There is a major difference as to how Ukrainians celebrate Christmas and how it is celebrated in western cultures and other faiths.

I will not try to explain how western Christianity celebrates Christmas, because I think we all are very familiar with their customs. I will only note one point. The Roman Catholic Catechism has one paragraph to explain Christmas. The Ukrainian Catholic Catechism: “Christ our Pascha:” has thirteen. That says a lot in itself.

Ukrainians do not even use the word Christmas. We refer to the holiday as the “Birth of Christ”. In Ukraine and elsewhere, we celebrate the “Birth of Christ” on the 7th January. Santa Claus does not come on 7th January. Ukrainians in Ukraine exchange gifts on 1st January, New Year’s Day.

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Ukrainians celebrate the birth of Christ for three days and it is celebrated on the 7th January. The Blessed Virgin Mary on the 8th, and St Stephan’s the first martyr on the 9th January.

Ukrainians start the celebration on 6th January with the very traditional supper called “Sviat Vechir”. The carolling, the 12 dishes, straw, “kutia” and the other well-known rituals are a very big part of the tradition.

The birth of Christ is very closely tied in with the symbolic baptism of Christ in the River Jordan. Theophany includes a second supper called “Shchedryi Vechir”.  It has basically the same menu of “Sviat Vechir”. Our celebrations of the birth of Christ last for over two weeks.

Apart from these events there is a very interesting and important meaning attached to everything we do during these long and complex celebrations.

What so many Ukrainians may have already forgotten that our commemoration of the birth of Christ begin 40 days before 7th January with a “fast” called Philip’s fast.

Because our Christmas celebrations symbolize our Ukrainian faith, culture and identity, changing our celebration to other Christmas traditions would be difficult.

The birth of Christ is important because it is part of the story of our salvation. It is connected to the story of Adam and Eve. They lead mankind into sin with their disobedience of God. Jesus Christ, our promised Saviour, is born in order to save us from our sins. John the Baptist is also part of this story because he introduces baptism as a means to reunite us with God.

Philip’s Fast, is important, because as we fast, we promise to obey God’s word, as Adam and Eve refused to do, when they would not fast as they were told not to eat the forbidden fruit.

The birth of Christ in the cave shows the world that God loves the world so much that He became a slave. He becomes one of us.

The joy, witnessed in the birth, show us that God wants us to participate in the story. The star, shepherds, angels and the animals symbolise to the whole world that the birth of Christ is a celebration for the universe.

The birth is Christ is linked to Easter. Jesus is born in a cave and is buried in another cave later on at Easter. The gifts brought to the birth of Christ are similar to the anointing of the body of Christ at His burial.

Christ’s humility, contrasts with Adam’s pride. Adam is a man who wants to be god, while Jesus, is God who becomes man. Adam’s disobedience is contrasted with the obedience of Jesus who is a King and was born in circumstances dictated by a Roman Emperor.

The blessing of water at the feast of Jordon speaks of our own baptism, but also of the blessing of our homes and all of the world with holy water. God has made us holy and we are part of His plan for our salvation.

Because our Christmas celebrations symbolize our Ukrainian faith, culture and identity, changing our celebration to other Christmas traditions would be difficult.

 

This post is also available in: Ukrainian