May 30, 2021
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What toys did the children of Russian peasants play

The main thing that unites all Russian folk toys for children is simplicity and low cost of manufacture. These toys were made from scrap materials and in their free time from hard work. And manufacturing techniques were passed down from parents to children and have been honed over the centuries. Almost any father could carve a horse for his son, and a doll for his daughter, which she then dressed up in scraps of cloth.

There were few toys in the peasant hut, so they were taken care of. And the time for games with peasant children was more valuable – after all, from the age of 5-6 they began to be attracted to help around the house, first of all, to look after little brothers and sisters. At about five years old, children themselves learned to make the simplest toys for the younger ones.

Dolls: twists, shears, knickers

Rag dolls

Russian dolls have never had faces and eyes painted. As the researcher of the question Galina Dain writes, “the facelessness of the folk rag doll is a clear trace of the animistic views of the Slavs. A doll without a face was considered an inanimate object, inaccessible for the instilling of evil forces into it. ” The dolls’ faces appeared only towards the end of the 19th century, under the influence of Western urban toys. But the Russians were not lacking in ingenuity in creating different types of dolls.

According to ancient customs, as soon as a woman realized that she was going to have a child, she began to make a spinning rag doll. This was done without a needle, only by hand, since metal was considered a “dangerous” element. It could be purely rag-filled, or filled with cereals, hay or wool. Even before childbirth, the twist was placed in a prepared cradle, and when the baby was born, it became his first amulet toy.

Such a doll could be swaddled, dressed up, cradled. Of course, over time, the doll frayed and got dirty – it was easy to untie it, wash it and put it back together, which the children gradually learned themselves. A kind of twist doll is a nyazhaka doll (from the word undead), assembled from clean rags so that a child can kiss her without harm to health.

Haircut dolls with braided braids and aprons.

Shearing dolls were made from straw, often literally in the field, to calm and entertain the baby. After all, small children, whom there was no one to look after, while the whole family was in the field, had to be carried with them. At home, you could play with her more fun – dressed in a rag dress and cut off from the bottom, this bundle of straw could stand on the table or on the floor, and from vibration – stamping or knocking – the shearing cutter “danced”.

Haircut dolls with dance “function”.

A correctly cut straw cut from the bottom – a semicircular shape – allowed the doll, without falling, to move in small “steps” on the table, and the dance was never repeated! And having brought together several she-haircuts, it was possible to arrange a whole Russian dance.

Bigger haircutters were placed between the window frames for the winter – the straw absorbed moisture well, and the frames did not swell during the thaw when the frost from the glass thawed. Such large haircuts were given to children only after the “service” season between frames.


Russian kubar and knutik to him

The same head over heels is, in fact, a simple top, but in the Russian tradition a leather whip was attached to it, which made the game head over heels much more exciting. Kubar was squeezed out of a cylinder with a diameter of 4 to 8 centimeters and a height of 5 to 11 centimeters. The toy was so popular in Russia that it has been found in various archaeological layers since the 10th century. Oleg the Prophet, Prince Igor, and Vladimir Krasno Solnyshko played head-to-head. We can confidently say that the games with head over heels among the ancient Russians were one of the most widespread.

Kubar is unrolled with his hands, and then is urged on by the whip’s biting blows – from them the kubar jumps up and spins more strongly. Games with head over heels a lot. The funnest thing to play is in winter – a playing field is marked on the ice of the river, and two players, alternately whipping the head, try to drive him from the field to the opponent’s side. Masters of the game of head-to-head could lead him along the “route” with obstacles or make him do somersaults in the air. And the expression “head over heels”, of course, comes from the name of this toy.

The boy urging the head over heels.

Kubar is, in fact, a Russian version of bilboke – an educational toy, also consisting of a stick, a rope and a ball. Like kendama (a Japanese bilboke, a toy that was presented to little Japanese from noble families, future warriors), the kubar developed agility, mobility, the spirit of struggle and competition in group games in Russian children.

Motion toys

Toy “Man and Bear”

Russian kinetic toys, or toys “with movement,” as they used to say in the old days, already required special skills in woodcarving and the use of proportions, and they were made by artels of toy masters. There were many such artels, each with its own style and traditions, but undoubtedly the most famous place where wooden toys, including kinetic ones, were professionally made, was the vicinity of Sergiev Posad. The craft began to develop widely here from the beginning of the 19th century, but has existed since time immemorial. According to legend, Saint Sergius of Radonezh himself loved to make wooden toys and give them to children.

Drummer Hare. Bogorodsk Toy Museum.

Bogorodsk carvers were so skillful that they could imitate a porcelain figurine in wood. Toys were cut from soft woods – linden and aspen, the same from which church wooden furniture, iconostases and decor were made. And in this, the local craftsmen had centuries of experience.

The center of the production of toys “with movement” was the village of Bogorodskoye, 30 kilometers from Sergiev Posad, where the toy was cut literally in every house. Unlike the toys of most other artels, the Bogorodsk toys remained unpainted – their meaning was in motion. Let’s look at the most famous “models”. First of all, it is “The Man and the Bear”, striking the anvil in turn, if you move the rectangular stand.

Chickens eating grain. Bogorodsk Toy Museum.

And there were also a lot of toys with a wooden weight suspended on a string, rotating which, you could make birds standing in a circle peck grain, mowers – mow the grass, and so on. And the simplest toy with such a weight is a hare (or a soldier) with a drum.

Toys with sound

An ordinary Russian ratchet.

The most famous sound toy is a clay nightingale, inside which water was poured. The bird is arranged in such a way that, blowing on its tail, you can hear “nightingale” trills. Art critic Elena Kovycheva writes: “The whistle in every way, reminiscent of birdsong, scared away, in the opinion of our ancestors, evil forces.” In the Vyatka province, there was even a spring holiday – Whistle, or Whistle, during which children sounded in clay nightingales for several days in a row – calling for spring and driving away demons. The same function was performed by many varieties of rattles, noisemakers, sniffers and rattles.

Abashev clay toys. Penza art and production workshops.

There were, of course, various clay whistles in the form of animals and people, arranged according to the ocarina principle. There are still Dymkovo (Vyatka province), Khludnevskaya (Kaluga province), Abashevskaya (Penza province) traditions of clay toys, and, for example, the Abashevskaya toy has clearly carried through the centuries ancient images of fabulous animals, reminiscent of primitive art.

Georgy Manaev

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