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Christmas in Ukraine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Christmas in Ukraine
Hnizdovsky Rizdvo3.gif
Also calledUkrainian: Різдво, Rizdvo
Observed byChristians, many non-Christians
TypeChristian, cultural
SignificanceCommemoration of the Nativity of Jesus
CelebrationsGift-giving, family and other social gatherings, symbolic decoration, feasting, etc.
ObservancesChurch services
Related toNativity Fast

Traditional Ukrainian Christmas festivities start on Christmas Eve, which is celebrated on 6 January [O.S. 24 December]. Ukrainian Christmas celebrations end on 19 January [O.S. 6 January], the date of the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus, known in Ukraine as Водо́хреще (Vodokhreshche) or Yordan.[4]

Christmas was largely erased from the Ukrainian calendar for much of the 20th century due to the Soviet Union's anti-religious policies, but many of its traditions survived, having been transplanted to New Year's Day.[5]


Did Moroz on a Ukrainian postage stamp with New Year greeting
Did Moroz on a Ukrainian postage stamp with New Year greeting

In Ukraine, the Christmas holiday became the official celebration with the baptism of Rus' ordered by Prince Vladimir in the late 10th century. However, given the early Christian community of Kievan Rus', the celebration may have a longer history.

In the 19th century, a lavishly decorated Christmas tree became central to the holiday, a tradition originally imported by Nicholas I's wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, from her native Prussia. The tradition of giving gifts to children on Christmas took root around the same time.[6] Christmas gifts were traditionally brought by Did Moroz (Ukrainian: Дід Мороз) or Grandfather Frost, the Ukrainian counterpart of Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, albeit a little taller and less stout. Rooted in Slavic folklore, Ded Moroz is accompanied by his beautiful granddaughter, Snegurka (Ukrainian: Снігурка, romanizedSnihurka, The Snowmaiden), who rides with him on a sleigh pulled by a trio of horses.[6]

During the early Soviet period, all religious celebrations were discouraged under the official state policy of atheism. The Bolsheviks argued that Christmas was a pagan sun-worshipping ritual with no basis in scientific fact and denounced the Christmas tree as a bourgeois German import.[6] In 1929, all religious holidays, including Christmas, were abolished by a decree of the Stalinist regime.[7][8] However, in a surprising turn of state politics in 1935, many Ukrainian Christmas traditions were revived as part of a secular New Year's celebration after Joseph Stalin's advisers convinced the Vozhd of the proletarians' need for a break from their hard work in the middle of a long, cold winter.[7] The Christmas tree was repurposed as a "New Year's fir tree" (Ukrainian: Новорічна ялинка, romanizedNovorichna yalynka) to be admired by all children throughout the Soviet Union, including those in republics that had not historically celebrated Christmas due to their different religious traditions, such as the Central Asian ones. Other Ukrainian Christmas attributes and traditions, such as gift-giving, Did Moroz's visits and Christmas decorations, lost their religious significance and became associated with New Year's celebrations, which were secular in nature.[6]

In 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Christmas was reinstated alongside other religious holidays.[6] Especially in recent years, there has been a shift from Did Moroz, who came to be associated with the Soviet-era heritage, to the more traditional Saint Nicholas (Ukrainian: Святий Миколай, romanizedSviatyi Mykolai), who used to be more popular in Western Ukraine.[9] There were rumors that Ded Moroz imagery was discouraged by the authorities due to conflict with Russia; however, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture has refuted this.[10]

Date of celebration

As of 2017, 25 December, Christmas Day by the Gregorian calendar, became an official government holiday in Ukraine. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Churches predominantly follow the Julian calendar, and 7 January is also a public holiday in Ukraine.[11][12] In December 2020, the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius, said that changing the date of Christmas to 25 December in Ukraine is possible after both the church and the faithful are ready for such a decision, after conducting educational work. It was stated that the postponement of the Nativity of the Lord would entail a change in the dates of all fixed holidays to 13 days ago.[13] In December 2020, the head of the UGCC, Patriarch Sviatoslav, stated that the Greek Catholic Church would resolve this issue "together with our Orthodox brothers." He also noted that this issue is not dogmatic, it should overcome church divisions, not cause new ones, and in his opinion, the transition to celebrating Christmas in a new style — 25 December, should be initiated by the laity.

