If January feels like a dark, boring month, my guess is you don’t go to Malanka.
If you do, you’re ready to party.
Tonight (January 13) is New Year’s Eve according to the Julian calendar with Malanka being the feast and dance to celebrate that also caps off Christmas celebrations.
Thousands of Manitobans of Ukrainian origin, and their non-Ukrainian friends and neighbours too, head out to enjoy Malanka this month.
Dean Wasylowski, radio host on CKJS 810’s popular Zabava program, guesses anywhere from 20 to 30 are held each January around Manitoba.
Winnipeg has several and Dauphin has a very impressive Malanka. But Malanka is a cultural specialty of small-town life too. To name just a few, Fisher Branch and Arborg, Pansy and Rossburn, Komarno and Fraserwood all host Malanka this month. They’re happening wherever local dance clubs are alive and kicking.
Winnipegosis’ and Fork River’s clubs take turns hosting Malanka. This weekend Winnipegosis Elks Hall will be filled to capacity courtesy of their community’s Sopilka Dancers. Next year the Dniepro Dancers at nearby Fork River will be hosts and hostesses of the party. Many communities still observe the old traditions. These might include parading the most recently born baby through the crowd, and forming a circle on the dance floor near midnight to sing in Ukrainian Christmas carols, or dance the Kolomeyka.
In Winnipegosis they’ve made special effort to talk to the children at Malanka about what these celebrations mean, says Michelle Quennelle, a past president of their dance club.
Out their way in Angusville, Nydia Kostiuk says there are recollections of people bringing dressed-up horses and goats to Malanka, these animals symbolizing strength, wealth, well-being and promise of good harvests.
Malanka is a somewhat pared-down occasion in some parts today. They even stopped hosting one for a while, when they couldn’t muster enough volunteers to organize it, says Darcy Rystephanuk in Sandy Lake, whose daughters dance in the community’s Shevchenko Dance Ensemble. Today their dance troupe carries on the tradition. In 2011 Vita is also reviving their Malanka after a break.
Malanka celebrations go on somewhere every weekend this month, with dates often staggered among nearby communities so as not to divide the Malanka-going circuit.
Dance that makes aerobics pale by comparison, and music – polkas, two-steps, the butterfly – distinguish Malanka from your run-of-the-mill social. So does the food. “Tons and tons and tons” of it is what’s traditional, say Malankagoers. At sit-down suppers it’s a lavish feast that will include things like perogies, cabbage rolls and perishke, a wheat dish called kutia, and head cheese alongside other meat and fish dishes.
Some places are going a bit lighter on the food these d a y s. T h e y ’re doing a lunch instead of a sit-down supper for a second year this January, says Mona Buchkowski in Komarno. But it will still be a big spread – sausage and sauerkraut, garlic bread, coleslaw and pickles, perogies and ham.
You can joyously eat this way when you’re two-stepping into the wee hours of the morning.
Ukrainians represent one of the two largest ethnic groups in Manitoba, with well over 79,000 people claiming Ukrainian origin, and more than 32,000 claiming Ukrainian as their mother tongue. Naturally, the wonderful foods of Ukraine are popular and now enjoyed widely among Manitobans of all ethnic origins. The popular dishes of Ukraine were developed over centuries in a wheat-growing society and within a culture well adapted to long winters. If you’re looking for something special to enjoy on a cold January night, take a look through community cookbooks which often carry a recipe that reflects Ukrainian-style eating.