April 21 Orthodox Belarusians celebrate Radunitsa, the day of commemoration of the departed. The day is celebrated on the second Tuesday (the ninth day) of Easter.
Radunitsa is an ancient holiday. It is really difficult to trace the origin of the name. Some scientists say that the name refers to the Slavonic word “rod” (family), the mythical god Rada. The Orthodox Church says that the name comes from the word “radost” (joy). The Slavs had a tradition of visiting their family members’ graves and feasting together with them. The Christian belief lies behind this joy is the remembrance of Jesus’ Resurrection and the joy and hope it brings to all.
Before this day people put graves of their family members in order. In some areas of Belarus a grave cross is decorated with a white wreath where a girl is buried, a white apron where a woman is buried, a ruchnik where a boy or a man is buried.
A commemoration meal is one more ancient pagan tradition. The idea of it is to gather all family members together – living and departed. The meal is taken at the cemetery since for our ancestors it was a ritual place to meet representatives of the eternity world. A family used to take a white linen tablecloth, pancakes, Easter eggs, salt and strong drink. They put food into a basket and covered it with a white towel. Preparations were slow and ceremonial.
Before a ceremonial meal it was common to place on a grave an Easter egg, a cookie, a sweet, a piece of sausage, a glass of alcohol with a piece of bread on it. Artificial flowers are also common. The number of treats and flowers was odd since in funeral rites an odd number is a symbol of solitude. After that a hostess took an Easter egg and run a symbolic cross over a grave. Then an egg was unshelled, cut into pieces for every member of the family taking part in the ceremonial meal. The essential part of the meal was lamentation. At the same time it was not allowed to lament about a first deceased baby and after the sunset. When the meal was over the rest of the food was crumbled over a grave.
In the afternoon celebrations continued at the table. It was the way to see Easter off.