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Ukraine Embraces December Christmas, Distancing from Russian Traditions

Published December 25, 2023
7 months ago

In what can be seen as both a cultural and political declaration of independence, Ukraine has made a historic decision to alter the date of its Christmas celebrations, moving away from a century-old tradition synchronized with Russia. This year, Ukrainians will join the majority of the world in celebrating Christmas on December 25, a change that is laden with significant meaning for the nation.

The Ukrainian government, under the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, enacted legislation in July, which formalized the change of the Christmas date. This legislative move symbolizes a firm stance against Russian influence, which has been a point of contention especially since the onset of Russia's invasion. From a broader perspective, this change is a part of a larger ongoing effort to eradicate the vestiges of the Russian and Soviet rule, which has included renaming streets and dismantling monuments that symbolized Russian hegemony.

Christianity, being the majority religion in Ukraine, has predominantly been under the ambit of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the shift in the celebration date highlights Ukraine’s desire to establish and honor its own customs and festivities. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which established its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church following Russia's actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, echoes the government's sentiment by also adopting the December 25 date.

The decision, expectedly, has not been uniform across all religious entities in Ukraine. The historically Russia-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church has opted to retain the customary January 7 celebration date. Although this church claims neutrality by severing ties with Russia due to the war, many Ukrainians meet this assertion with skepticism. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, another significant religious body, will be observing Christmas on December 25 as well, showing a unified front with the government and the newly independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

This reformed Christmas date serves as a testament to Ukraine's enduring spirit to reclaim autonomy over its cultural and religious practices which have been predominantly under Moscow's oversight since as early as the 17th century. In the era of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not emphasized, and celebratory customs like Christmas trees and the giving of gifts were shifted to New Year's Eve, which remains a significant celebration for numerous Ukrainian families even today.

Ukrainian Christmas traditions are characterized by their uniqueness, such as the Christmas Eve supper that includes twelve meatless dishes, with key items like the sweet grain pudding called "kutya," and the decoration of homes with "didukhy," which are intricately crafted sheaves of wheat. In certain regions, children perpetuate the age-old tradition of moving from home to home, singing "kolyadky," which are Christmas carols, and performing nativity scenes, adding to the rich tapestry of Ukraine's Christmas heritage.

This year, as Ukraine adopts the Gregorian calendar for its Christmas festivities, it sends a message to the world and to Russia, in particular, that it remains resolute in forming its own identity separate from past dominions, a sentiment that reverberates strongly against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict.

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