Ukraine officially celebrates Christmas on December 25 for the first time

The change reflects Ukrainians’ dismay at the 22-month-old Russian invasion and their assertion of a national identity.

Ukraine Christmas
Young people sing carols inside a metro carriage in Kyiv as Ukrainians celebrate their first Christmas according to the Western calendar [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Ukrainians have celebrated Christmas on December 25 for the first time, as part of an ongoing effort to remove Russian influence from their country.

The change was enacted in a law signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in July, reflecting both the Ukrainians’ dismay with the 22-month-old Russian invasion and their assertion of a national identity.

Ukraine previously marked Christmas in January as the Russians do.

“It’s historical justice,” said Yevhen Konyk, a 44-year-old serviceman who, along with his family, participated in traditional celebrations at an open-air museum in Kyiv.

“We need to move forward not only with the world but also with the traditions of our country and overcome the imperial remnants we had.”

Ukraine is largely Orthodox Christian but the faith is divided between two churches, one of which has a long affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which does not recognise the authority of the Russian church and had been regarded as schismatic, was granted full recognition in 2019 by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Orthodoxy’s top authority.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which had been a branch of the Russian church, announced in 2022 after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war that it was breaking ties with Moscow and becoming autonomous.

Its parishes, however, continue to follow the same liturgical calendar as the Russian church and will observe Christmas on January 7.

Many Ukrainians embraced the move to celebrate Christmas on the date aligned with the rest of Western Europe with enthusiasm.

Oksana Poviakel, the director of the Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine, where Christmas celebrations took place, said celebrating on December 25 is “another important factor of self-identification”.

“We are separating ourselves from the neighbour who is currently trying to destroy our state, who is killing our people, destroying our homes, and burning our land,” she said.

Asia Landarenko, 63, said she prays every day for her son who is in the military.

“The state of war affects everything, including the mood. The real celebration of Christmas will be after the victory, but as the saviour was born, so will be our victory,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies