Spring is a time for religious festivals and remembering the dead worldwide. And the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe are no different.
Radonitsa (also spelled Radunitsa, Radunica, or Radonica) gives members of the Russian Orthodox Church an opportunity to remember and honor departed loved ones.
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Whether you’re visiting Eastern Europe in spring, or you’re just curious about holidays having to do with death in different cultures, there’s a lot to learn about Radonitsa. We’ll touch on many of the key points, and what you should know about this fascinating Orthodox holiday, below.
What is Radonitsa?
The word Radonitsa means “Day of Rejoicing.” It’s an Orthodox Christian holiday, dedicated to commemorating the departed.
Radonitsa is part of the greater Easter holiday (known as Pascha in Eastern European countries such as Russia and Belarus). In Ukraine, the Day of Rejoicing is known as Provody.
In ancient days, the Slavic people of Eastern Europe visited departed loved ones’ graves as winter turned to spring. They would bring food and drink along with them to the gravesites to enjoy a feast with their buried family members.
As Eastern Europe converted to Christianity, this practice took on new meaning and traditions. It became the festival known as Radonitsa, which originates from the Slavic word for joy: “radost.”
The joyfulness of the holiday stems from Christian beliefs about the resurrection of Christ. By commemorating departed loved ones, Orthodox Christians celebrating Radonitsa remember the joy and hope brought by Christ’s resurrection.
Where it’s celebrated
Radonitsa is primarily celebrated in Eastern European countries where Orthodox Christianity is prevalent. This includes Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
You can also observe Radonitsa celebrations and traditions in Russian, Belarus, and Ukrainian communities worldwide.
When is Radonitsa Every Year?
Radonitsa, or the Day of Rejoicing, falls on the second Tuesday after Easter every year. Here are a few of the upcoming dates for Radonitsa so you can mark your calendar:
- 2021: May 11
- 2022: May 3
- 2023: April 25
- 2024: May 14
So how do you celebrate the Day of Rejoicing? Whether you’re visiting Eastern Europe, taking part in a Radonitsa gathering, or you just want to observe the holiday on your own, here are some of the traditions you can follow.
Pray for the dead
One of the central traditions of Radonitsa is praying for the departed. Orthodox Christians offer prayers to their departed loved ones, often while visiting the deceased’s gravesites.
There are no prescribed, specific prayers assigned to the holiday of Radonitsa. But the Prayers for the Dead typically center around joining together with Christ in the afterlife. They might also speak about the joy of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Feast at the cemetery
The other central tradition associated with Radonitsa is the graveside feast. Families often prepare a spread to enjoy with the loved ones they’ve lost. They typically bring the meal to the graveyard, pray, and enjoy the feast as a way to celebrate alongside their beloved family members. It’s thought that the tradition of feasting graveside dates back to a pagan ritual known as trizna.
In ancient Belarusian villages, people often even brought tables with them to the cemeteries to place on top of their parents’ graves.
Here are some of the traditional foods you might find at a Radonitsa cemetery feast:
Painted eggs. Don’t put away your Easter egg-painting supplies just yet. Radonitsa also calls for painted eggs as part of ritual and part of the feast.
Cookies. Prepare your favorite cookies to bring with you to the graveside festivities. You might consider a traditional Russian spiced cookie called prianki. To make them, you’ll need honey, instant coffee, and plenty of spice.
Koliva. Koliva (also spelled kollyva, kollyba, or coliva) is a boiled wheat dish that’s central to Eastern Orthodox rituals. It’s used to commemorate the dead at Russian funerals, as well as on holidays like Radonitsa.
Raise a glass
Although more modern Orthodox Christians might frown upon such practices, the Day of Rejoicing has traditionally been a time of revelry.
That includes visiting bars and establishments that were closed over the past week but opened up for the occasion. Enjoying a drink (or two, or three) with friends was looked upon as acceptable and encouraged on Radonitsa.
