Belarusians Visit the Dead on Radaunitsa

Women waiting to light candles at the graves of their relatives.

Last week, Belarusians celebrated Radaunitsa, a day dedicated to visiting the graves of one’s relatives and ancestors in order to commemorate the dead.

Radaunitsa originated in pagan traditions but over time was incorporated into the religious celebrations of the Orthodox Church. It takes place a week after Easter, usually on a Tuesday, and is a state holiday in Belarus.

Belarusians usually start the day by attending a church service, and then proceed to the graves of their kin. In some parts of Belarus, Radaunitsa tradition includes eating a meal at the cemetery and leaving some food for the dead. The essence of the ritual is to bring the “whole family” together – both the dead and the living.

Oddly, the name “Radaunitsa” can be interpreted as the “Day of Rejoicing.” Indeed, the feast that begins at the cemetery is often continued at home, in a more cheerful form, with singing, dancing, and games. Being merry in the presence of death signifies overcoming the fear of death and celebrating life. The Orthodox Church does not approve of this practice, however, as it is believed that the dead need to be remembered through prayers and good deeds rather than food and alcohol.
















About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.


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