10 Ukrainian holidays and traditions

Ukrainian people are open-hearted and friendly. Probably, that is why there are many Ukrainian holidays. They combine old traditions of Ukraine, European celebrations as well as universal festivities. However, we have special holidays celebrated only in our country and are not well-known around the world. The aim of this article is to tell about them. So, you are welcome to read the list of traditional and Christian holidays.

Let us start with the list of celebrations.

What is the most important holiday? The most celebrated religious holiday by the majority of people except Easter and Christmas is Epiphany. Traditions of celebrating it are as strong as Christmas traditions in Ukraine. On Epiphany Eve the whole family gathers around the table and has festive dinner, which consists of plain food. After that they go to church. On 19 January it is traditional to have a bath before the sun rise to wash all your illnesses and negative energy away. However, there is another tradition: people go to the river or lake, break the ice and dive into cold water. They believe that by doing so, they will be healthy all year round and wash their sins away too. (It is very interesting that in spite of cold weather and water very few people fall ill after such experience). Personally I have never tried diving in icy water, I am not that brave, but my friends and family love it. My grandfather used to take snow baths every winter to be healthy and strong, he didn`t use any medicine until the very old age. But if you decide to start it, you should do it slowly and prepare your body not to shock it with stress.

There are superstitions according to Ukrainian customs and traditions connected with Epiphany.

  • Blessed water on Epiphany day was used as detergent for linen, there wasn`t much choice of chemicals for washing, so women washed their white linen with that water and hanged it outside for a night to make it snowy white.
  • If the stars were shining bright at that night it meant that the harvest would be excellent, many berries in the forest and sheep would bring many lambs.
  • Young girls used to go outside of the house, take snow and apply it as a face mask to be more beautiful and healthy. Also they were curious about their destiny and did fortune telling, one of them was to write many male names on different pieces of paper and put under the pillow for a night, in the morning they used to pick up one name and it should be the name of a future husband. Girls used to put a comb under the pillow and were thinking about a future husband saying “Come to me my darling” and whoever comes in a dream considered to be an image of a fiancé.

Maslenitsa. (Pancake Day) This celebration comes to us from pagan times. It is celebrated to mark the end of winter and greet the beginning of spring. Maslenitsa is not actually a one-day celebration. It usually lasts for one week, during which people traditionally make pancakes and visit their in-laws, and on Sunday a big public celebration with different games and competitions is organized, a scarecrow is made and burnt to force the winter out. It is also traditional to ask for an apology from all people you know and they have to forgive you. I clearly remember those bright days from school when we were so eagerly waiting for this fun time, it is still fresh outside, sometimes even a bit freezing but very sunny. To warm up we were making scarecrows, making competitions, which one will look scarier, painting it, putting make up, all the most craziest ideas. And the most delicious part is eating pancakes. All grandmas of Ukraine cook pancakes and feed their grandchildren with this sweet treat. There is a belief, the more pancakes you make, more luck, money and health in the family this year. So during the whole week you can try all types of pancakes with different fillings (blueberry, raspberry, and other types of berries).

4 June. The Holy Trinity Day. Girls like to tell fortunes on that day. They go to a pond and throw two wreaths of flowers. However, this custom is not widely observed in the cities. People go to church, which is decorated in green plants and we bring home all greens as a symbol of this holiday.

7 July. Ivana Kupala. It has revived in recent years. It is a celebration of both Christian and pagan traditions. People believe that they can heal on that day if they wash their face with the morning dew, or walk barefoot on it. However, the most famous and loved custom on this day is jumping over the fire, which usually takes place in the evening. A man and a woman take each other’s hand and jump over the flame. If they are lucky not to get into the fire, they will be happy in love, healthy and can even get married soon. However, if one is not lucky to jump over the fire, he will surely be in trouble during the year.

14 August. Savior. Actually, there are three days, called Poppy Savior, Apple Savior and Honey Savior. And on every of them people go to church to bless food containing poppy, honey and apples. People also try not to work on this day, or at least do not do any house chores.

22 January. The day of collegiality. It has been celebrated it since 1999. It symbolizes constant pursuit of Ukrainian people for being sovereign.

28 June. One of the national holidays in Ukraine is the Constitution day. It has been celebrated since 1998. This day is a day off. And in many cities it is a usual thing to organize a concert in the centre of the city, followed by an evening firework display.

23 August. This is a very important day especially that the process of flag creation has lasted since XVII century. Now, when we finally have our flag, which consists of two colors – blue like clear skies, symbolizing peace, and yellow like ripe wheat fields, symbolizing wealth, we are really proud of it and cannot do without celebrating this special day. The following day we are celebrating Independence Day.

14 October. It is a holiday of Cossack community than now has a name of a defendant. It is not a secret that Cossacks played an important part in the history of Ukraine. Apart from remembering the contribution made by warriors, it is already traditional to congratulate men on that day, meaning that they are our (women’s) support and defense.

9 November. The day of Ukrainian language. It was introduced by president Leonid Kuchma in 1997 to honor a chronicler Nestor, the follower of the creators of written language – Kirill and Methodius. It is celebrated every year since then, still it is not a day off. The only tradition that exists to celebrate one of the most significant holidays in Ukrainian culture is to organize various language competitions among school children and students.