Christmas traditions in Ukraine
Winter holidays are magical when secret dreams might come true, these are the dates in a calendar, when many people try to spend time with their loved ones, coming from abroad to see their families in home countries or vice versa visiting them there. You may feel it in the streets, supermarkets, shops, wherever you go, you can smell magic. Ukrainian greeting in Christmas time is not different to the world-known way of exchanging gifts, cards and wishes. People spend much time choosing gifts for their loved ones, thinking how to impress them and touch their hearts. A simple greeting card melts a person`s soul despite cold weather outside. We tend to spend this holiday at home, but also people travel.
There are a lot of festive markets almost in all cities, where you can drink mulled wine, try different dishes and enjoy your evening in a festive atmosphere. One of the most famous markets are in Lvov in the western side of our country, at the central square. Here you find picturesque wooden houses with various treats, souvenirs and street delicious food. Kharkov is one of the biggest city, which has the largest square in Eastern Europe. Here you can try amazing cinnamon mulled wine.
When is Ukrainian Christmas? In Ukraine it is on the seventh of January, people who keep the Christmas old traditions gather around the table full of delicious food. On this day everyone has to purify himself spiritually, leave all worries and fears in the past year, entering a new one with new goals and dreams. After that, it is time to get down to cooking dishes.
How does Ukraine celebrate Christmas? Let me share with you our Christmas authentic traditions and their meanings.
According to Christmas festive traditions in Ukraine people prepare twelve dishes to honor twelve apostles. These traditional dishes are borsch, vareniki, fish, uzvar mushrooms, haricot or beans, potatoes, holubtsi, cookies, kutya.
Kutya is Ukrainian Christmas food. According to traditions of Ukraine, godchildren go to godmother with a bowl of kutya. It is one of the strong traditions which are kept until today. I don`t often see my godmother, but every year she expects a knock on the door at the same time and is ready to greet me.
It is forbidden to argue and all the family must stay at home together. Children must help to make preparations for the Holy Evening. It is interesting that adult people do not have breakfast and lunch on that day and children are allowed to snack at lunchtime.
On Christmas Eve in Ukraine while preparing the table for the Holy Evening, we lay the fresh hay and some seeds on it and then cover with a table-cloth putting a clove of garlic in every corner underneath to protect their homes from evil spirits and diseases. It is also traditional to put a “didukh” (a sheap of wheat, rye or oats), symbolizing the souls of ancestors, who are supposed to visit us on that day.
During the supper, you shouldn`t leave the table. There are some superstitions too. Neither women nor men should sit at the corner of the table, if they don’t want to stay unmarried.
When you see the first star appearing in the sky, notifying God’s Son birth, people light a candle, say a prayer and begin their meal.
One of the customs of Christmas in rural areas is singing “koliadky” calling the owners of the houses out. These songs are usually about history of our country, legends and different personalized characters. My grandfather used to write stories by himself, making it unique and unusual, so when we visited houses with a bunch of friends, we were holding a star and recalling new lyrics, which amazed people around. In return they were treating us with sweets, cookies and even money, because those who sing carols are thought to be the messengers of God and they are welcome everywhere.
However, city dwellers do not stick to all the rules. They do get around the table and even prepare the twelve dishes, but they do not go from house to house singing carols and making performances. It is also not a usual thing for people not to eat until the first star rises. Still, people meet their family and spend a nice evening together.
We put a tree in the middle of the room, usually decorate it together a week before or sometimes just one day in advance. Some families still keep old toys that have been hanged for years. In my house we do keep them, there is a star older than me which we put on top of the tree. Each member of the family prepares a gift and places it under the tree. It is a very exciting moment of exchanging presents. Especially children love this process, they could write their wishes what they would like to receive and if they have been good during the whole year, they will get the best gifts. They always wait for this time of the year when their dreams come true.
We usually watch inspiring movies with a holiday spirit, fun comedies and romantic films, which make you believe in magic. Is it possible to do without “Home alone”? We can watch again and again, every time getting excited at the moments which we have seen one hundred times before. There are many movies on the list, one of them is Trading Christmas, very romantic and spontaneous decisions make it excited to watch.
Therefore, if you are lucky to celebrate this holiday with your Ukrainian lady’s family, you will definitely not be disappointed and have a chance to feel Christmas spirit with us. You are going to be a part of family celebration, observing everything with your own eyes. It is definitely a unique experience which you never forget.