When I think of Christmas traditions images of hanging stockings, lighting the tree, and eating holiday ham fill my head. Other countries, however, have different Christmas customs. In Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th instead of the traditional December 25th, due to a change in the calendar that was in use over 2000 years ago.
The Ukrainian Christmas meal is called Sviata Vechera or “Holy Supper” and is held on Christmas Eve, which falls on January 6. The feast contains twelve courses and no meat. The number of courses represent the number of Jesus’ Apostles. The absence of meat stems from the belief that animals posses souls. The table is also set with a few pieces of hay in remembrance of the manger that Jesus was born in.
Instead of attending a church service in the evening on Christmas Eve, Ukrainian’s hold their service at midnight. Attendees are told the moving story of Christ’s birth and partake in the singing of carols.
New Years in Ukraine also occurs after we celebrate it in the United States. January 13 is New Year’s Eve, or Malanka, and on that day the feast of Saint Melania is celebrated. This day is often seen as the last day to participate in certain delights that will be restricted with the period of Lent on the horizon.
Even with these differences, two main staples of Christmas remain in the forefront in both the United States and Ukraine. Family and the birth of Christ are celebrated strongly in both countries. We each use this time to gather with the ones we love and remind ourselves why we cherish this time of year.