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Ukraine Shifts Christmas Celebration to December 25 in Assertion of National Identity

Published December 26, 2023
7 months ago

For the first time in its modern history, Ukraine has celebrated Christmas on December 25, a departure from the long-standing tradition of marking the holiday in January like Russia. This historical shift signifies Ukraine's ongoing efforts to assert its national identity and move away from Russian influence amid the 22-month-old invasion.

The introduction of the new Christmas date was formally acknowledged through legislation signed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last July. The law not only reflects the Ukrainian people's rejection of the Russian aggression but also underscores their determination to reclaim and revitalize their traditions free from external imposition.

Yevhen Konyk, a 44-year-old serviceman, describes this decision as “historical justice.” He, along with many other Ukrainians, celebrated with traditional festive activities at an open-air museum in Kyiv, underlining a sense of renewal and progression in the face of adversity.

The context of religion in this shift is essential: Ukraine, being largely Orthodox Christian, has found its faith divided. This divide rests predominantly between two churches, with one having historic ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which does not recognize the Russian Church's authority, achieved full recognition in 2019 by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, a significant figure in Orthodox Christianity.

In a move echoing the sentiment of national sovereignty, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, previously under the Russian church, declared autonomy in 2022, severing ties with Moscow post the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war. Despite this, its parishes retain the January 7th observation of Christmas as per the liturgical calendar they share with the Russian church.

Oksana Poviakel, who presides over the Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine where Christmas festivities occurred, emphasized the importance of this change. She posits that celebrating on December 25th acts as a potent agent of self-differentiation, a means to consciously distance and distinguish Ukraine from the "neighbour" that imperils its sovereignty.

The Ukrainian citizens' adoption of the Western European Christmas date has been met with enthusiasm. It narrates a story of resilience, patriotism, and hope amidst the harrowing reality of war. From the faithful prayers of individuals like Asia Landarenko, whose son serves in the military, emerges a narrative of enduring strength. She regards the true celebration of Christmas to be synonymous with the future victory of Ukraine, a conviction shared by many across the nation.

Ukraine's move to celebrate on December 25 showcases a nation’s choice to align closely with Western Europe and other Christian traditions worldwide. It is a deliberate step in cultivating their unique cultural and national identity while concurrently enduring the realities of a bitter conflict. As the country continues to navigate through these tumultuous times, this new tradition stands as a symbol of hope and a declaration of independence, embodying the enduring spirit of the Ukrainian people.

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