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Koročun or Kračun (see other variants below) was a Slavic pagan holiday. Nowadays, it is most commonly used to refer to the winter solstice in many Eastern European languages. In the East Slavic languages it can also refer to sudden or unexpected death. It is also used as a name for the Christian holiday Christmas.
Names and Etymology
Max Vasmer derived the name of the holiday from the Proto-Slavic *korčunŭ, which is in turn derived from the verb *korčati, meaning to step forward. Gustav Weigand, Alexandru Cihac and Alexandru Philippide offer a similar Slavic etymology, based on kratŭkŭ (curt, short) or kračati (to make steps). On the other hand, Hugo Schuchardt, Vatroslav Jagić and Luka Pintar proposed a Romanian origin of the word, as does also the Romanian Etymological Dictionary, tracing its roots back to the Latin creatio,-nis. However, most probably, this word is loanword with Slavic roots as in Romanian, as well as in Hungarian.
Religious and Mythological Significance
Koročun or Kračun was a pagan Slavic holiday. It was considered the day when the Black God and other spirits associated with decay and darkness were most potent. The first recorded usage of the term was in 1143, when the author of the Novgorod First Chronicle referred to the winter solstice as "Koročun".
It was celebrated by pagan Slavs on December 21, the longest night of the year and the night of the winter solstice. On this night, Hors, symbolizing old sun, becomes smaller as the days become shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, and dies on December 22, the winter solstice. It is said to be defeated by the dark and evil powers of the Black God. On December 23 Hors is resurrected and becomes the new sun, Koleda.
Modern scholars tend to associate this holiday with ancestor worship. On this day Western Slavs lit fires at cemeteries to keep their loved ones warm, and organized feasts to honor the dead and keep them fed. They also lit wooden logs at local crossroads. In some Slavic languages, the word came to denote unexpected death of a young person and the evil spirit that shortens life.
- Max Vasmer, Etymological Dictionary of the Russian Language, Корочун.
- Romanian Etymological Dictionary, Craciun
- Archiv für Slavische Philologie, 1886, Vol XI, pp. 526–7.
- Archiv für Slavische Philologie, Vol II, p. 610.
- Archiv für Slavische Philologie, 1912, Vol XXXIII, pp. 618-22.
- Transylvania and the Rumanians, Alain Du Nay, André Du Nay, Árpád Kosztin, Matthias Corvinus Publishing, 1997, ISBN 1882785096, p. 204.