Volunteering Stories: Traditions of celebrating Christmas in Ukraine – by Sofya

Christmas is one of the main Christian holidays, which marks the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. All Christians celebrate Christmas on the same day – December 25. The only difference is which calendar they use: Gregorian (new style) or Julian (old style). According to the Julian calendar, Christmas falls on January 7.

Recently, more and more Ukrainians want to celebrate Christmas on December 25 together with the majority of Christian churches. After the large-scale invasion of Russia in February 2022, the discussion about moving the date of Christmas from January 7 to December 25 was intensified. According to the December survey initiated in Diya by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Digital, almost 60% of respondents prefer celebrating Christmas on December 25. However, there is still no final decision on the postponement of Christmas, so Ukrainians can still celebrate Christmas in the old style, on January 7.

Traditionally, Christmas is preceded by a long forty-day fast, which begins on November 28 and ends on January 6. During this period, religious people refuse to eat certain foods in order to purify their body and soul. During this fast, it is forbidden to eat meat, dairy dishes, as well as eggs. On Saturday, Sunday until January 2, as well as on major holidays, it is allowed to eat fish.

On the eve of Christmas, on January 6, Ukrainians sit down to a generous but lean table. One of the main traditions of celebrating Christmas is the Holy Evening. After putting the house in order, Ukrainians prepare twelve festive dishes in honor of the twelve apostles.

The celebration of Christmas begins when the first star appears in the sky, announcing the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Eve, the whole family gathers together at one table.

The morning of January 7 begins with people greeting each other with the phrase “Christ is born!” and the answer “Praise Him!” On this day, people go to church for the Christmas prayer, and then gather with their families. On this day, people are no longer limited with food.

12 dishes for Christmas Eve

According to tradition, housewives in Ukraine prepare 12 fasting dishes – in honor of the 12 apostles. One of the traditional dishes – kutya – is prepared from rice or wheat, supplemented with raisins, poppy seeds, nuts and honey. There had to be borscht, fish, mushrooms, dumplings with beans and cabbage, potatoes, uzvar.


The main dish of the evening is kutya (boiled wheat mixed with poppy seeds and honey, walnuts, raisins). And after a feast with the family, it is customary to bring kutya to the godparents.


The main decoration of the house is didukh – a figure of wheat stalks, which symbolizes the spirit of our ancestors and is a symbol of well-being, wealth, and a family amulet. It is believed that on these holy days our ancestors return to spend time with their families. Didukh is placed in the most honorable place in the house – under the icons of the saints.



Christmas carols

From the evening of January 6, it is customary to carol with a big star in the hands: carolers sing Christmas carols. Boys and girls prepare special songs and poems that they bring from house to house, entertaining their neighbors in exchange for sweet gifts and money. It is believed that the more carolers come to the house, the more abundance and wealth the family will have during the coming year.



The tradition of divination on Christmas night is older than Christmas itself in Ukraine. Many believe that fortune-telling on this day is impossible, while others, on the contrary, believe in the great power of the holiday, as well as in the fact that fortune-telling on Christmas Eve will help to know the future. Even today, girls in Ukraine are fortune-telling in order to find out whether they will get married and the name of the future groom. Dreams from January 6 to 7 are also considered prophetic.

? The ”ESCpert” project is funded by the European Commission through the European Solidarity Corps program and lasts 28 months.
Read more about Sofia’s experience here: https://www.facebook.com/t4uth/photos/a.191011080922103/5513354792021012/