Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

BelarusDigest

Last week, Belarusians celebrated Radaunitsa, a day dedicated to visiting the graves of ones relatives and ancestors in order to commemorate the dead.

Radaunitsa originated in pagan traditions but over time was incorporated into the religious celebrations of the Orthodox Church. It takes place a week after Easter, usually on a Tuesday, and is a state holiday in Belarus.

Belarusians usually start the day by attending a church service, and then proceed to the graves of their kin. In some parts of Belarus, Radaunitsa tradition includes eating a meal at the cemetery and leaving some food for the dead. The essence of the ritual is to bring the whole family together both the dead and the living.

Oddly, the name Radaunitsa can be interpreted as the Day of Rejoicing. Indeed, the feast that begins at the cemetery is often continued at home, in a more cheerful form, with singing, dancing, and games. Being merry in the presence of death signifies overcoming the fear of death and celebrating life. The Orthodox Church does not approve of this practice, however, as it is believed that the dead need to be remembered through prayers and good deeds rather than food and alcohol.

Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

Radaunitsa celebrations in a forest cemetery near the village of Mamai, Vilejka district.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

Radaunitsa is an important day for all Belarusians, providing an occasion for city dwellers to interact with country folk.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

The cemetery gets a makeover ahead of the festival. Fences are painted and flowers are planted.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

On Radaunitsa, people leave candy, dyed Easter eggs, and sometimes even shots of vodka on the graves of their relatives.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

One of the main Radaunitsa rituals is prayer. Mamai village does not have its own church, so the service takes place in a chapel.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

Because Radaunitsa evolved over time from a pagan into an Orthodox Christian festival, people who visit the cemetery also light candles and pray.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

The priest blesses the graves with holy water and offers supplications for the dead.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

People clean the graves of their forefathers and have them blessed by the local priest.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

A young family comes to visit the graves of their relatives in Maladzeczna.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

A woman visits the grave of her parents at an old cemetery in Maladzeczna.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

A family enjoys a snack at the grave of its relatives. Traditional foods such as kutya (a sweet grain pudding) and kulich (sweet Easter bread) are a staple of such picnics.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

A man opens a bottle of vodka next to the graves of his relatives.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

A family and a local priest recite a prayer at Maladzeczna cemetery.


Belarusians visit the dead on Radaunitsa

A large family talking at the graves of their relatives at Maladzeczna cemetery.


About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.