Christmas Day in Ukraine

By Valeriy Khimyuk

Many Ukrainians have a day off on Christmas Day, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It is an annual public holiday across Ukraine and falls on January 7.

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Christmas Day celebrates the day Jesus Christ, pictured above, was born.

Christmas for many Ukrainians is an important family holiday. When Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union, Christmas Day was not a public holiday, but Christmas traditions were not forgotten. After Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, Christmas Day was made a public holiday. Many Ukrainian Christmas traditions are based on pre-Christian Pagan customs. The Ukrainian Christmas festive days according to the Julian calendar, start on 6 January, Christmas Eve, and end on 19 January, “Jordan” or Epiphany.

Svyatyi Mykolai (Saint Nicholas) – Ukrainian Santa Claus?

The image of Svyatyi Mykolai as a person who brings the Christmas gifts for children, the feast of which is marked on 19 December. It is supposed, that children should find their Christmas gifts under their pillow on that morning.

Holy Evening – time for family celebrating.

Sviata Vecherya or “Holy Supper” is the central tradition of the Christmas Eve celebrations in Ukrainian homes. The dinner table sometimes has a few wisps of hay on the embroidered table cloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem.

Kutia (sweet grain pudding) is traditionally served at the Ukrainian Christmas dinner table. It is often the first dish in the traditional twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper and is rarely served at other times of the year.

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Koliadky (Caroling)

At the end of the Sviata Vechera the family often sings Ukrainian Christmas carols. In many communities the ancient Ukrainian tradition of caroling is carried on by groups of young people and members of organizations and churches calling at homes and collecting donations. The Ukrainian song “Shchedryk” became the basis for the world famous Christmas Carol, “Carol of the Bells”.  Another well-known carol is Boh predvičnyj narodivsja.

Didukh (Grandfather)

When the children see the first star in the eastern evening sky, the Sviata Vecherya may begin. In farming communities, the head of the household now brings in a sheaf of wheat called the didukh which represents the importance of the ancient and rich wheat crops of Ukraine, the staff of life through the centuries. Didukh means literally “grandfather spirit” so it symbolizes the family’s ancestors. In city homes a few stalks of golden wheat in a vase are often used to decorate the table.

Christmas Day is a public holiday across Ukraine, so many businesses, schools, universities and public offices are closed.

Many Orthodox Christian churches in Ukraine observe the Christmas Day date from the Julian calendar, which is different from the more commonly used Georgian calendar. So, while Christmas is still on December 25 in the Julian calendar, it appears on January 7 in the Gregorian calendar, up until 2100. After that, the Gregorian date for Orthodox Christmas will be January 8 in 2101.

My family also has it’s own traditions for Christmas, and this time of the year is my favourite time, because all our family gather together. I like the atmosphere of Christmas, and I will miss my family at this year’s’ Christmas.   

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