Traditional Games in Ukraine

Instructor: Lauren Coleman

Lauren has a B.A in English, Secondary Education, and a Masters' Certification in English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL). She has two teaching degrees and has taught K-12th grade. She also wrote content for Shmoop.com.

Traditional games have existed in Ukraine for centuries and have survived until modern times. Learn about the activities, festivals, and games unique to this country and people.

No matter where someone lives in the world, or what time period, there are some games that have existed for what seems like forever. Take a trip to any modern park or beach, and instantly a visitor will see examples of favorite pastimes: children's games like tag or hide-and-seek or games involving props like volleyball or Frisbee. These games aren't truly anything new: they grew from centuries of traditional games that spread from all different countries.

Zoom back in history just a little bit, and period-appropriate games like chasing a wooden hoop with a stick, playing with cards, lawn games like croquet, or using stilts were immensely popular. Games, in most countries throughout history, were so much fun because of how accessible they were to everyone. No wealth was needed to create a fun activity for all ages, and this was particularly important in a turbulent, economically-uncertain country like Ukraine.

There are few countries with a history quite like the one Ukraine possesses. For many years, this beautiful southern European country has been frozen in diplomatic limbo; caught in a political game between larger or wealthier countries all dying to claim it for themselves. For many years, anything traditionally or ethnically Ukrainian, including the language, was frowned upon by the occupying power (Russia, Poland, Austria, and so on). Innocent activities like games, however, often survived such turmoil.

Festivals and Fun

Throughout much of Ukraine's history, village festivals were huge causes for celebration. These uplifting occasions gave villagers a chance to take a break from work and enjoy the day with their neighbors. Singing, dancing, and games were major aspects of these gatherings.

Some games were fortune-telling in nature, because who doesn't secretly love a good prediction of love and happiness? The idea of predicting what may happen in the future was immensely popular--and probably met with some trepidation-- in Ukrainian cultural history. The Ivana Kupala celebration has taken place in Ukraine every year on July 7th and involves a lot of fortune-telling disguised as fun games. The festival is a summer solstice-based celebration that has roots in fertility and life, and some of the games strongly honor that.

The young women in a village gather together flowers and create small bouquets. Each girl places her bouquet by the edge of a river or other large body of water. If the flowers float, she will marry. If the flowers sink or float right back to her, she will not. They will also hunt for ferns that have started to bloom, and the first person to find one is believed to experience great wealth in their lifetime.

Some of Ukraine's traditional games involve risk and bravado. One part of the July 7th festivities include fire-jumping, which is as dangerous as it sounds. A bonfire is set up in a safe place in the village, and young people take turns hurling themselves over the roaring flames to try and safely get to the other side. Young couples pair up and hold hands before making the jump, and if they cross safely with their hands still clasped, then they will remain a couple.

Ukrainian folk dancing is incredibly popular at festivals and installs a sense of pride.

Ukranian Festival

The Kids Have All the Fun

Like other countries in a bygone era, most Ukrainian children spent their time using their imaginations to create games and activities. Money was quite scarce in many rural villages, so children quickly learned to make their own fun whenever they could.

One game, called 'Blind Cat,' is quite similar to Blindman's bluff-style games played in much of the world. Between five and ten players are generally required. One player is chosen to be the cat and is blindfolded. The cat has to wander around until it finds the player that was preselected to be the mouse. A similar blindfolded game is known by many Ukrainians as 'Old Woman Kutsia,' which is reminiscent of a modern-day game of Marco Polo. A player is blindfolded (or simply closes his or her eyes), and is spun around briefly in a circle. That blindfolded player then must try to catch the nearest player possible while everyone else makes a ton of noise by clapping their hands and being otherwise as distracting as possible.

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