Until the mid-twentieth century, children played with rag dolls. Rag doll played a big role in traditions. It participated in many festivals and rituals and was a symbol of happiness, prosperity and procreation.
The children began to do the Doll themselves by the age of five. With great efforts, the doll was dressed up, as it judged the skill and taste of its owner.
Traditional rag Slavic doll is without face. The face usually is not designated and remained white. Doll without a face was considered an inanimate object and thus was not available for instilling in it evil or hostile forces. According to folklore, with a face the doll would have gained a soul and then could have been dangerous for a child whereas the doll was supposed to bring the owner prosperity, health and joy. As a wonder the pieces of rags assembled in a doll without hands, feet nor marked individuals were exhibiting strong character. The dolls were diverse and seemed laughing or crying.
Largely, the basis of the dolls is a birch wood or a "rolling pin" of fabric which represent the symbol of male power. Externally the doll is given all aspects of the mother’s archetype and represents maternal love and care, the image of the mother and nurse. Her big breasts symbolize the ability to feed everyone. Traditionally, doll’s parts were not stitched but linked together using fabric thread. In ancient times pricking the body the dolls with needles was considered as malefic Stitching was only used for garment decoration, embroidery, sleeves, hem and head adornment as far as it did not prick the body of the doll. All decoration was made from scraps of worn clothing from which the fabric threads were taken to bind the parts of the doll. Used clothes had additional value – they carried the soul of the family, mother and father. Dolls have been made with a very large variety of traditional dresses and hats and are very different from one region of Russia to the other.
These dolls had a lot of different names: Rozhanytsa (Woman in labor), Kormilitsa (Nurse), Bereguinya (Keeper), Zhelannitsa (for the fulfillment of desires), etc. But each of them somehow reveals the deep feminine essence and embodies the image of Motherhood and Care.
Some dolls mattered talismans, some were for play and development.
In the old days, the families could have more than a dozen of these dolls. It was believed that they brought luck and wealth, promised a rich harvest and were symbols of procreation. Many dolls were passed down from mother to daughter and then granddaughter and great-granddaughter.
Dolls accompanied a girl from birth throughout a life and "grew" with her. At first dolls were representing little girl. Then the girl turns into a woman. As the representation change so the color of fabrics did. Young girls wore bright, light fabric, their hair were open. Married women were hiding their hair under a hat. Older women wore dark fabric.
Dolls were present in almost all the village festivities and rituals but had also an important role in the day-to-day initiation of the children. They were not only considered as a toy but also as a tool to awaken children to their future life by reproducing the sequences of rituals, memorizing and repeating adult conversations and ceremonial songs The dolls were never left outside, never thrown in the house nor kept in boxes or baskets. The dolls were sometimes taken to guests, and were put in dowry.
It is important to use red fabric thread for assembling the doll and to tie it forming a cross – all of this being highly symbolic.
The Slavs did special dolls, quite small, to carry with them, for example, during their travels. The size of these dolls was just 3-6 cm.
Forgotten traditions are starting to come back into our lives with those ancient charms that used to be part of each and every family.