Christmas Celebration In Ukraine

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As Ukrainian population is divided into two large communities of Catholic and Orthodox christians, the country celebrates Christmas two times. In fact, the holiday season begins in the western part of Ukraine with Catholic Christmas and lasts for two weeks (with a noisy nationwide New Year celebration in between) till January, 6, which is the Christmas day for the Orthodox believers.

Since very old times, Christmas has been the most beloved of all festivities, it covers a cycle of important fest days, with its main feature – the evening meal called “Holy Supper” (Svyata Vechera) in literal translation.christnas-eve_a-korobkin_2011

During the Soviet time the communist government tried to substitute Christmas with the holiday of New Year, but people did not forget their old traditions and after gaining it’s independence in 1991, Christmas has been officially celebrated as a national holiday.

The evening of Svyata Vechera is always marked by an enormous dinner meal. According to the tradition, there should be at least 12 different foods on the table. Those should mandatory include ‘Kutia’ — the ritual food which is prepared from cooked wheat and special syrup containing diluted honey, grated poppy seeds, raisins and sometimes walnuts.

At the end of the Sviata Vechera the family often sings Ukrainian Christmas carols. The Ukrainian song “Shchedryk” became the basis for the world famous Christmas carol, “Carol of the Bells”.

When the children see the first star in the eastern evening sky, symbolizing the trek of the Three Wise Men, the Sviata Vecherya may begin. In farming communities the head of the household now brings in a sheaf of wheat called the didukh which represents the importance of the ancient and rich wheat crops of Ukraine, the staff of life through the centuries. Didukh means literally “grandfather spirit” so it symbolizes the family’s ancestors. In city homes a few stalks of golden wheat in a vase are often used to decorate the table.

There is always a Christmas tree in every home. Besides the internationally known decorations, one can find small ornaments in the shape of a spider (pavuchky, literally “little spider”) and spider webs on Ukrainian Christmas trees. They represent the touching old Legend of the Christmas Spider. Here is the legend in short:

A poor but hardworking widow once lived in a small hut with her children. One summer day, a pine cone fell on the earthen floor of the hut and took root. The widow’s children cared for the tree, excited at the prospect of having a Christmas tree by winter. The tree grew, but when Christmas Eve arrived, they could not afford to decorate it. The children sadly went to bed and fell asleep. Early the next morning, they woke up and saw the tree covered with cobwebs. When they opened the windows, the first rays of sunlight touched the webs and turned them into gold and silver. The widow and her children were overjoyed. From then on, they never lived in poverty again.

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Jerry Jay Carroll

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