On 18 October 2022, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine allowed dioceses to hold Christmas services according to the Revised Julian calendar, i.e., 25 December. In the case of a divine service, its participants are released from the restrictions of fasting on this day.[14]

On 24 December 2022, during an audience, Major archbishop Sviatoslav handed over to Metropolitan Epiphanius for review a letter outlining the considerations of the UGCC hierarchs regarding the calendar reform [uk]. The primates decided to create a joint working group on specific proposals for calendar reform. The joint group is initiated on the occasion of the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325. In this Council, in particular, the calendar principles of church life were determined.[15][16][17]

Sviatyi Vechir (Holy Evening)

Christmas Eve is called Sviatyi Vechir (Святий вечір) or Sviatvechir (Святвечір) in Ukraine ("Holy Evening"), and has many customs and rituals, most of which predate the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine. Traditions include decorating house and dinner table with special attributes (a symbolic sheaf of wheat called the didukh, garlic, hay, and others), performing koliadky ('carols') and so on. Each ritual has its own meaning and purpose, as such a few wisps of hay on the embroidered tablecloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem. One prominent custom of the night is a special supper, called Sviata Vecheria ("Holy Supper").[18]

Ukrainians fast on Sviat vechir; only when the first star is seen in the evening sky, may the supper begin. The family comes together to have a dinner which usually includes 12 dishes (the number can vary from 7–17). These twelve dishes are traditionally vegan plus fish, and do not contain meat, milk, or eggs.[19] While the dishes served can vary regionally, as well as from family to family, the two mandatory dishes are uzvar and kutia, both reckoned by ethnographer Khvedir Vovk to be remnants of ancient rituals which date back to the neolithic era.[20] Kutia (a dish of grain, honey and poppy seeds) is traditionally served first at the meal, after being offered by the head of the household to the frost. A spoonful is tossed at the ceiling, and the number of poppy seeds which stick portends the fruitfulness of the fields and farm animals in the coming year. It is rarely served at other times of the year.[21] Uzvar is a beverage, made with cooked dried fruits and berries. It can be mixed in with the kutia, or served separately at the end of the meal. Servings of both dishes are also set aside overnight in the pokuttia, the corner of the house with the icons, for the ancestors.

Koliadky (Caroling)

At the end of the Sviata Vechera the family often sings carols (koliadky, singular koliadka). 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. A well-known carol is Nova radist stala [uk], Boh predvichnyi narodyvsia,[22] Dobryi vechir tobi, pane hospodariu [uk], Vo Vyfleiemi nyni novyna [uk], Nebo i zemlia nyni torzhestvuiut [uk], Boh sia rozhdaie [uk] etc.

Didukh (Grandfather)

In villages (farming communities), the head of the household brings in a sheaf of grain 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 Ukrainian city homes the didukh may be purchased, and is often three footed made of woven grain and dried grasses and flowers.[citation needed]

Shopka (Nativity scene)

A shopka (vertep) is a traditional portable nativity scene used to represent nativity and other figures in a puppet form.[citation needed]


Further reading

See also


  1. ^ Martindale, Cyril Charles (1908). "Christmas". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ Gwynne, Paul (2011). World Religions in Practice. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4443-6005-9.
  3. ^ Ramzy, John. "The Glorious Feast of Nativity: 7 January? 29 Kiahk? 25 December?". Coptic Orthodox Church Network. Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  4. ^ Christmas Traditions
  5. ^ Tamkin, Emily. "How Soviets Came to Celebrate New Year's Like Christmas (and Why Russians Still Do)". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e Weber, Hannah (25 December 2020). "Yolka: the story of Russia's 'New Year tree', from pagan origins to Soviet celebrations". The Calvert Journal. Archived from the original on 13 January 2018. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  7. ^ a b "How New Year was celebrated in the USSR (PHOTOS)". Beyond Russia. 29 December 2019. Archived from the original on 29 December 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  8. ^ "Постановление СНК СССР от 24.09.1929". (in Russian). Archived from the original on 29 December 2016. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Kiev Brings Back Orthodox Santa Claus Instead of Soviet-Era Father Frost". The Moscow Times. 20 November 2014.
  10. ^ "Деда Мороза и Снегурочку в Украине никто не запрещал - Минкульт"
  11. ^ "Ukraine seeks distance from Moscow with new Christmas holiday". 16 November 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  12. ^ (in Ukrainian) "Рада зробила 25 грудня вихідним днем". BBC Україна. 16 November 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  13. ^ "Епіфаній назвав умову перенесення святкування Різдва на 25 грудня".
  14. ^ "OCU allowed Christmas services on December 25". Ukrainian Pravda (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  15. ^ "Heads of OCU, UGCC agree to set up working group to reform church calendar". Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  16. ^ "During the meeting of His Beatitude Sviatoslav with His Beatitude Epiphanius, they talked about the reform of the church calendar". Українська Греко-Католицька Церква (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  17. ^ "There was a meeting of the Primate of the OCU with the Father and the Primate of the UGCC". OCU (in Ukrainian). 24 December 2022. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  18. ^ Inc, World Book (1997). Christmas in Ukraine. World Book .com. ISBN 978-0-7166-0897-4. {{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  19. ^ "Christmas in Ukraine". Why Christmas. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  20. ^ "Traditional Recipe of Ukrainian Kutia". Ethnocook. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  21. ^ Sviat Vechir
  22. ^ "Boh predvičnyj". Metropolitan Cantor Institute. Byzantine Catholic. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
This page was last edited on 22 January 2023, at 04:57
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