Celebrating Advent in Ukraine

I always think of Advent as a dark time of watching and waiting.

For those of us living in Canada or the Northern US, it can be a very dark time. Where I grew up in Canada, daylight in December started at 8:30 in the morning and it was dark again by about four o’clock in the afternoon. Since we were in school for most of that time, it felt like we experienced very little daylight at all.

It is a time of waiting because we are preparing and waiting for the birth of Christ–the light of the world.

I consider it a time of watching. Listen to Bach’s Wachet Auf. I performed this with various choirs during Advent and it always seemed very appropriate. Some of my other favourites are “O Come, O Come,  Emmanuel,” “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People,” and “People Look East,” although these are all Protestant hymns.

Advent is a Time of Preparation

The 39 days that precede Christmas is a time of preparation for Ukrainians. The four Sundays that lead up to Christmas are observed by Christians. It is supposed to be a solemn time–not the typical time for parties and shopping that our modern world sees as the “Christmas Season.” In fact, in Ukraine, there was no dancing or partying and no celebrations such as marriage. Instead, Ukrainians spent their time cleaning their homes, yards, and barns, creating new embroidered towels, and hanging icons and other decorations. The women of the villages would be cooking and baking to prepare for the feast day meals.

Feast Days During Advent

There are several feast days that Ukrainian Christians would observe during Advent.

  • The Feast of the Presentation (December 4): Because Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, had been childless for a long time, they promised God that if they were blessed with a child that her life would be dedicated to service to God. When she was three years old, Mary was brought to the temple to be educated with other girls and placed in service to God. The Orthodox church introduced this feast day in the fourth century, much earlier than other churches. Ukrainians completed all farm work before this day.
  • St. Catherine’s Day (December 7): On St. Catherine’s Day, men would fast so that God would provide a good wife for them. Young unmarried women would bring a cherry tree branch into the house to place in water. If it sprouted before New Year’s Eve, then she would expect good luck in the New Year. In addition, she would gather with all of the unmarried women in the village for dinner in the evening.
  • The Day of The Apostle Andrew (December 13): This feast day honoured Saint Andrew, who preached the Gospel in Eastern countries, including Ukraine, Russia, and Poland. This holiday was a special day for unmarried Ukrainian men and women. The men would play pranks to tease the unmarried girls, who in turn would look for signs as to whom their future husband would be. They would have their fortunes told or ask strangers for clues about their future surname. They would also try to summon their beloved in a dream.
  • St. Barbara’s Day (December 17): This feast day celebrated St. Barbara, who was an early martyr of the church. In Ukraine, St. Barbara’s Day symbolizes the arrival of the coldest, darkest days of the season.
  • St; Nicholas’ Day (December 19): Prince Vladimir brought tales of St. Nicholas back to the Ukraine during his visit to Constantinople to be baptized. This feast day was introduced by the Ukrainian Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavych during the ?? of Pope Urban II. Read more about St. Nicholas.
  • Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary (December 22): Mary, the mother of Jesus has a special place in Orthodox Christianity. Some Orthodox Christians believed that she was born free of original sin and began celebrating this feast in the eighth century. Pope Pius IX introduced this feast, and its significance in the Catholic Church in 1854.

Read more about the most exciting celebrations of the Christmas Season: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Malanka.