Traditions and customs of Belarus

What traditions and customs are there in Belarus?

A brief look at the customs and traditions of Belarus, a former Soviet country.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

Belarusian eating habits are not very different from those of people from other Eastern European cultures. They usually have three main daily meals, with staples including red meat and potatoes. Belarusians are also very fond of spending their free time in the forest in search of the many types of mushrooms that are used in soups and other dishes.

Favorite Belarusian dishes include borscht, a soup made from beets served hot with sour cream; Minsk steak and Minsk cutlet; mushroom potato dishes; and pickled berries. Mochanka is a thick soup mixed with lard accompanied by hot pancakes.

There is also a large selection of international and Russian specialties available. A favorite drink is black tea, and coffee is generally available with meals and in cafes, although standards vary. Soft drinks, fruit juices, and mineral waters are widely available.

Ethnographic studies confirm that most Belarusians in the early 20th century subsisted on a fairly poor diet. No significant change has been noticed since the inception of Soviet rule after the Bolshevik Revolution and the image of a family eating from a common plate has been slowly changing.

After World War II, due to industrialization and economic changes, eating habits have changed, but not profoundly.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Food customs often involve women and point to their role in society. For example, preparing a food table was usually a woman’s job. Men would not engage in such activity.

An interesting food custom is related to the search for a mate, which has always been associated with drinking vodka and eating. First, the matchmaker would visit a prospective bride’s home and offer drinks and food. If the suitor was accepted, she would appear with the matchmaker at the woman’s house with vodka and be provided with food by the woman’s parents.

Interestingly, the ceremony could be repeated several times until the couple was officially engaged. If the engagement were broken, whoever broke it would have to pay all expenses to the other party.

After a funeral, mourners gather for a meal.


“Sardechna zaprashayem” is the traditional expression used to welcome guests, who are usually presented with bread and salt. The handshake is the common way of greeting.

Hospitality is part of the Belarusian tradition; the people are welcoming and friendly; and gifts are given to friends and business associates.


Religious beliefs

Christianity is the dominant faith. Byzantine Christianity was introduced to Belarus with the rise of the Kiev kingdom in the 10th century. With the incorporation of the Belarusian territories into the Lithuanian Grand Duchy and later into the Polish -dominated Commonwealth, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism flourished in Belarus.

In the late 16th century, the struggle between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches gave rise to the United Orthodox Church, governed by the Vatican. The Orthodox Church dominated after the Russian defeat of the 1863 and 1864 uprisings.

In 2000, Russian Orthodoxy claimed the majority of Belarusian believers (80 percent), followed by Roman Catholicism. The Christian community in Belarus is currently very diverse and includes various communities of Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelicals, Calvinists, and Lutherans, as well as Roman, Orthodox, and United Catholics. The most frequent Protestant groups are evangelical Christians and Christians of evangelical faith.

There are currently about 44,000 Muslims in Belarus, including people from the former Soviet republics and about 1,500 Arab students. The country has four mosques (in Ivye, Navahrúdak, Slonim and Smilovichi) and a fifth in Vidzy, in the Braslav district of the Vitebsk region, soon to be designated.

Most Jews fled the region before World War II, were exterminated during that war, or emigrated after it ended. At the end of the 18th century, about 7 percent of the population of Belarus was Jewish. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 704 synagogues; by 1995, only fifteen remained.

The number of Jews in Belarus can be calculated from the current number of members of the Union of Jewish Religious Congregations of the Republic of Belarus. This organization had at least 20,000 members in the year 2000 and has twelve regional offices.

It effectively represents virtually the entire observer community and the Jewish community in general. She provides humanitarian and medical aid and is affiliated with World Jewish Relief in the United Kingdom and B’nai B’rith in the United States. The Minsk Main Synagogue has daily morning and evening services.

Since the inception of Christianity in the region, practitioners of Eastern Orthodoxy always outnumbered followers of other religions. Regardless of the times of religious freedom, there were also times of religious intolerance and persecution.

Religious rivalry between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity widened after 1839, when the United Church was abolished. All the great political powers inflicted their policies against certain religions, but the Poles and the Soviets imposed the most drastic measures.

Religious practices were seriously limited during the Soviet area or even prohibited. For example, the Jewish religion and culture, which has strong roots in Belarus, was discriminated against under Soviet rule.

Most synagogues have been closed and the teaching of Hebrew and Judaism has been banned. However, many Jews practiced their religious activities in secret. Since the Soviet era, the Belarusian Eastern Orthodox Church was a structural part of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In February 1992, the Belarusian Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate was created, but Moscow still has great influence in the Belarusian Church. Since 1989 the Vatican has been sending Catholic priests from Poland to work in Belarus.

