Holidays (Christmas and New Year’s) Celebration in Ukraine


New year or Christmas holidays … As people like to call them, have the same meaning: the Christmas holidays that everyone wants to celebrate long and excitingly. Gone are the days when people hurried December 31 home from work in time to raise a glass of champagne at the chime of bells, and January 1, were already at work. Now everything is different, and much more loyal.

History of Christmas Holidays in Ukraine:

Almost all countries have the Christmas holidays. But as in Europe, where mainly Catholic faith is dominant, the Christmas occurs on December 25. On the same day, sometimes for a day or two before Christmas vacation begins, lasting about 2 weeks, and the beginning of an exciting new year, which is celebrated much more modestly or not marked at all.

In Russia and Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on January 7, and the New Year comes first. It is necessary to remember the recent past atheist times when Christmas as a national holiday was not considered and the splendor of the holiday season was connected with the New Year only. Therefore, our celebrations in Ukraine are arranged differently.

Christmas Day was celebrated in Russia after the introduction of Christianity in the X century. It comes at the time when the ancient Slavs celebrated their multi-day winter holiday – Yule. They began in the last days of December and ended holidays in early January. Many of the Christmas customs and traditions are preserved in the Christmas celebrations. This general celebration includes all kinds of entertainment, fortune telling, walking clowns, caroling, etc.

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Christmas and New Year’s Holidays Schedule in Ukraine:

  • In Ukraine, New Year’s Eve 2013 will be as follows:
  • Days off in the New Year period, declared:
  • January 1 and 2 – New Year holiday
  • January 7 and 8 – Christmas.

In general, the non-working days are built too well:

  • after the weekend 29-30 December, one day – January 31, which, in principle, can be moved to Saturday, and then two days of the holiday – 1, 2 January;
  • then 3 and 4 January – working days;
  • January 5-6 – legal holiday;
  • January 7-8 – Christmas.

Christmas Customs and Tradition in Ukraine and Russia:

During the Soviet time it was not officially celebrated in Ukraine. Instead communist government tried to substitute Christmas with the holiday of New Year. But people did not forget their traditions. After gaining it’s independence in 1991 Ukraine started to celebrate Christmas officially as well.

Christmas celebrations begin the cycle in Ukraine on January 2, the day Ignat. Households thoroughly clean up their housing. By January 4, the day of Anastasia, the house should be ready for celebration. Often at Anastasia men and women smoked a pig, that is, they made something called “svezhina.” The Christmas Eve (the end of Anastasia – January 6) is called in Ukraine ‘Sviaty Vechir’ (Holy Evening) sometimes also called‘Sviata Vecheria’ (Holy Supper). People usually cook some tasty foods for this evening. There should be at least 12 different foods on the table. Those should mandatory include ‘Kutia’ (grain porridge) — the ritual food which is prepared from cooked wheat and special syrup containing diluted honey, grated poppy seeds, raisins and sometimes walnuts.

Most of the dishes must be made lean (no fats, meat, or diary) in observance of a long fast that occurs before Christmas. By tradition, each member of the family must be in the evening at home, moreover, no one can be late for the holiday table, as it is believed that the whole year will wander. During the dinner, you cannot leave the table and talk loudly. The main dish on the table this evening is certainly kutya. Over the holidays, up to Epiphany, kutya must be always present. After finishing dinner, the children carrying lunch to his godfather, the adults were preparing for the evening church service. Only the girls who always want to know about their fate went off to continue celebration. Gradually the evening ends and then begins a magical Christmas night, during which you cannot sleep because you can “sleep through” all happiness. However, even with a strong desire to sleep it is almost impossible because our Orthodox Churches’ bells create a solemn and festive range of sounds for those that are going to carol (“kolyadovat’”).

