Ukrainian superstitions guide to a successful new year

The new year is almost here.

And if you believe in the magic of repeating numbers, 2020 is going to be a good one.

And if you don’t, 2020 is still going to be a good one.

At the start of this year, I put up the post “Why I glare at you when you whistle indoors: A guide to Ukrainian superstitions.” And it’s time for round two.

Lots of you commented on the post and on Facebook with your own superstitions that you grew up with and/or still practise today. In that first post, I stuck to folk beliefs I had direct stories of from my year in Ukraine, but as we prepare for this upcoming new year, I’d like to share some of your superstitions.

Before we get to this crowdsourced guide put together using some of your comments, I’d like to say thanks so much to everyone who read, commented on, and shared the first superstition article. I really enjoyed reading through everyone’s comments.

I have an idea for a bigger project related to Ukrainian folk beliefs, and I’d love to hear more about your experiences with superstitions. Whether you commented on the last post (or Facebook post) or not, please reach out to me to share your story!

Superstitions affect people in many ways, and I want to hear all sides of these experiences — happy and sad, entertaining and healing. My hope is that this project gives people an understanding of those who passed on these beliefs to them. Does a story come to mind for you? Have superstitions in some way shaped your life? Has learning about superstitions helped you understand your upbringing? If you have a story to share, send me an email through my contact page, and I’ll get back to you.

One of my first exposures to Ukrainian superstitions while actually in Ukraine was when I visited  Mamayeva Sloboda , an open-air museum in Kyiv, in 2017. One of the guides told us to hug our stove for good luck.

One of my first exposures to Ukrainian superstitions while actually in Ukraine was when I visited Mamayeva Sloboda, an open-air museum in Kyiv, in 2017. One of the guides told us to hug our stove for good luck.

Your crowdsourced guide to Ukrainian superstitions

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does include some that kept popping up, plus a few other standouts.

1) On New Year’s Day, add coins to a sink of water, then use this water to wash your face. This will bring you good fortune. (This is one my Baba taught me — completely forgot to include it on the last post!)

2) Carry silver in your pockets on New Year’s Eve. You’ll have money throughout the year. —Cynthia

3) Do not put up a new calendar before January 1. If you do, you’ll have bad luck all year. —Anna

4) On New Year’s Day, the first person to enter a house must be male, otherwise you’ll have a year of bad luck. —Helene

Many people commented with their superstitions of why not to whistle indoors. When I was Ukraine, I was warned not to whistle indoors because it would make me poor. Below are some variations.

5) Do not whistle indoors because …

  • the Virgin Mary will cry. —Ann

  • you will call on evil spirits. —M

  • you will wake the devil. —Darscilla, Francesca, Maria, Christine, Diane, Mary

  • you will wake up the dead. —Sherry

  • your spouse will go deaf. —Luba

Also, some people say they follow the “no whistling indoors” superstition only while in rooms with icons (because it mocks saints and angels), while others say they follow it at all times.

6) Don’t leave cut hair outside, because if a bird picks it up to use in its nest, you will get a headache every time the bird sits in the nest. —M, Nadia, Ivanna

7) If you see a bird fly into a window and die, it means someone you know died at that same moment. —M, Cynthia

8) Never give a knife as a gift as it will sever your relationship with that person. If you do give this as a gift, the recipient must give you a small payment. —Nina

9) Do not give a watch as a gift to someone you love. If you do, the watch will count down the time to the end of the relationship. Note: This does not apply to married couples. —Olha

10) Do not hand something over a threshold or shake hands over a threshold. The house spirit lives in the threshold, and you don’t want to invade their space. —Oleg

11) Walk out the same door you walked in, otherwise you will get bad luck. —M, Nadia

12) If you leave your house and realize you forgot something, don’t go back for it. But if you must go back, then look in a mirror before leaving your house again, otherwise something bad will happen while you’re away. A variation on this is when you go back to get whatever you forgot, you must exit your house walking backwards. —Helene, Ivanna, M

13) Don’t put new shoes on the table. If you do, they won’t fit. —Olha

14) Never put your purse on the floor, otherwise the devil will steal it or you’ll run out of money. —Christine

15) Hold a piece of thread between your teeth when someone is sewing a button or a hole on a piece of clothing that you are wearing. If you don’t, you might go crazy, or get poked, or get your intelligence sewed up. —Marcia, Roma

16) Beware of drafts. They could paralyze you. —Roma

17) Do not sit on the ground — you must have something, like a mat or towel, under you. Otherwise you will get hemorrhoids. —Roma (While I was in Ukraine, my friends and I were warned not to sit on the cold ground as it can lead to infertility.)

18) If cutlery falls on the ground, you can expect company. —Sherry, Lydia (There are variations on what each fallen cutlery piece means, but the most common one I’ve heard is if a knife falls, it means a man is coming and if it’s a spoon, it means a woman.)

19) If you sing at the table, you will marry a crazy fool. —Sherry

And because the holiday season means there might be a few toasts involved, here’s one essential drinking tradition:

20) The first toast is to gathering. The second toast is to friends. The third toast is to love.

There we have it — round two of your superstitions guide. Of course, some of these folk beliefs are crossovers from other cultures, or tweaked to individual families, or just made up by someone who thought they heard something similar to it. But it’s still fun to look at the beliefs that have shaped us, whether or not we follow them today.

So best of luck as you prepare for the upcoming new year!

And if you have a folk belief story you’d like to share with me, please get in touch.