Holiday celebrations continue to January 19 say Ukrainians


Tree lighting in Kyiv kicked off Orthodox celebrations*

While Christmas Day on the Julian calendar is celebrated on January 7, 2018, celebrations began on St. Nicholas Day, December 19, 2017, and will end on the Epiphany, January 19. Much joy was experienced during the lighting of the main Christmas tree in Kyiv's St. Sofia Square, where the annual market floods the space with shoppers. 

In homes trees and other decorations do not appear until Jan. 2. In the United States, many Ukrainians celebrate the Gregorian calendar date of Dec. 25 for Christmas and then continue through the Julian calendar dates. 

To Ukrainians, expensive presents are less a focus than Christmas stories, music, food, family, symbols and remembrance of ancestors, as depicted in displays in the Ukrainian National Museum (UNM), 2249 W. Superior St. 


Spider web, cross-stitched, ribbon covered balls and many other symbols embellish this tree in the Ukrainian National Museum

A tree in the middle of the first floor activity space is laden with hand crafted ornaments, each symbolizing a story or tradition. 

Spider web ornaments are the symbol for an ancient story of a poor widow who lived in a cramped cold hut with her children. 

Outside the hut, a pinecone fell from the tree and took root. Excited by the possibility that they could have a tree for Christmas, the children carefully tended the tree so they could adorn it with ornaments for the holiday. The reality known and accepted by the family, however, was that they were too poor to add the decorations. 

The household spiders heard the children's sobs and, before the dawn of Christmas morning, spun intricate webs on the tree. 

"Mother, mother wake up and see the tree. It is beautiful!" The widow awoke to see that the tree's fragile branches were wrapped with thin web threads glowing silver and gold, reflecting the shafts of light that crept along the floor and climbed into the tree. 

From that day forward, the widow never wanted for anything. 

In addition to the many traditional Christmas carols recognized around the world, Carol of the Bells (also known as Ukrainian Bell Carol) has special significance to Ukrainians as it was composed by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych. Premiered in December 1916 by a Kyiv University choral group, it premiered in New York's Carnegie Hall on Oct. 5, 1921.

On Christmas Eve in most parts of the Ukraine, "Verteps," meaning "caves" in ancient Greek, are displayed. They are scenes from the Bible which depict the birth of Jesus Christ. The baby in the manger, Virgin Mary, shepherds offering gifts under the star of Bethlehem are part or the scenes which appear in public spaces, usually near or inside churches. 

Ancient stories were originally portrayed by puppet theaters where the "actors" were accompanied by vocalist and instrumental ensembles who traveled from village to village telling their tales.

Currently, students dress up as characters such as angels, kings, Herod, Satan, death and animals, waling from house to house to act out stories they write about both faith and history.

The symbol that is consistent with these presentations is the star on a pole. 

Sviata Vechera (Holy Supper)
From pagan to Christianity times, a feast of 12 meatless dishes occurs on Christmas Eve. Each course representing one of the twelve apostles. This event is when families re-enact age-old observances that symbolize their deep spirituality, love of family and attachment to the land, according to UNM documentation. 

In preparation for the meal, some hay is placed on and under the dining table, representing baby Jesus in the manger. The finest embroidered table clothes are laid on the table. One is to represent the living family members and the other to those who are dead. An extra place is set for the souls of the departed relatives. 


Many traditions of the season are symbolized in this museum exhibit

The centerpiece of the table is the Christmas bread or "kolach," which is made of three stacked rings. Each ring represents the Holy Trinity and the candle in the center symbolizes Jesus, as the light of the world. 

Wheat is the main component of the first course. Kutia, boiled wheat kernels, are sweetened with honey and flavored with poppy seeds and nuts. Symbolizing prosperity in the new year, each family member must partake of this course. Borsch (beet soup) is next with fish and vegetable courses being the focus of the meal. No meal is complete without pyrohy or varenyky, stuffed dough dumplings with potato and onion or sauerkraut. 

The three to four hour meal also includes a variety of vegetable dishes, two varieties of cabbage rolls (holubtsi) and salad, ending with a compote of dried fruits (uzvar) that have been soaked overnight and cooked with honey. Finally an array of desserts include an assortment of pampushky, little deep-fried pastries containing various fillings such as poppy seed or dried fruit. 

After dinner, some kutya and pampushky are left on the table along with a glass of water and a clean towel for the spirits of deceased relatives. 


Traditional holiday star greets visitors at door of UNM

New Year's
As explained at the UNM, straw toys were the only new year decorations used in Ukraine long ago. Now a green tree is the symbol. 

As a symbol of prosperity and abundance, the Didukh is a familiar sight in people's homes. Originally it was prepared in the summer and made from the last sheaf of the harvest by the whole family before the holiday. 

Whether you follow the Julian or the Gregorian calendar, Our Urban Times hopes the holidays for each of you was joyful and that the new year is all that you hope it to be! 

*Photo source QHA Crimean News Agency


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