Since our family is going to be in Ukraine around the Christmas time, I have been very curious as to how Ukrainians celebrate this holiday and so I began to do some research. Here are a few things that I discovered:
1. Unlike so many in Western countries do, Ukrainians focus on the birth of Christ and not a Santa Claus figure. Their shops are filled with Nativity scenes and their Christmas supper is centered around Jesus. Even their greetings change during Christmas. "Hello" and "good-bye" are replaced with "Christ is born" and other respond back with, "Glorify Him."
2. Ukrainians also differ form Westerners in that they celebrate Christmas on January 7th according to the Gregorian calendar (This is, after all, an orthodox country).
3. On Christmas Eve, many people create a "Vertep," which means "cave" in Greek. This is a manger scene with Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus in a manger, wise men offering their gifts, and the star. They then display these "Verteps" in a public place, usually near churches.
4. Christmas Eve is called "Sviaty Vechir" or "Holy Evening." Their Christmas suppers have at least 12 different Lenten foods on the table: the mandatory dish being "Kutya." Kutya is prepared from cooked wheat, honey, grated poppy seeds, raisins, and walnuts.
5. The people decorate fir trees called "Novorichna Jalynka" or "New Years Tree. In Western Ukraine, they also decorate their tables with "Didukh," which is a sheaf of oats or wheat to symbolize prosperity for the new year.
6. Children come around to their neighbors' houses spreading grains and colored seeds to wish people good health and an abundant harvest. They perform Christmas songs called "Koliadky" or "Shchedrivky." These songs have names like "Radujsia zemle, radujsia. Syn Bozhyj narodyvsia" or "Joy, Earth, Joy, The Son of God Was Born."
Here are Ukrainians beautifully singing "Veseli Cherevychky Carol" (known here as "Carol of the Bells"):
This will be the first time that our family has spent Christmas in another country, so we are very excited about experiencing the holidays with another culture full of their own rich traditions.