UKRAINE

Sviata Vecheria or “Holy Supper” is the central tradition of the Christmas Eve celebrations in Ukrainian homes and takes place in most parts of the country on January 6. In Western Ukraine, especially in Carpathian Ruthenia, due to historical multi-culturism, Christmas can be observed twice—on December 25 and January 7, often irrespective of whether the family belongs to Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the (Roman) Catholic Church, one of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, or one of the Protestant denominations. The Western Ukrainian tradition of two Christmas celebrations, since 2017, are also celebrated nationwide as well.
When the children see the first star in the eastern evening sky, which symbolizes the trek of the Three Wise Men, the Sviata Vechera may begin. In farming communities the head of the household now brings in a sheaf of wheat called the didukh which represents the importance of the ancient and rich wheat crops of Ukraine, the staff of life through the centuries. Didukh means literally “grandfather spirit” so it symbolizes the family’s ancestors. In city homes a few stalks of golden wheat in a vase are often used to decorate the table. The dinner table sometimes has a few wisps of hay on the embroidered table cloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem. A prayer is said and the father says the traditional Christmas greeting, “Chrystos rodyvsya!” which is translated to “Christ is born!”, which is answered by the family with “Slavite Yoho!” which means “Let us glorify him!”. In some families the Old Slavic form “Сhrystos rozhdayetsya!” is used. At the end of the Sviata Vechera the family often sings Ukrainian Christmas Carols. In many communities the old Ukrainian tradition of caroling is carried on by groups of young people and members of organizations and churches calling at homes and collecting donations.

Traditionally, Christmas Day opens for Ukrainian families with attendance in church services (Mass, worship service or Divine Liturgy). Ukrainian churches offer services starting before midnight on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning. Christmas supper, without Lenten restrictions, does not have as many traditions connected with it as Sviata Vechera. The old tradition in Ukraine of giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day, December 19, has generally been replaced by the Christmas date and it is the Father Frost who visits all the children in a sleigh pulled by only three reindeer. (In Western Ukraine the St. Nicholas Day is marked there on December 6.)

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