In most climates where all four seasons are experienced, winter is a time to hunker down and retreat inside for warmth. With Christmas as a primary holiday during the winter seasons, Ukrainians come together to visit with family and friends.
My family laughs at me because I love Christmas so much! I love to shop, bake, plan, decorate, and celebrate with friends and family. Every year it seems that I start planning earlier and earlier! Now that I live in the US, Thanksgiving signifies the official beginning of the Christmas holiday season and it seems to go faster every year.
There are many ways that Ukrainian Orthodox Christians observe and celebrate Christmas:
- St. Nicholas
- Christmas Eve
- Christmas Day
- Ornaments and Decorations
- New Year’s
Cultural and religious celebrations are intertwined for Ukrainians, as they are for many Christians across the world. The celebration of the Christmas season would not be the same without recognition of certain holy feast days or without the food, decorations, and songs that are traditional for the season.
Click on the links above to learn more and obtain resources for each of these traditions.
The History of Ukrainian Christmas
Christmas Day became an official Orthodox Christian holy day sometime in the third century. St. John Chrysostom wrote in 386 AD that Pope Julian was trying to determine the date of Christ’s birth. While many Western churches designated December 25 as the date, Eastern churches felt that January 6 was the correct date. Others felt that the Nativity fell later in the year–either April 20, May 20, March 29, or September 29.
Julian selected December 25 to side with the “majority,” who felt that this date was appropriate due to its proximity to Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice, and the Roman Saturnalia celebration. This latter celebration was known as the Birthday of the Invincible One–Mithras, the sun god. Ukrainian pagans had also held a festival celebrating their sun god once the days began to grow longer after the winter solstice. It was a natural transition to continue to celebrate at this time–now with a new religious significance.
Although the Gregorian calendar was adopted many centuries ago, Ukrainian Orthodox churches have continued following the Julian calendar, which designates January 7 as Christmas Day. This is the corresponding day for the Gregorian December 25 holiday in the Julian calendar. This 13-day lag time also applies to all other Ukrainian Orthodox religious holidays.