the Christmas season.

According to historian Radomir Bilash, from New Year's to Epiphany, groups of carollers would travel from farm to farm singing in exchange for donations to the church or some other community charity.

In the 1920s, this was especially necessary for the churches that were developing throughout the countryside. Probably half of the income that was necessary to keep these churches going came from carolling.

In the earliest years of Alberta's Ukrainian settlements, only men went carolling.

The people who did the carollers at first were often what were known as the elders of the church, people who had a role in the services, people who had a role in the administration of the parish. And they would be the ones, only the men, because that was men's work. Women were only involved in educating the children in catechism and cleaning the church building when it was necessary, but all other roles in the church in those years in the 1920s were carried out by the men. Even women's societies amongst the churches were not all that popular until the late 1930s and onwards.

Carolling was fun, but not an easy task for the men who had to leave their farm chores behind. As Radomir Bilash explains, there was considerable distance to cover between the homesteads in a parish.

You had to travel by horse and sleigh to the next house, and, of course, you didn't just go in, sing your carols, say your well-wishing, and leave. There was also an obliged exchange ritual. I suppose the householders should feel obliged to host you, and also allow you to warm up a bit, if it's an especially cold evening, before you went out. So, it's not as if you could necessarily sing at more than a handful of homes at a time.

The carols themselves often focused on the birth of spring, with incantations for prosperity, good health, and a successful harvest.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.