Spring in Carpathians or in Lemko 'Yar'

SPRING in the CARPATHIANS, otherwise known in Lemko dialect as "YAR"


   Spring in the Carpathians begins, in essence, from the time when the warm southerly winds start blowing and quickly melt the snow. Streams of muddy water flowing down from the mountains frequently ruined the upper layer of fertile soil. Peasants often had to dig through snow drifts [to remove potential jams].

   While the soil was drying out, farmers repaired wagons, plows, and harrows. According to popular custom, starting on "Fedorovitsia" (The first day of Great Lent), farmers and their wives got up an hour earlier, and the children happily began their spring games. On clear days, young maidens and single men tidied up their yards and gardens, burned dry trash and unneeded rubbish.

   Stones were collected from the fields to be placed along the property line, and mole hills were knocked down in the meadows, so they would not be not in the way during the subsequent hay-making days. The most celebrated occasion was the first day of plowing. The elder of the house-wives sprinkled holy water on the master of the house, then on oxen or horses and the plow, blessed1 all farming equipment with the smoke of blessed herbs. Then she made the sign of the cross and the master headed for the fields. There with the first furrow he would plow over a raw chicken egg. This marked the beginning of the Lemko "Yar".

   The print depicts spring plowing by oxen. They were used not only to plow the soil, consisting mostly of clay and stones, but also to haul construction material, firewood from the surrounding forest to heat the living quarters, and farm products to the nearby mountain towns.

   Oxen were harnessed to the wagon or a plow, the farmer using ropes, steered them while shouting "heyanha, k sobee (stay together), hauv (stop)".

   The Lemko farmer spent a lot of time looking after his working animals, because the family’s well being largely depended on it. The larger households, in addition to oxen, also kept horses. The majority of farmers preferred to own strong and dependable oxen.

   Every farmer worked his fields independently of others, since methods of cooperative farming (sharing of farm equipment and working animals) were not practiced in Lemkivshchyna. Lemkos were suspicious of the more progressive forms of working the land or utilizing more modern equipment, which were being used by wealthier farmers who had returned from overseas.

   Traditions of their grandparents were hard to shake off.

   A couple of oxen were held for two-three years, nourished only to be sold for meat, and then replaced with a pair of younger ones. Most Lemkos decorated the yokes for oxen with ornamental carvings.


   1 Reference is being made to a form of blessing with the incense (of blessed herbs). It is similar to blessing done by priests of the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. Incense burning is also practiced by the Buddhists as an act of purification.

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Copyright © 1997 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Tuesday, June 17, 1997
Most recent revision Wednesday, January 14, 1998