Ukraine is going to celebrate Christmas amid war

23 dhjetor 2022 15:26

Ukrainians celebrate winter holidays around the world this year because roughly 8 million people have been forced out of Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24. For Ukrainians, this time of year is more associated with the New Year than Christmas.

In this installment I will tell you why most Ukrainians are cold towards Christmas, how Ukrainians usually celebrate the winter holidays, and what the government has done this year so that even during the war, there is at least a slight sense of celebration.

How the USSR stole Christmas

Prior to 1917, Christmas had been the most popular holiday for the Russian Empire. After October 1917, for several years, Christmas celebreation was banned. It was highly dangerous to celebrate it. But after 1945, Christmas became a legal holiday, although not approved by the state. Only in the post-Soviet era Christmas became once again one of the main holidays, especially for the Orthodox Church.

Immediately after the victory in the Civil War, the Bolsheviks began to create their own holidays. At first, they did not interfere with the old religious holidays. In the 1920s, the Day of the Paris Commune, the Day of the Overthrow of the Monarchy, and Christmas and Easter coexisted relatively peacefully in the calendar. The only difference between them was that the revolutionary holidays were considered state holidays and were paid, even though no one worked that day. Whereas religious holidays were considered special days of rest and were not paid.


Nevertheless, one of the main pre-revolutionary holidays - Christmas - had problems from the very beginning. The fact is that the Bolsheviks, immediately after the revolution switched to a new, Gregorian calendar. The Church did not do this and remained to live according to the Julian. As a result, Christmas had shifted in the calendar from December 25 to January 7. At the same time, December 25, when the Church itself did not celebrate anything, was a day off, but January 7, when the Church celebrated Christmas, was an ordinary working day.

The USSR became increasingly atheistic, churches were closed, and the invented communist holidays substituted religious holidays. This is how the New Year supplanted Christmas, and in place of St. Nicholas, i.e., Santa Claus came no holy Father Frost.

Change of Soviet discourse

Right after the collapse of the USSR, a religious upsurge began in the former allied states. People again openly celebrated Christian holidays, but the New Year and Santa Claus firmly established their place in everyday life. So, in Ukraine, the New Year is still the most important holiday. If, in the Western world, the whole family gathers for Christmas, then in Ukraine, it is December 31st.

Since Ukraine is a large country with very clear regional differences, the date of Christmas is up to you. For example, in the Western part of Ukraine, most people are Catholic, so Christmas is celebrated on December 25. Eastern Ukraine and Central Ukraine are Orthodox and Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Also, in Ukraine there is a large Greek population Catholics, but they, like the Orthodox, celebrate it on January 7.

However, one of the main winter holidays in Western Ukraine is St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated on December 19. On this day children receive their treasured gifts under their pillows. For residents of Eastern or Southern Ukraine, St. Nicholas Day has only recently entered the holiday calendar.

After gaining independence, the Ukrainian government did not change holidays much. So, January 7 has always been a day off. The turning point in Ukraine's awareness was 2014 when Russia attacked Eastern Ukraine. Since then, the media and historians have been actively working on changing the Soviet heritage. For the first time, December 25, popularly called Catholic Christmas, was made a day off in 2017.

According to the rating, over the past year, more Ukrainians have begun to support the idea of moving the celebration of Christmas to December 25: 44% of Ukrainians agree to change the date, compared to 26% last year. The number of those who celebrate Christmas only on December 25 (from 4% to 11%) and those who celebrate it on both dates (from 18% to 25%) has slightly increased. More than half (55%) will celebrate Christmas on January 7 (71% in 2021).

Such a change of mood is caused by Russian aggression. Thus, Ukrainians want to say: "We don't want to have anything in common with you, even Christmas on January 7.

Christmas vs. New Year

These are two completely different holidays for Ukrainians. If on New Year's the receive the best gifts, decorate the tree, and celebrate with a large company of close friends and relatives, then Christmas is a 12-course dinner in a small family circle.


On the eve of Christmas, children dress up in bright clothes, cook kutia (ceremonial grain dish with sweet gravy) and visit neighbors and friends. While presenting kutia, children recite poems and sing Christmas songs. In return, they receive various gifts: sweets, money, or fruits. At the same time, it is considered impossible to take back the dishes from under the kutia. Therefore, the dish is usually served in a decorative gift pot. It was my favorite holiday as a child!


This year, most Ukrainian children, especially in the East of the country, will not share kutia on Christmas Eve. Many Ukrainians will celebrate this New Year without electricity, because Russia destroyed almost 50% of Ukraine's energy system. However at 23:59 on New Year’s Eve, Ukrainian families will be glued to their TV’s, and everyone will be watching President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the nation.

Namely, on the Day of St. Nicholas in Kyiv, the authorities lit the main tree of perseverence in Ukraine. "Traditionally, on December 19, on St. Nicholas Day, we lit the lights on the country's main Christmas tree on Sofia Square. This year there was a lot of discussion about whether to put up a Christmas tree. Given that we live in conditions of martial law, shelling and power cuts. But a Christmas tree should be here! Our children should have a holiday! Despite all the efforts of the Russian barbarians to deprive Ukrainians of the joy of Christmas and New Year," Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko opened the Christmas tree with these words.


This year's Christmas tree is artificial, 12 meters high (instead of 31), decorated with energy-saving garlands that will glow from a generator. They used the decorations of previous years.

Earlier, a Christmas tree was installed at the Kyiv railway station, which lights up from pedaling.

Even in the conditions of war, Ukrainians do not lose their perseverance but across the country you can see some billboards reading “Father Frost never existed.”

Find the article in Albanian here.

23 dhjetor 2022

Daria Meshcheriakova