Home » Culture and History

The Most Important Family Holidays in Ukraine

17. December 2012 by Lorena 0 Comments

Don’t be surprised if your favorite Ukrainian ladies are a little hard to reach over the next couple of weeks. Chances are she’s going to be very busy with family festivities. The Christmas holidays are some of the most beloved by Ukrainian families. Christmas is not just celebrated on a single day as it is in the US. The Christmas festivities last for several days and involve all of the family.


On December 19th, old Ukrainian traditions decree that parents sneak small gifts into their children’s rooms. This day is the feast day of St. Nicolas, the saint who became part of the basis for Santa Claus. Because of his association with secret gifts, parents would, on the night of his feast day, put small presents under the pillows of their children. However, many Ukrainian parents now give gifts on December 25th instead, as is done in the west.


New Year’s Eve is a huge holiday in Ukraine. In cities like Kyiv and Lviv, there are huge public parties. Elsewhere, families celebrate with festive gatherings that include champagne, fruits like tangerines, salad Olivier, and setting off firecrackers. The dawn of the new year means, symbolically, leaving the troubles of the last year behind. Just as families in America curl up to watch nostalgic Christmas films like It’s a Wonderful Life, Ukrainians typically take in a viewing of The Irony of Fate. The movie has been shown on TV in Russia and Ukraine on New Year’s Eve since its 1975 debut, and is an integral part of the holidays for many.


Christmas Eve comes on January 6th in Ukraine instead of on the 24th of December. Why the 6th? The Ukrainian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, which runs 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used for civil functions. On Christmas Eve, it’s the job of the children to watch for the first star to rise. When it can be seen, it’s time to begin the elaborate feast. Christmas Eve dinner includes 12 separate dishes, each with symbolic significance. If any family members have died in the previous year, places are set for them at the table. After dinner, the family gathers for Christmas carols. In some communities, groups of young people go caroling as a group.


Verterp, or puppet theter, is another Ukrainian Christmas tradition. Originally, these were traveling puppet shows that depicted the Nativity. These days, they are as likely to be acted out by small children as by puppets.


At midnight, children get a visit from Grandfather Snow. Unlike the secretive Santa Claus, Grandfather Snow hands out presents to children in person. Ukrainian festivities continue through Epiphany, the last day of Christmas. The holiday usually ends as it begins, with the family gathered together for a feast.


The Christmas holidays are a busy time everywhere, but, in the Ukraine, that busyness takes the shape of warm gatherings with family and friends.

Photo: sxc.hu