Folktales, Legends, and Stories

Ridding the village of Morena

The long, dreary days of winter made the people of Slovakia long for the beautiful days of summer. They thought of ways to hasten the departure of winter and celebrate the arrival of spring.

During the Middle Ages, the figure of a woman made of straw or hay, tied to an iron rod or wooden pole and dressed in women’s clothes, was carried through the streets of the village or town. She was called Morena, which means disease or death, because there were so many deaths during February and March, which were caused by disease.

Passion Sunday*, the Sunday before Palm Sunday called “Smrtná Nedeľa“ in Slovak, was chosen as the day for this ceremony. Almost every town or village had its own unique ceremony to rid the town of Morena and secure good health and prosperity. Originally, Morena was carried by adults and finally by the priests. Records from the 18th century show that this ceremony was handed over to the young people. Girls of marriageable age were chosen to carry Morena accompanied by shouting men. Later, special appropriate songs were written and sung by the young people.

Early on Passion Sunday, or the night before, the girls would create Morena, each one donating an article of clothing. They would bring her to the church, prop her against the wall, and attend the service. After the service, they would go to the upper end of town, arrange themselves into a parade with Morena in the middle, and walk to the lower end of the town to the bridge, singing as they went, usually accompanied by the young men. When they reached the bridge, they disrobed Morena, slipped her off the rod, set her afire, and threw her into the river. In some villages, after Morena was thrown into the river, each girl would also throw the piece of clothing she took off from Morena into the river and eagerly watch to see which piece of clothing would be the first to float to the shore. Then they tied red ribbons and silk kerchiefs on the rod, reassembled their parade form and proceeded singing along their way to the house of the mayor, who would reward them with money or a free meal for ridding the town of Morena.

This story was taken from ROK VO ZVYKOCH NášHO ľUDU by Emilia Horváthová, translated by Zlata Tuhy. Published by Tatran, Bratislava in 1986.

*In recent times the Church changed the name of the Sunday before Easter from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday because Our Lord's Passion is read that day.  Previously on Passion Sunday,  the Sunday before Palm Sunday, all the statues were covered with purple cloths and remained covered until the wonderful Resurrection Service, with procession, on Holy Saturday Night.