Regarding most holidays, the New Year's Eve has always been a ritual, having an ancient origin. Nowadays, comparing the traditions that have come down to us with some rites of the ancients, you can be amazed at unexpected parallels and understanding of the hidden meanings of New Year's customs.
Our ancestors - the Slavs, lived in a vast area from the Black Sea to the taiga forests. Despite the fact that there were many tribes, the pagan rituals were almost similar. The place where the Slavs have come from and brought their customs still remains a mystery to historians. It is a remarkable fact the legends say that our ancestors are from the great Northern country, where there is nothing but snow and ice. In the distant past the wise people lived there. According to the legends they could fly, and their country was called the Hyperborea.
The Eastern Sages - the keepers of the customs of the Slavs, carried away many secrets into non-existence. Only a few scraps of Slavic traditions have come down to us. Resembling some sparks in the dark, nowadays they reveal just the bits of history for us.
Researching the life of the Slavs, we can distinguish two events that are reminiscent of the New Year’s Eve. Both of them depended on the astronomical position of the sun:
• Kolyada - Sun-baby, just born on the day of the Winter Solstice (December 21);
• Yarilo - Sun-boy, gaining strength on the day of the Vernal Equinox (March 21).
The Winter New Year (Kolyada) was celebrated by the Slavs in December, when, after the longest night of the year, a new day was born. The Slavs believed that this magical and mysterious time the old sun-shining Svetovit was dying to be reborn by the sun-baby Kolyada. It was the time when pagan rituals were performed: Volos days (the end of December). Slavs believed that the wise Volos gave them the "Calendar" ("Cola Dar"), i.e. Kolyada is a holiday of the astrological calendar of the Slavs. That time they worshiped the god Volos, bringing them many gifts.
Kolyada meeting (late December - early January) as one of the most well-known feasts was accompanied by fires, dancing and songs by mummers - carols. The Living Fire burning, for which in the woods a slender tree (Svarog's Wheel) was chosen, was ritually lit and worn on a long pole throughout the village. And a New Living Fire from it was lit in each hut. That time, it was an old tradition to guess about the future, to call upon the spirits of the ancestors.
Another old organ tradition - the Father Frost's Day (Korochun) is considered to be the shortest day. Slavs Father Frost was severe and terrible. He was called both Treskun, and Studenets. To pacify the terrible spirit, he was put on the window with some traditional Slavic food like kutya, pancakes and jelly.
You may have heard about the magic number 12. This sacred number was used in many New Year's rituals: the Kolyada ritual was performed by 12 Eastern Sages, and the harvest was predicted by 12 sheaves about the future. For 12 days, the sacred Living Fire of Kolyada was to burn, the water for divination was taken from 12 sources. Kolyada was also celebrated for 12 days.
But every winter has its end and there is a time to meet renewal period of the year.
The spring New Year (Komoditsa) Slavs-sun worshipers were celebrating in March, when the Earth began to awaken and the Sun-Yarilo gained the strength. Those days, there were some traditions that were observed and the most important is the remembrance of ancestors, which has been held 2-3 weeks before the Slavonic spring New Year.
Outlining some of Shrovetide ceremonies, that nowadays are also an integral part of our holidays celebrating, were once called Komoditsa. In the morning of the "turning day" the Slavs went out to greet the Sun-Yarilo. Talking about dishes cooking, various pancakes, thin round cakes were baked, resembling the Sun in their form. People sang and danced at the sounds of horns, rattle and tambourines.
There also was a very important tradition of honoring the Bear. The Slavs believed that the god Volos was a major Slavic God of earth, waters, forests and the underworld. His attributes were wet, wooly, hairy (bearded), dark and he was associated with cattle, the harvest, wealth, music, magic and trickery. He was also considered not only a patron of livestock, but also a sage, often taking the shape of a Bear and in this form it was shown to people. A Bear brought some gifts - the first baked pancakes, which belonged to the forest. Hence the ancient proverb appeared: "The first pancake is lumpy", i.e. the first pancake was given to the Komoditsa. It was also regarded to be a customary to get dressed as Bear, putting on an upturned fur coat.
The ornamentation of a tree, often of a cherry tree, was surrounded by dances, which circles symbolized the sun that was always a special ritual praise of the gods: Volos, Mokosh and Svarog.
One more peculiar feature of old pagan traditions was the burning of fires and the burning of the effigy of Marena, personifying the Winter.
One of the old pagan traditions that has still preserved till nowadays is the decoration of dwellings by fir branches. Fir has always been considered the Tree of the Universe. The pointed top is the primary point of the World, from which the branches diverge. The narrow, above symbolized the spiritual principle, and the large, loose, lower branches are the material world.
It is true that many pagan Slavic traditions have left irrevocable, but some of them, having evolved with time, are still continuing to be observed to present time.