March 01, 2007

Mother's Milk

In the village, my neighbors are marking the holiday of Saint George the Victorious, signaling the beginning of the growing season. Saint George, as pictured on Russian icons and Tsarist coins, astride a mighty stallion, conquering the “snake” of paganism, is revered in Russia for tirelessly professing the Christian faith. The saint, known more simply as “Yegorye” to Russian peasants, is closely associated with rural life. “George” comes from the Greek word for farmer, and the two holidays for the saint – celebrated April 23 and November 26 – mark the beginning and the end of the growing season.

Many traditions in Chukhrai are associated with the vernal Yegorye. The villagers begin to plow their fields and sow seeds after Yegorye. If there is frost on Yegorye, it is said that oats and millet will grow well that year. If it rains on Yegorye, it will be a good year for cattle. The dew that falls on this day is thought to have healing powers. The villagers take clean tablecloths and soak them in the dew, then rub them over their cattle and newly born calves.

Kalinyonok’s bitch gives birth to a single puppy. He carries it on his arm from the other end of the village and asks me, “You want it?”

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