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The beard curled!

The Malye Korely museum hosts a festival of beards, crops and horses

5 september 2022

The largest open-air museum in Russia, Malye Korely, near Arkhangelsk, hosted the first Beard Ethno-Cultural Festival on 3 and 4 August. It attracted more than 1,500 people. At the end of the festivities, they found out who in Pomorie has the longest beard and who bakes the most beautiful and tasty loafs.

The word 'beard' in the Russian North was the last uncompressed bundle in the field. 'It was the reapers, the women who reaped the field, who did this work, they got to it. And when they left that bundle behind, they said, "That's it, girls, the beard!" The harvesting of crops has come to an end. It was usually curled and decorated with flowers,' explains Yulia Volkova, head of the ethnographic programmes and public events department at the Malye Korely museum. That's why the new festival has also become a harvest festival.

'We have prepared a full programme to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, has something to do, as we are positioning our new festival as a family event. In addition to ancient northern rituals and ethnographic pictures, we offered our visitors to have fun at the Petrushka theatre, cheer for the equestrians, show their skills by digging up potatoes at a speed—by the way, our guest from St. Petersburg had the heaviest sack, as well as to get creative at various master classes, and, of course, listen to good folk music,' says Yulia Volkova.

The first day of the festival took place in the Kargopolsko-Onega sector of the museum and was dedicated to the ancient traditions of harvesting bread and reaping rituals. A water blessing prayer service was held on the central square. In the museum's field, where barley, rye, oats and flax grow, guests could see an ancient reaping ritual called 'Dozhinki' and an ethnographic painting called 'The Beard', which showed how that very beard was curled, the last bundle in the field. Afterwards, everyone could try their hand at threshing bread or grinding grain in a mill, or even making a souvenir out of the ears. 

You could get a taste of the northern treats at the Borodno communal meal. Each guest was given a spoonful to taste several types of porridge straight from the Russian stove, wickets with potatoes, steamed carrots, cucumbers and radishes straight from the garden. And the treats were served with Malokorelian tea made over a campfire.

The summing up of the regional loaf competition was also very tasty. 'In all three categories—traditional, fancy and modern loaf—the loaf of the Severodvinsk bakery won, and the Audience Choice Award also went to them,' notes Yulia Volkova.

The second day of the festival took place in the Dvina and Pinega sectors of the museum and was dedicated to the main helpers of northern peasants—horses. They demonstrated their skills in racing and show-jumping and participated in competitions for the title of the prettiest and smartest horse. The celebrants were treated to sandwiches and the spectators to frolas, a special biscuit with oat flour: when it dried up, it was customary to give it to the horses. Children were able to make a traditional toy, the 'sun horse', with their own hands, and then go horseback riding.

The ethnographic component of the second day was the rituals of 'Feeding Horses with Oats' and 'Gathering for Ploughing', and the village festivities rounded off the day. The biggest audience was attracted to the first beard contest named 'Pomorian Style', in which the panel of judges measured the length of the beards using archaic measures of length—vershoks, spans and half-spans. The record holder is Alexey Nazarov from Arkhangelsk: his beard is 5 inches long. And Mikhail Korelsky was voted the owner of the 'most natural' and 'most artistic' beard.

Folk music was played on stage for two days, and the festival ended with a concert that mixed Russian country music with jazz-hop, jungle, funk and dub, in keeping with the atmosphere of the new festival.

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