Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated with a rich tapestry of religious traditions, cultural customs, and a strong emphasis on family and community. The Ukrainian Christmas season is deeply rooted in Orthodox Christianity and is a time of profound significance. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in Ukraine:
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church plays a central role in the celebration of Christmas. Ukraine follows the Julian calendar, so Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, which is in accordance with the Orthodox tradition.
The Christmas season begins with Advent, and many Ukrainian households have Advent calendars and light Advent candles.
Christmas Eve, known as "Sviatyi Vechir," is the most important night of the holiday season. Families come together for a traditional meal that features 12 meatless dishes, symbolizing the 12 apostles. Dishes typically include kutia (sweet grain pudding), borscht (beet soup), varenyky (dumplings), and holubtsi (cabbage rolls). A special dish called "kutia" is the centerpiece of the meal, and it's often shared with the livestock as a gesture of goodwill.
Caroling is a cherished tradition in Ukraine, with groups of carolers known as "koliadnyky" visiting homes and singing traditional Ukrainian Christmas carols. They may be rewarded with small gifts or treats.
Christmas Eve is associated with divination or fortune-telling. Young people often participate in various divination rituals to predict their future.
The "didukh" is a sheaf of wheat or another grain, decorated with ribbons and brought into the home as a symbol of the harvest. It represents the spirits of the ancestors and the continuity of the family.
A nativity scene, known as "yalynka," is an essential part of Ukrainian Christmas traditions. It includes figurines of the Holy Family, shepherds, angels, and the Three Wise Men.
Traditional Ukrainian Christmas carols are an important part of the celebration. Families often gather to sing carols, sharing the joy of the season.
Attending the Christmas church service, known as "Pasterka," is an important part of the celebration. The service is a time for religious reflection and worship.
While gift-giving is not as central to Ukrainian Christmas traditions as it is in some other cultures, small symbolic gifts may be exchanged on Christmas Eve.
The Ukrainian Christmas season continues with the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on January 19th. On this day, people take part in a tradition known as the "Great Blessing of Water" and may immerse themselves in icy rivers and lakes as a way to cleanse their sins.
Christmas in Ukraine is a time for faith, tradition, and family unity. The combination of religious customs, vibrant decorations, and a rich culinary heritage creates a warm and joyful atmosphere during the holiday season, making it a special time for Ukrainians and visitors to the country.
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