Ukrainian Christmas traditions
20 December 2021
Christmas is one of the main Christian holidays. Traditions associated with this celebration depend on denomination and country. Protestants and members of the Roman Catholic Church celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 (Gregorian calendar). Members of the Orthodox churches of various countries celebrate this date on January 7 (Julian calendar). This event became the starting point of modern chronology. Both dates on which Christmas falls in Ukraine are official holidays, so representatives of each Christian denomination have the opportunity to observe the customs.
How do people celebrate Christmas in Ukraine?
Since most Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on January 7, let’s talk about the customs that correspond to the Orthodox tradition. The preparation for the feast begins 40 days in advance (November 28); from this date the fasting begins. This day is also called Pylypivka, as it is dedicated to the memory of the Apostle Philip.
Fasting is necessary for each person to purify himself spiritually and physically. It is important to say prayers every day, abstain from evil, passions and animal origin food. Christmas traditions in Ukraine establish a particularly strict fast 10 days before the holiday. January 6 is called Christmas Eve or Holy Night. On this day it is not accepted to eat at all until the first star in the sky. Light snack is allowed only to small children.
It is customary to spend the entire day and evening in the home circle. As the first star appears in the sky, the family gathers for a festive meal. The table is served with 12 Lenten dishes (according to the number of the apostles), of which the main one is kutya. It is porridge made of wheat, rice or barley, with nuts, raisins, honey and poppy seeds added. This ritual dish is necessarily served with uzvar – compote of dried fruits, berries and aromatic herbs.
According to Ukrainian tradition, all family members, including infants, should be present at the table at Christmas. Under no circumstances there should be any swearing or arguing. Everyone present prays, lights a holiday candle, after that the head of the house blesses the dinner and the family proceeds to the meal. It is also possible to take a treat to the godparents that evening, if they live nearby.
The decoration of the table itself is of particular importance. It is customary to cover it with straw or a thin layer of hay. A little grain is poured on top and garlic cloves are placed in the corners (as a protection against disease and evil forces). The table is topped with a tablecloth, and only then the dishes are to be served. The Didukh – a sheaf of ripe ears with four “legs” always occupies the place of honor. It symbolizes wealth and prosperity and is a generic talisman. Didukh is prepared for the holiday by oneself or one buys a ready-made holiday sheaf.
Speaking of how Christmas is celebrated in Ukraine, it is worth mentioning that on the morning of January 7 it is customary to greet one another with the phrase “Christ is born!” The response is supposed to be “Praise him!” In the morning the whole family sings a festive prayer, and then visits relatives. The forty-day fast ends on this day, so people enjoy meat and dairy dishes.
What shouldn’t everyone do on Christmas Day?
- Swearing, profanity, conflict
- Sewing, knitting, cutting hair, doing household chores
- Taking or lending money
This holy holiday should be devoted to prayer, good deeds and family fellowship.
Merry Christmas traditions
It is impossible to imagine the celebration of Christmas in Ukraine without carols. Starting on Christmas Eve or the day after it, “fancy dressers” walk around the houses and streets. Young people in fancy dress usually carry a large star made of foil and bright paper. It symbolizes the star of Bethlehem, which marked the birth of the baby Jesus.
Guests ask their host for permission to carol, and then they enter the yard or house. They sing greetings, joke songs, and act out little skits. But the main thing remains the glorification of Jesus. That is why, in the Western tradition, instead of mock carols, the “trick-or-treaters” more often sing psalms. In gratitude, the owner of the house should present the visitors with gifts or a small amount of money.
The history of the celebration of Christmas in Ukraine is inextricably linked to the tradition of the nativity scene. That was the name of a small puppet theater, the stage of which was set in a box. Such a box had no front wall and sometimes no back wall, which opened a chamber performance space for the audience. With the help of puppets (ordinary or paper) in a crèche play Christmas stories. This can be a canonical story, as well as modern author’s interpretations.
Also popular is the so-called live nativity scene in Ukraine. Roles in it are performed by people in appropriate costumes, and the stage can be any free area. Usually it is a short story with a strong emotional message and deep content. Such performances are enjoyed not only by adults, but also by children. Thanks to the live Nativity Scene you can get acquainted with the history of the holiday, current traditions, etc.
- Fortune Telling
The holidays have always been considered to be special mystical days, when everyone can uncover the veil of mystery and learn about his or her own future. That’s why Ukrainian Christmas traditions include divination. The most suitable period for these divinations is the period of Christmas Eve, which lasts from the Holy Night to Epiphany. There are a lot of divinations of different complexity. Many Ukrainian girls and women still remember these days. To find out the answers to the most important questions of life, they use wax, candles, mirrors and other attributes.
Christmas is a celebration of kindness, mercy, and compassion. Although it is usually celebrated in a small family circle, those who for some reason do not have their own home should not be forgotten. That is why during the winter celebrations it is important to share the warmth of your heart and attention with those around you, to give gifts, to pay attention to charity. This is perhaps the main Christmas tradition, supported even by non-believers.