Orthodox Christmas in Ukraine
The most common question about Ukrainian Christmas that strikes many foreigners and even locals is “When exactly is it celebrated?”. Truth is, there are two official dates for celebrating Christmas in Ukraine.
The first is the Roman Catholic Christmas on December 25, which is familiar to the most part of the globe. It is traditionally more spread in Western Ukraine and regions with the predominant Roman Catholic faith. The second is the Orthodox Christmas on January 7. The holiday is typically an official day off in Ukraine and grasps all its regions.
The key difference between the two is the calendar the respective church follows - Roman Catholic church follows the Gregorian calendar, while Orthodox keeps to the Julian, hence the possible confusion about the 'two Christmases' in Ukraine.
People greet each other with simple "Z Rizdvom!" ("Merry Christmas") or a customary greeting "Khrystos narodyvsia!" ("Christ is born!"), which is typically answered with "Slavimo Yoho!" ("Let Us Glorify Him!"). You can also find out more about traditional Christmas food in Ukraine and customs.
One of the easiest answers to the question “How to celebrate Christmas in Ukraine?” is staying in the capital. According to Kyiv City Administration, January 7 will mark Christmas festivities - a concert on Sofiiska Square, singing carols, and the March of Stars.
The March of Stars is one of the brightest and memorable traditions of Ukrainian Christmas. People dressed in traditional garments carry colorful stars on sticks, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem. The tradition is especially popular in Western Ukraine and nowadays it's just as welcomed in Kyiv. The March of Stars will walk on Andriivskyi Descent and finish on Kontraktova Square, where people will sing carols near the Christmas tree.
The open-air Pyrohiv museum is one of the best places to spend Christmas near Kyiv. The museum exhibits numerous buildings of traditional Ukrainian architecture and traditionally celebrates prominent Ukrainian holidays, introducing guests to the country's customs.
On January 7, starting from 1 P.M, Pyrohiv will be brimming with youth and adults of all ages who perform carols. Vertep – a traditional Ukrainian theater that presents Nativity scene – will be also there. Visitors will have a chance to join the celebrations and learn about didukh - a traditional attribute of Christmas made from a sheaf of wheat that symbolizes wealth and prosperity.
While Lviv is mostly known for extensive celebrations on the Roman Catholic Christmas, the Orthodox one is celebrated here as well. On January 6, guests of the city are welcome to the downtown at noon to witness the installation of Didukh, the main Ukrainian symbol of Christmas, on Yavorsky Square. At 5 P.M., a Christmas theatrical march will start at Lviv Academic spiritual theater "Resurrection" to match through the downtown streets.
On January 7, the famous Ukrainian singer Ruslana will give a concert at 7 P.M. in front of Lviv Opera House. Another concert, 'Christmas Melodies on Organ', will take place in Lviv House of Organ and Chamber Music. Finally, On January 8, the annual festival 'The Flash of the Christmas Star' will host the traditional March of Stars. Stars of every imaginable color are an important Christmas symbol in Western Ukraine. That's why people dressed in national garments march the city streets carrying colorful Stars of Bethlehem and singing carols.
Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas will also be celebrated in Shevchenkivky Hai for 3 days from January 7 to 9. Visitors will have a chance to witness authentic Ukrainian Christmas traditions, listen to the oldest Christmas carols and taste traditional Christmas food and drinks.
Bukovel isn't the only place in the Carpathians to celebrate Orthodox Christmas. The famous resort Yaremche lures tourists in with the Transcarpathian hospitality, which is especially felt during the traditional holidays. From January 7 to January 14, Yaremche welcomes everyone to visit the annual regional festival of authentic Koliada "Christ is Born! - Let Us Glorify Him!"
Guests of the festival will have an opportunity to witness all Hutsul rituals connected with the holiday. Different folk bands will perform carols in the Nativity of St. John the Baptist Church after the service on January 7, 8, 9, 13 and 14.
Chernivtsi is one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in Ukraine thanks to its diversity - the city has both Orthodox and Roman Catholic temples. While many tourists are rightfully attracted by the Church of the Assumption Heart of Jesus, the Orthodox church of St. Nicholas Wondermaker is just as worth the attention.
The temple was built in the 1930s during the so-called Romanian era of Bukovina. It showcases the classic elements of the traditional Romanian architectural style, Neoromânesc. The church was constructed to resemble Curtea de Argeș Cathedral with its twisting and leaning cupolas. You can find more places to visit in Chernivtsi in our guide.
For those who long to spend holidays near the water, Odesa is the classic choice. On the winter holidays, the city is not as full of tourists as during the high season in summer, which gives a chance to visit all the city's sights without a rush. Downtown Odesa will be engaged in New Year and Christmas celebrations.
For instance, Christmas fair with numerous stalls selling mulled wine and gingerbread cookies will work on Primorsky Boulevard daily till January 13. On Christmas Eve of January 6, Central Shevchenko Park will host a special project "Cooking Kutia", where visitors will have a chance to learn more about the main traditional Ukrainian dish.
Castles are often pictured as a perfect Christmas place in numerous fairytales and movies. Ukraine's most famous fortress located in Kamianets Podilskyi fits the description. The fortress consists of eleven towers and is often included in the must-visit places lists in Ukraine. Luckily for tourists, Kamianets Podilskyi fortress will work during winter holidays. On January 6, its doors will be opened from 9 A.M. until 5 P.M. and on Christmas - from noon until 4 P.M.
Another fairytale location to celebrate Christmas in lies not far from Kamianets Podilskyi. Khotyn Fortress located on the banks of the Dniester River 70 kilometers away from Chernivtsi is one of the biggest and well-preserved citadels in Europe.
Throughout its complex history, Khotyn served numerous purposes and nowadays attracts tourists. It's interesting that the St. Alexander Nevsky's church, built in the 19th century for Russian soldiers, survived along the fortifications. Many tourist agencies offer Christmas tours that include Khotyn Fortress in the program.
One of the unusual places where you can go for Christmas in Ukraine is Petrykivka village in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The tiny dot on the map of the country is famous for its decorative painting style, which is included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Naturalistic motifs and flora are the basis of Petrykivka style: garden flowers like dahlias, asters and tulips, and field flowers like daisies are often combined with berries, ferns, as well as flower buds.
To witness the works of art in real life, you may visit the Center of folk art ‘Petrykivka’ and a museum located in the village. Local masters often hold workshops for those who want to try themselves at Ukrainian decorating. You may also create your own masterpiece – decorate the wooden kitchen board with Petrykivka painting. Details are available at the official Facebook page of the event. Note that the prior registration is necessary for the workshop.
Khortytsia island in Ukraine is the largest island on the Dnipro River and the largest river island in the whole Europe. It also belongs to the seven miracles of Ukraine and attracts numerous tourists throughout the year. To some, Khortytsia is even more picturesque in winter.
Ukrainian Christmas is traditionally celebrated on the island in the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Mother of God. The church annually hosts services on January 6, 7 and 8. Guests can visit numerous thematic cafes located on the island to try the traditional Christmas dishes.
The following list is the editor’s choice.
Photo sources: depositphotos.com, blog.denisbondar.com. All images belong to their rightful authors.