In 2009, the unique Belarusian rite of the Kolyady Tsars, which is performed only in the village of Semezhevo (Kopyl District, Minsk Oblast), was added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The rite of the Kolyady Tsars dates back to the 18th century, when the tsar’s military units were located not far from the village of Semezhevo. According to the local legend, during the New Year celebrations in accordance to the old style calendar (Julian calendar) soldiers and officers visited local houses to give comic performances and receive rewards. Since then, locals continued the tradition and turned it into a unique Christmas event.
The rite of the Kolyady Tsars combines the elements of carnival and folk plays, with distinctive local performing arts, decorative and applied arts (costumes, interior decorations), special Christmas national cuisine dishes.
People believe that being visited by the ''tsars'' brings peace, harmony and wealth for a year.
The rite was revived in 1996: the necessary documentary materials were collected, old-timers were interviewed. Since then Semezhevo has been hosting the Kolyady Tsars annually.
Traditionally, young men and boys participate in the rite of the Kolyady Tsars. They dress in white trousers and shirts, with red embroidered Semezhevo belts crisscrossed across their chests, and high caps adorned with colorful paper ribbons.
Every young man plays his own role - doctor, drummer, fur carrier… The other characters include the main lead Tsar Maximilian, the Tsar Mamay, the Ded (old man) and Baba (old lady).
Moving along the village’s street, the procession performs the historical religious drama “Tsar Maximilian” featuring picturesque scenes, folk medicine secrets. As darkness falls, the “tsars” light torches.
The rite is celebrated on “Shchedry Vecher” (Shchedrets, Shchodryk, Malanka, from Russian ''shchedry'' - lavish) on 13-14 January.