Note: This article was written before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since 2022, many Ukrainians have chosen December 25 for celebrating Christmas as a way to distance from Russia and its church calendar traditions. Ukrainian churches implement reforms to switch to the Gregorian calendar. Find out more about this shift in this Wikipedia article.
When is Ukrainian Christmas, and why? What a strange question! All Christians celebrate Christmas on the same day! Or do they?
These days, every shop window tells you that it’s the holiday season! Thanksgiving is in October or November, and then there are Christmas and New Year’s, right? Nope, not in Ukraine.
The Thanksgiving situation is clear: I mean, no pilgrims — no celebration. But what’s with Christmas Day? Unlike America and the vast majority of European countries, Ukraine celebrates Christmas on the 7th of January. Only on this day, we finally get sober after New Year’s Eve and are ready for more festivities. Just kidding 🙂 There’s a bigger story behind it.
It starts with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar at the end of the 16th century. At the time, Ukraine was a part of The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The situation between the Catholic and Orthodox churches was tense. Poland wanted Ukraine to change its religion, but Ukrainians were persistent. That’s why when the Catholics decided to change calendars, the Orthodox Ukrainians decided to stick to the Julian one as a sign of resilience.
Find national calendar of all public holidays in Ukraine here: Holidays in Ukraine
As centuries passed by, Ukraine gained its independence for a short period in 1918 (this happened before the USSR was created). Then, the civilian calendar was changed to the Gregorian one. However, the Orthodox Church has bigger fish to fry and keeps counting the days their own way. This is also the reason we have the so-called ‘Old New Year’ on January 14. It isn’t as big as the one in December, but still nice.
So if you want to see how Ukrainians celebrate Christmas, don’t rush. Eat your Christmas cookies at home, greet your Santa, kiss your loved ones on New Year’s Eve — and only after your own holiday fever is over, come to Ukraine. We’ll be waiting at home with our families and 12 traditional dishes. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not; this is a sacred tradition that lives throughout generations. Believe me, you don’t want to miss the Ukrainian Christmas dinner on the 6th of January.
Traditionally Ukrainians fast before Christmas, so the dinner is without animal products. We were vegans before it was mainstream 🙂 And breakfast on the 7th, ooh! Just thinking of it makes my mouth water.
Curious to learn more? Listen to Ukrainian Lessons Podcast Episode #61 about Різдвяна вечеря — Christmas dinner in Ukraine!
In case you have already bought your tickets for the end of the year, no need to worry. Since 2017, the 25th of December has become a recognized public holiday, too, and many Ukrainians are switching their celebrations to this day or are celebrating Christmas on both days, so you can still catch a glimpse of Ukrainian holidays. There is no wrong way to celebrate Christmas 🙂
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