Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 25.12.2018
December 25 has been celebrated as Christmas Day by Christians for centuries. Ukrainians, predominantly adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy, still observe Christmas on January 7. But Ukraine has a new, unified, independent and national Orthodox church. “Red letter days” (church holidays) will be very slowly moving from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. For now there are two Christmases in Ukraine, both observed as statutory holidays: December 25 and January 7.
The Orthodox church in Ukraine had been illegally annexed by Moscow since 1686. Late in 2018, Orthodox believers in Ukraine recovered their ancient church and chose a leader from among themselves. It is called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and it restores the canonical authority of Constantinople and Kyiv that goes back more than a millennium.
The man elected as primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is Epifaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. The completion of autocephaly – having a self-chosen head – will come on 6 January 2019 in Istanbul. That’s when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Archbishop of Constantinople, intends to give the tomos to the Ukrainian primate, Metropolitan Epifaniy. A tomos is a letter or book granting self-governing authority to a national church, in communion with the “first among equals” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine intends to switch to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar, but do it very slowly. “We will do it calmly, wisely, and carefully, because our work needs to unite, not separate,” Metropolitan Epifaniy said in an interview with Radio Liberty on December 16.
“Even if we speak about the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, about the calendar—if we change from January 7 to December 25, the Ukrainian people will not accept this,” Metropolitan Epifaniy said. He added: “We need to explain and prove it. Once people realize that it’s not dogma, that it’s just a date, then it will be possible to put forth and make decisions.”
Especially since the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine is on a path to Europe. Ukrainians choose to have more in common with their fellow Europeans by recognizing that if Christmas Day is just a date it may as well be on December 25. The meaning of Christmas can be expressed on any day.
Ukraine has the makings of a Christmas wonderland, especially for children. Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated in Ukraine on December 19. It is predominantly a church holiday, but the patron saint of children is honoured in many parts of Ukraine with small gifts for boys and girls.
December 25 is a new holiday in Ukraine and it remains to be seen if it will become an occasion for travel and gift-giving and feasting, as it is in many other parts of the world
For now, New Year still is the time for giving presents, especially to children, in Ukraine. Did Moroz (roughly, Uncle Frost) and his granddaughter Snihuronka (Snow Maiden) are those figures who walk in the depth of winter in their long, blue coats to bring gifts to all the girls and boys.
January 7 – Old Orthodox Christmas – is a religious holiday: a time for going to church even if one has never darkened the door the rest of the year.
Ukraine has two Christmas holidays. It also has two other special days in the winter season for the giving of gifts to children. Occasions to wish the blessings of peace and love and joy to the world are in abundance. Merry Christmas! З Різдвом Христовим!