Clever Hedgehog loves Christmas! And what about you?
Christmas is celebrated all over the world, but Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated in a very special way.
Let’s learn about Ukrainian Christmas traditions together with Clever Hedgehog!
Christmas in Ukraine
Christmas is one of the most important family holidays in Ukraine. Even though presents are not exchanged on Christmas, kids get presents on Saint Nicholas Day and New Year’s Day.
Ukrainian Christmas traditions are very old and very meaningful to all Ukrainians.
Christmas Eve on December 24 is called Sviatyi Vechir (Святий вечір) in Ukrainian (“Holy Evening”), and has many customs and rituals. These include decorating a house with a special object (didukh), crafting a Christmas Star, singing carols (koliadky), and so on. One important tradition of the night is a special supper, called Sviata Vecheria (“Holy Supper”).
Christmas Symbols in Ukraine
These magical Christmas traditions help us continue the spirit of the winter holidays and bring joy to all.
A Christmas Star
The Christmas Star in Ukraine is a symbol of light, sun, and God. It also represents the Bethlehem star, which announced the birth of Jesus. The Star has 8 or more edges and is an important attribute in caroling performances (vertep).
Didukh is a symbol of good fortune, riches, and the spiritual life of Ukrainians. “Didukh” means “grandfather spirit” and it symbolizes the family’s ancestors. It is made from the first or the last stalks of wheat collected during the year and is decorated with colorful threads and ribbons. Family put didukh in a special place in their homes and keep it for the rest of winter months.
On Christmas day, Ukrainians go to church, visit relatives and sing Christmas carols (Koliada). The ancient Ukrainian tradition of caroling is called kolyaduvannya (Ukrainian колядування). It is carried on by church members and groups of young children who walk house to house greeting and wishing people the best for the next year, and receiving sweets and money in return.
The different type of Ukrainian traditional caroling is vinshuvanya (Ukrainian віншування). With these songs, carolers congratulate the hosts on Christmas.
Ukrainian caroling traditions are preserved the best in the Western part of Ukraine.
The tradition of live performances for Christmas came to Ukraine from Europe a long time ago and was called vertep. This tradition is still popular today. Vertep is a traditional folk performance that shows the story of the birth of Jesus with the cheerful spirit of the holiday.
Did you know that the famous “Carol of the Bells” is based on the Ukrainian carol Shchedryk?
12 Traditional Dishes for Ukrainian Christmas Dinner
According to the Ukrainian tradition, the whole family gathers at one table during the Christmas Eve dinner – the Sviat Vechir dinner (“Holy Supper”). For hundreds of years, Ukrainians have followed the rule to serve 12 special meat-dairy-egg-free dishes during Christmas Eve dinner, because Jesus wasn’t born into a rich family, and his first birthday his family celebrated in a simple barn.
While some of these 12 dishes vary in different parts of Ukraine, the mandatory dishes are kutia, varenyky, ceremonial bread (kalach) and uzvar.
1. Kutia, a dish made of grain, honey, and poppy seeds, is served first at the meal. Grains symbolize eternal life, and honey – heavenly bliss.
2. Ukrainian Christmas bread – kalach – is a slightly sweet bread that is braided in three round braids stacked one on top of the other. It is an essential part of the Christmas Eve supper.
3. For Christmas Eve, Ukrainians cook special dumplings – varenyky – stuffed with potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms or fruits.
4. Uzvar is a drink you can try only in Ukraine, made with smoked dried fruits and berries.
Alongside these old traditions, Ukrainians share ones with the rest of the world, too! Ukrainians love watching ‘Home Alone’ for the 10th Christmas in a row, shopping for gifts at Christmas markets, decorating the Christmas tree, and eating countless tangerines.
Clever Hedgehog wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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