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The Belarusian rite of the Kalyady Tsars (Christmas Tsars), a folk tradition inscribed on UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2009
To witness the rite of the Kalyady Tsars, you should head to the village of Semezhava in the Kopyl district on 13 January. The eve of the "Old New year" is commonly referred to as "Shchodryk", and different traditions in the regions of Belarus accompany its celebration: "Koniki" in Davyd-Haradok, Tsiareshka's Wedding, Batleyka (Belarusian amateur puppet theatre), caroling with Kaza (goat), fortune-telling.
The rite dates back to the 18th century, when the tsar’s troops were stationed in Semezhava. On winter evenings, the soldiers would dress up in costume, walk around the village and put on a comic performance - in return, the villagers would give them a treat.
The residents of Semezhava have not only kept the rite of the Kalyady Tsars alive, but have developed it into a merry folk performance. As before, participants dress up in white shirts and trousers, with red embroidered Semezhava belts crisscrossed on their chests, and tall hats adorned with colourful paper ribbons on their heads. The main characters are Tsars Maximilian and Mamay, a Doctor, a Drummer, a Sack Carrier, and the Dzed (old man) and Baba (old lady). The performance lasts about 15 minutes: during that time, participants manage to share medicine secrets with the hosts, have a fight with them and collect treats in a large sack by using requests and threats.
In Semezhava, people believe that there will be peace and prosperity all year long in all the households visited by the Kalyady Tsars.
In 2009, the rite was inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. And the red embroidered Semezhava belts, which adorn the Kalyady Tsars and have become a hallmark of the Kopyl district, could well be added to the list of geographical indications of the Republic of Belarus.