9 Superstitions That Only Ukrainians Will Understand

Tasha Levytska / © Culture Trip
Tasha Levytska / © Culture Trip
Photo of Maria Sibirtseva
21 May 2018

Every third Ukrainian believes in superstitions that are hardly understandable to foreigners. Such a custom traces back to the pagan past of our ancestors, who found explanations for certain phenomena of their life, through superstitions. Below you will find answers on why you should never come back halfway, eat from the knife or celebrate a 40th anniversary.

Knock on the wood

Ukrainians usually knock on wood in order to get rid of the evil eye. This superstition has reached such an absurdity that some people in Ukraine even knock on their head if there is no wood nearby. It was inherited from our ancestors. In ancient times people believed that if you touch the wooden surface, you touch the Christ, who was crucified on a wooden cross. Thus, asking for protection from evil forces. Why knock three times? Because three is a sacred number for Christians.

Never pass anything across the doorstep

When visiting a friend in Ukraine, you may face a superstition of never passing anything across the doorstep. It turns out that in ancient times, the ashes of their ancestors were buried under the doorstep of the house. The dwellers tried not to disturb them and refused passing anything through it. For the same reason, people are not allowed to sit on the doorstep.

Tasha Levytska / | © Culture Trip

Never give a watch as a present

Even today, in the 21st-century, such gifts as a watch are considered to be inappropriate in Ukraine. This superstition comes from China, where a gift in the form of a watch was an invitation to a funeral. Ukrainians, in turn, started to believe that the arrows of a watch refer to sharp objects, which are also undesirable to give as a present, and it is a sign for quarrels and mutual insults. But, if you happen to receive a watch, just provide the giver a coin – as if you bought the watch yourself.

Never celebrate the 40th anniversary

40 years is the only date that is not celebrated in Ukraine, especially for men. This superstition arose because of the connection between the number ‘40’ and death. During the times of Kievan Rus, the bodies of the deceased were checked for imperishability, and the deadline for determining it was established in 40 days. Until now, the number 40 is directly associated with funeral traditions. It coincides with a memorial day on death and is considered fatal.

Never eat from a knife

A lot of people in Ukraine consider that if you eat from the knife, you will become an angry person. The fact is that the knife has a sacred meaning. It was not only a tool of labour but also an instrument of protection. Such a strong magical object required a special treatment, otherwise, you could anger the spirits, which would make a person aggressive. Or you can just hurt yourself by accident.

Tasha Levytska / | © Culture Trip

Never spill the salt

The roots of this superstition go back to Ukrainian custom. In Kievan Rus, salt was considered a symbol of prosperity, not everyone could afford to buy it. Especially, respected guests were greeted with bread and salt. If the guest scattered the salt, it was considered a disrespect to the owners, which led to a quarrel between them. Nowadays the superstition has slightly changed. People say that, whoever spills the salt, will have a scandal with relatives or family members.

Never take the garbage out after sunset

This superstition is one of the most popular in Ukraine. It has two different explanations. The first says that if you take the garbage out after the sunset, you will be surrounded by bad rumours. Why should you get rid of something under the cloud of night? Meanwhile, the second concerns the spirits. If you have not managed to throw the garbage out before dark, the evil spirits will enter the house and stay overnight.

Tasha Levytska / | © Culture Trip

Have a sit before the journey

It was believed that home spirits are clinging to people, hindering on the way and trying to get a person back, so the journey will not be successful. Having a sit before the trip, they could be confused – as if no one is going anywhere. But, there is also a logical explanation to the superstition. As sometimes it is useful, before going out, to get your thoughts in order and then start the journey.

Never come back halfway

If you return home and enter the door, you cross the threshold – the boundary between the worlds. And if you come back without having fulfilled the plans, then supposedly you will not be lucky anymore. As you have turned off the road to the goal. But, if you have no other choice then come back, there is one more superstition: just look in the mirror and your initial energy will return to you.

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