It’s even customary, according to Belarusian tradition, to pour some honey and mead onto the gravesites of your ancestors.
Make Easter eggs
You might think of Easter eggs as a purely western tradition meant for children. But the practice of making painted eggs dates back to ancient Orthodox practices.
On Radonitsa, it’s customary to place a painted Easter egg on the gravestone of your departed loved one. The egg represents Christ’s returning from the dead, and putting the egg on the gravestone is thought to announce the occasion to departed ancestors.
You can also create as many painted easter eggs (and eat them) as you’d like.
Although Radonitsa is mostly associated with commemorating the dead, it’s also a joyous time of year to wed. According to Orthodox Church tradition, the Day of Rejoicing is one of the first dates you’re allowed to get married after the long period of Lent. In communities that celebrate Radonitsa, many families look forward to the weddings held on or around the date, as well as the cemetery traditions.
And if a newly-wed couple visits the cemetery on Radonitsa, it’s customary to bow before the gravestones of their ancestors and ask them each for their blessings.
If you were an ancient Orthodox Christian celebrating Radonitsa, and you knew a couple who were getting married, you would be sure to come prepared with a gift. But the Day of Rejoicing spirit of giving isn’t limited to wedding gifts.
On Radonitsa, it’s traditional to give small gifts of appreciation to family and friends, in celebration of the spring and Christ’s resurrection. Specifically, it’s considered good taste to give gifts to your God-given family members (in-laws) at Radonitsa.
Give to the poor
Traditionally, Orthodox Christians in Eastern Europe would leave their feast leftovers at the cemetery. The less fortunate people of the villages would then come and take the remaining food and drink.
As part of a modern-day Radonitsa celebration, it might be more practical to donate food to your local food bank or help someone in need.
Call the spring rain
Another ancient Orthodox tradition that stems from pagan rituals is the calling of the first spring rain. Beginning around Radonitsa, children in Eastern Europe would begin to sing traditional songs that asked for spring rains to fall.
Village elders that took part in this tradition have insisted that the calling of the spring rain works without fail.
If you do sing a song to evoke rain on Radonista, make sure to go outside and get as wet as possible. Doing so is thought to bring good luck.
Feed the departed
In addition to enjoying a feast at the gravesite of a loved one, you can bring the remembrance of your ancestors home. In ancient times, it was customary to leave out some food, overnight, in the dining room or on the kitchen table. Spirits who still dwelled at home or came home for a visit on Radonitsa, then, could enjoy a late-night treat. It was thought that the dead would be starving after the long winter, just like the living.
If you’re celebrating Radonitsa, you can take part in this tradition by leaving out an offering for your deceased loved ones.
Remember the dead
The central theme of Radonista is remembering and commemorating the dead. If you have your own ways of doing that—whether it’s lighting a candle, journaling about your loved ones, or looking back on photographs—those personal rituals can be part of your Radonitsa traditions.
Celebrating Radonitsa Worldwide
Although the holiday of Radonitsa is primarily associated with Eastern Europe, you can celebrate the day anywhere in the world. In North America, you can find Russian Orthodox celebrations in many churches and communities.
If you want to take part in Radonitsa traditions, look for a Russian Orthodox center or community near you. Or simply gather your family and friends together and try out some of the Radonitsa traditions listed above.
- “Day of Rejoicing.” Orthodox Church in America. www.oca.org/saints/lives
- “Provody.” Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages%5CP%5CR%5CProvodyIT.htm
- “Radonitsa 2020, 2021 and 2022 in Belarus.” publicholidays.eu/belarus/radonitsa/
- Bloom, Tristyn. “Radonitsa: Eat, pray, drink.” First Things. 14 May 2013. www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/05/radonitsa-eat-pray-drink
- Kotar, Nicholas. “Radonitsa: How Russians Give Joy to Their Dead.” Nicholas Kotar. 25 April 2017. nicholaskotar.com/2017/04/25/radonitsa-russians-give-joy-dead/