For Ukrainians, Christmas doesn’t start until after the new year arrives. Christmas Day is celebrated on January 7th in this region and some other parts of eastern Europe.
The lavish meal we all refer to as ‘Christmas dinner’ doesn’t occur until January 6th, on what is Christmas Eve for Ukrainians.
This is because the majority of religion is Orthodox Christian and uses what’s known as the ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebrations.
It means Ukraine has a lengthy countdown to Christmas Day. Luckily though, families don’t have to wait until January to start their celebrations.
Unlike people in western countries who exchange gifts on December 25th, Ukrainians leave their presents under the tree to be found on December 19th or St Nicholas’s Day.
This is the time when Santa sneaks into homes to leave presents for the best-behaved boys and girls.
Santa Claus and Xmas Food in Ukraine
To welcome Santa and make sure he finds their house, children craft paper snowflakes and hang them in the windows.
It’s common to see Christmas trees decorated with fake spider webs or ‘pavuchky’ because, in Ukraine, there’s a famous legend about a Christmas spider.
These webs are made out of silver wire and paper and hung from the tree’s branches.
The Christmas meal is called Sviata Vecheria or ‘Holy Supper.’ The custom is to abstain from eating throughout the day to prepare oneself for this extra special family occasion.
Tradition dictates the Christmas meal cannot begin until nightfall. So, it’s not unusual to see hungry revelers gathered outside their homes to look for the evening’s first star.
When they spot it, they’re free to start the feast because, in the story of Christ, a star signals the safe arrival of baby Jesus.
During the dinner, people share merriment and wish each other veseloho rizdva (Merry Christmas) or bеселого pіздва (Happy Christmas).
They sing festive songs and exchange blessings for a happy, healthy year to come.
Christmas dinner in Ukraine comes in twelve courses. They represent the number of Jesus’ disciples.
In traditional households, no egg, meat or milk is eaten.
Instead, dishes like borsch (beetroot soup), pryizhky (cabbage rolls), kutia (porridge), holopchi (cabbage wraps) and varenyky (fried dumplings) are enjoyed in abundance.
Kolach is the name of a sweetened fruit bread that’s also traditionally served at Christmastime.
If you were to take part in a traditional Ukrainian Christmas feast or celebration, you’d see the didukh symbol in many places.
It takes the form of a wheat sheaf to represent the country’s wheat fields.
People place it around their homes to welcome the spirits of their ancestors at Christmastime.
Sometimes the didukh is a drawing but, often, it’s a real wheat sheaf or a plant pot filled with heads of wheat.
Once they’re full of food and merriment, Ukrainians sing traditional Christmas songs or ‘koliadky.’ Most often, they’re sung at the table with family.
However, some people still go out carol singing on Christmas Eve.
They wrap up warm and take to the streets carrying long poles topped with vibrantly colored stars.
In Ukrainian language, Happy/Merry Christmas wishes are given as ‘Веселого Різдва’ Veseloho Rizdva (Merry Christmas) or ‘Христос Рождається’ Khrystos Rozhdayetsia (Christ is Born). It is interesting to know how people wish Happy or Merry Christmas in other languages.
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Main Points About Christmas in Ukraine
- Christmas in Ukraine is not celebrated on the 25th of December, but on the 7th of January.
- Prior to Christmas, there is usually a fast. Food is not eaten until the first star is seen in the sky. When it is time to eat, produce from animals are not eaten.
- The main Christmas meal, Saviata Vecheria (Holy Supper) is eaten on Christmas eve. It usually includes 12 dishes that are symbolic of Jesus’ 12 disciples.
- At the end of the Christmas meal, families, groups, and communities usually gather to sing Christmas carols (Koliadky).
- Nativity scenes are popularly used. Spider-like ornaments are traditionally used to decorate Christmas trees.
One of the Orthodox countries using the Julian calendar, and Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. On Christmas Eve, (January 6th), a traditional meal, ”Sviata Vecheria” (Holy Supper) is served.
Most people fast during the day and when the first star is seen in the sky in the evening, you may start eating.
It represents the star the three wise men followed to find Jesus. The meal includes 12 dishes to represent Jesus’ 12 disciples.
If you have been to Ukraine on Christmas or stay in Ukraine then do share your first-hand experience in the comments below.
Word Cloud for Christmas in Ukraine
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in Ukraine. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.