Rite caroling came from pre-Christian times, when our ancestors worshiped the sun with Christmas Carols. Most of the singers of carols are little children. However, adults, teenagers and older people also go caroling. As a result of your efforts, you were always given candy, food, or money. After the end of the church service families again go to a dinner party, which is no longer the lean (end of fast). After lunch it’s time for well-deserved rest. Unmarried children usually go to their parents. On Christmas Day, the evening festivities begin with a bang of the bells. Dinner parties, caroling and celebration goes the whole night. They wish people good health and abundant harvest for the next year and ask for some donations. Also they perform some Christmas songs called in different parts of Ukraine ‘Koliadky’ or ‘Shchedrivky’ like these:

“Radujsia zemle, radujsia. Syn Bozhyj narodyvsia.” — Joy, Earth, Joy. The Son of God was born.

“Dobryj vechir, Sviaty vechir. Dobrym liudiam na zdorovja.” — Good evening, Holy evening. To good people for good health.

“Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka, pryletila lastivochka, stala sobi shchebetaty, hospodarya vyklykaty:” (for those that don’t know, this song is “Carol of the Bells” which originates from Ukraine: see

New Year’s Celebration in Ukraine

b2ap3 thumbnail ukraina 02In Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian ritual New Year’s dish was a sweet porridge-kutya and pancakes. Porridge cooked from whole grains, from several types of cereals. It was believed to be a hearty meal for the New Year, so there will be a full cup (prosperity) at home all year. It is believed that the new year should be welcomed in a new clothing and shoes – because then the whole year is new and filled with new things. Usually, before the New Year’s you had to get rid of all debts, forgive all offenses, those who were at odds, had to make up, so ask forgiveness of each other. This is the best way to start your New Year’s celebration.

Since ancient times, it was thought: what will be the first day of the year, so will be the year. Therefore had to dress in the New Year in all new clothing, postpone care and have fun from the heart throughout the night. That’s why after a huge meal at the table (which may last from 10pm till 4am) people continue to party. They go to the main Christmas tree, watch fireworks, continue drinking on the street, screaming, listening to music and do other fun things. The night would actually sometimes end at 8am.

New Year’s is a huge celebration for us. New Year’s holiday is associated with the forest beauty – a Christmas tree. The traditional Christmas tree characters: Santa Claus – the embodiment of generosity and kindness, and the Snow Maiden – a symbol of youth, joy, joy. Even though  Santa Clouse is just another saint of the Orthodox religion, named  Svyatyi Mykolai (‘Did Moroz’), he actually brings the Christmas gifts for children, the feast of which is marked on December 19th. This is actually the time when the “real” Santa Clouse comes to visit children and adults. However, for adults, Christmas gifts could be given later on New Year’s night (typically a lot of candy).

My Early Christmas and New Year’s Experience as Orthodox:

We have many holidays in Ukraine. Most of them are observed by some people just to find a good reason for a drink. However, while growing up, because of how my life turned out, I had my own view of what holidays meant to me.

The New Year was my favorite holiday. In orphanage, we have always had a Christmas tree. It was placed in our PE room (a lots of room for a nice huge Christmas tree) and children like me would do anything dance near it to receive presents. I wrote a little story on how I celebrated holidays in Orphanage. Please read Awakening Memories Book – Chapter “The Orphanage”

Then in a week there is Christmas. In Ukraine it is an old and popular holiday. I started to go caroling from house to house, from apartment to apartment when I was in foster care. The main reason of going to sing traditional holiday songs and wish all the goodness on earth to the people I visited, was because I wanted to make some money for the sweets I really needed. Although the people gave me sweets and cakes, I really wanted to earn as much money as I possibly could. Sometimes, I would finish quickly with one house and run to another house to sing the carol. Barely breathing from rushing in cold, I had to stand in front of the household and sing beautifully the carrol, which was eventually rewarded. While in foster care, we even had a competition among 5 of us, who would make the most money in one night. So, first we did it on Christmas Eve. Then we continued on Christmas Day. The beauty of Christmas day was that you could do that the entire day. At that time, hungry, cold, and tired, I was as happy as I could get, because I knew that I was rewarded for my efforts.

Each holiday is interesting in its way but all of them are good and merry.

Wish you all Happy Holidays and prosperous New Year!