In Ukraine, the Christmas festive days are observed according to the Julian calendar, starting on January 6th, Christmas Eve and ending with "Jordan" or "Epiphany" on January 19th. Here
Christmas Day is celebrated either on December 25 in accordance with the Civil or Papal (Gregorian) Calendar as per Roman Catholic tradition (Gregorian Calendar), or on January 7 which is traditionally the Orthodox or Eastern Rite (Julian Calendar) church holy day. The festive season begins with advent (Pylypivka). Many people fast partially for four weeks to prepare themselves for the Holy Christmas Day. In preparation for Christmas, houses are cleaned fully and their exterior whitewashed.
The "Sviata Vechera" or "Holy Supper" is the most important part of Christmas Eve celebrations. The ceremony commences when the children of the household see the first Star in the eastern evening sky, which symbolizes the journey of the Three Wise Men. It must be kept in mind that the Ukrainian society was basically agrarian at one point of time and had developed an appropriate pagan culture, elements of which can still be noticed. In farming communities, the head of the household brings in the 'didukh' (a sheaf of wheat from the year's harvest) which represents the importance of the ancient and rich wheat crops of Ukraine, primarily an agarian country. Beautifully embroidered ribbons, flowers and a small wreath of basil are tied in the middle of the 'didukh' which is then placed under a Holy image in a corner of the dining area. It stands for all the members of the family: the living, the dead and those unborn. Often a few wisps of hay are spread on the floor or scattered on the embroidered table cloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem. In city homes a few stalks of golden wheat in a vase are often used to decorate the table. Also placed on the table is a "kolach" (bread) with a lit candle; signifying that Christ is the "Bread of Life", and the "Light of the World". "Sviata Vechera" starts with a prayer. After this, the patriarch utters the traditional Christmas greeting, 'Khristos rodyvsya!' or 'Khristos razhdayetsya' (meaning Christ is born!) to which the other family members answer by saying 'Slavite Yoho!' (meaning Let Us Glorify Him!). The traditional Christmas Eve supper is a twelve-dish meal. Kutia (sweet grain pudding) is often the first dish. At the end of the supper, the family often sings Kolyadky or Ukrainian Christmas Carols.
Caroling is an old tradition in Ukraine and still survives in many communities. Like in many countries, here too many young people or church members visit houses singing carols to collect donations. Some of these carols eulogize Ukraine while others are ancient pagan songs converted into Christian carols. The most popular carol here is 'Boh Predvichny'.
In Ukraine, church services commence before midnight on Christmas Eve and continue until Christmas mornings. Here children wait for Father Frost, a Santa Claus-like figure, to bring them gifts riding a sleigh hauled only by three reindeers. He is said to be assisted in his journey by another character named Snowflake Girl who wears a silver blue costume trimmed with white fur and a snowflake-like crown