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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Strange Russian Superstitions

With a lot of spookiness in the air today, I talked with our children about Russian superstitions.  I had recently found an odd and exhaustive list of Russian superstitions on the internet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_traditions_and_superstitions) and decided to ask them about any odd beliefs which they might have remembered.

Growing up in a Russian family myself, I recalled everyone having to sit down for a moment  before embarking on a journey.  We never thought much of this, just a pausing and catching one’s breath, before saying goodbye.  We generally came in promptly upon the welcoming “Prohodityeh!  Prohodityeh!” (Come in, come in!), never really dwelling on the reality that shaking hands or greeting one over the threshhold was considered bad luck.  Same with whistling in the house, it was basically “Nee kultoornee”, uncultured behavior.

“We couldn’t whistle, either!” Pasha enthused, happy to have some common point in all of our backgrounds.  “They said that when you whistled, all of the money would fly out of the house.”

“All of what money?” I asked, knowing that there was no money and no house, anyway,  and definitely no superstition big enough to keep down a family already intent on doing enough harm to themselves.

For us, the superstitions were either traditions with no harm behind them, or were commonsense or polite pratcices (handing a knife to someone, handle facing them), or were signs of being properly brought up with manners.  For my children, the superstitions were always representative of spooky and otherworldly powers hell-bent on hurting or harming all those who dared to get in their way.

One of the most interesting for me that the children shared was the Zhivotchnaya Karova (the Gum Cow).  Maybe this was a special one for the Dyetsky Dom (orphanage), but rumor had it, if you placed gum under your pillow, a cow would come in the middle of the night to give you more.

“Gum in the wrapper, or already chewed?” my inquiring mind wanted to know.

“Hmmm…. we’re not sure,” they declared.

Didn’t matter anyway, I was looking for a Cash Cow, rather than a Gum Cow.

This sounded similar to the Russian Tooth Mouse who would steal their old teeth placed under the pillow at night, similar to our tradition, but no money would be left in its place.  Some tradition.  Evidently, there was a whole lot of coming and going at night under these kids’ pillows…

“The G’nomiki!” Mashenka enthused.

“Yes…” I replied slowly, wondering if everyone turned into midgets with this one.

“Well, you put strings zig-zag between chairs, or beds, or doorways, turn off the lights and go to bed.  Then you call the G’nomik to come, thinking he’ll come with a frying pan to hit you on the head, because you make fun of him.  Instead, he gets caught in the strings and curses at you….”

“Um-hmm….”  What a wonderful and amusing evening of fun.

“Karelyeva!” Mashenka thought of another one.  “You take a playing card that is the Queen and put it in front of a mirror, then draw steps with lip gloss on the mirror.  Turn off the light switch, but stand next to it.  A real queen will suddenly appear in the mirror, coming down the steps, and as soon as you turn on the light, she disappears!”

“Convenient…” I observe.

“Same with the sausiski,” Pasha replied.  “You put a newspaper on the ground, a napkin on top of that, put on piece of sausage on the napkin, and turn out all the lights.  You wait for someone to eat it, while standing very still.  The sausage disappears, but you turn on the light…and nobody’s there!”

“Cooked, or uncooked?” Benedetto inquires.


“The sausage, cooked, or uncooked?”  Only an Italian would ask such a question at a time like this.

“Cooked,” I reply, “and probably eaten by a rat.”

“No, Mama,” Pasha insists, “it must be in a room without any windows and any doors.”

“Well, then, in that case, no rat could come or go, if there’s not a window, and not a door,”  I try to stifle my bemusement and/or repulsion.

“Here’s one,” Sashenka offers.  “If you look out the window at night, bad guys will throw rocks at you.”

“Sounds plausible,” I concede, knowing a little about their backgrounds.  “And if you dangle your feet over the edge of the bed at night….”


Funny, we always seem to have these deep conversations when Petya is away.

“If there’s salt dropped on the floor, or spilled on the table, the husband and wife will split up,” Mashenka adds.

“Right, because we know it couldn’t be their fault that they can’t get along, or be nice to each other.  It’s because…” I pause and smack my forehead for emphasis, “somebody spilled the salt!”

Hopefully, the kids will sleep well tonight, despite black cats roaming, and jack-o-lanterns glowing, maybe we’ve uncluttered their minds by the excuses and explanations of the past.



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4 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Sybil says:

    Step on a crack……………. !!!

  2. avatar hoonew says:

    I thought you were going to mention that bad things happened to your health if you sat on the (cold) ground. Infertility, and who knows what else?!

    • avatar admin says:

      I’ve heard that’s the reaction that other a-parents have received if they sit on the ground and play with their child in the orphanage, lol. Mine were bigger, so we sat on couches. But now that I think about it, one of my favorite photos from that time was when I was on the ground and the girls threw their arms around me from behind. Our facilitator photographed our three faces. Now I wonder: what was I doing on the floor-?!!! Oh, maybe tracing their feet for shoes?

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