Rituals and Holy Places

Among the most important religious holidays are Easter, Christmas and remembrance days. Russian Orthodox Easter is celebrated between the end of March and the beginning of May, and the difference between Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter can be up to six weeks. The Roman Catholic Easter varies according to a lunar calendar.

Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 5 and Roman Catholic Christmas on December 25. Russian Orthodox practitioners observe Radaunitsa, a day of remembrance, on April 28, and Roman Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day (“Dsiady”) on November 2.

There are several places in Belarus that are related to various saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including Polock, Sluck, Brest, and Turov. The holiest site in the Russian Orthodox Church is Garbarka Hill in eastern Poland.

Secular celebrations

Secular celebrations include the following national holidays: January 1 is New Year’s Day; March 8 is International Women’s Day, in honor of women’s contribution to society; May 1 is Labor Day, which celebrates the significance and contribution of the working class and includes a citizens’ parade; May 9 is Victory Day, which commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Independence Day is celebrated on July 3 and marks the liberation of Minsk from Nazi troops during World War II. The October Revolution Holiday, which commemorates the victory of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, is celebrated on November 7.

Arts and Humanities


The origins of Belarusian literature go back to the times of Kievan Russia. Its formative period was during the 14th and 15th centuries, culminating in the 16th century when Francisk Skaryna, an editor, humanist, scientist and writer, published the first book – the Bible – in Belarusian.

Modern Belarusian literature originated in the 19th century, with a sense of national identity. V. Dunin-Marcinkevich, poet and playwright, was the most dominant figure of the time. He developed new literary forms in Belarus (such as idyll, ballad and comedy), and significantly influenced the formation of literature, drama and spiritual culture of Belarusians.

Belarusian literature flourished in the 20th century; the key figures were Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala, both poets, novelists, playwrights, critics, publicists, public figures, and founders of modern Belarusian literature and language.

Graphic arts

Painting first developed in Belarus in the 11th and 12th centuries, under the influence of Byzantine art. Few works remain from that period, but fresco paintings such as those in Polotsk Sofia Cathedral have been preserved. In the 16th century, a school of fresco painting was created in Belarus. Works from the 16th to 19th centuries were stylistically related to Polish and Western European painting; portraiture was popular.

The “Vitebsk School” played an important role in the development of Belarusian national art at the beginning of the 20th century. The most internationally known member of the School was Marc Chagall, who was born near Vitebsk. He emigrated in 1922 and subsequently lived in France, Mexico, and the United States. His works often depict scenes from his native Vitebsk and Jewish life in a Belarusian city.

After the October Revolution of 1917, Socialist Realism became popular, with an emphasis on historical and domestic themes. Beginning in the 1940s, artists focused on battle scenes, particularly from the Great Patriotic War. In the 1980s and 1990s, Belarusian painting followed Western trends and addressed intellectual and philosophical themes, drawing on symbolic meanings and metaphors.

Since the 1980s, the decorative and applied arts have been revived. Ceramics, glass, batik and especially tapestry are very popular. Folk art such as straw weaving is also gaining importance.

Performing arts

Belarusian music shows strong folk and religious influences. During the 19th century, the collection, publication and study of Belarusian ethnic songs began. Folk influences still inspire many Belarusian composers, and there are many folk music festivals and competitions held annually.

Many amateur national song and dance groups, folklore groups and performing folklore groups participate in these cultural events.

Belarus has the National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, as well as the State Musical Comedy Theater and the State Concert Symphony Orchestra. Belarusian opera and ballet are well known and admired internationally.

Performing arts centers are found in large cities like Minsk, which has a thriving cultural scene with opera, ballet, theatres, puppet theater and a circus. Brest also has a renowned puppet theater. Rock music in Belarusian first developed in the 1990s.

Belarusian theater originated from folk traditions of various religious and secular holidays, and from family and household rites. One of the most enduring traditions is the puppet theater, which has played an important role in the formation of national theatrical traditions.

During the 18th century, various aristocratic families patronized their own theatres, and many new theaters sprang up in the 20th century. Today, the most famous are the State Theater of Musical Comedy, the Gorkiy State Theater and the Minsk Film Actor’s Theater-Studio.

Belarusian cinematography tends to focus on heroic and romantic genres, as well as character psychology. Belarusian directors are especially known for their animated films. There is also a women’s film studio in Belarus, Tatyana.

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