Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar as in most of other Orthodox Christian countries.
During the Soviet time it was not officially celebrated in Ukraine. Instead communist government tried to substitute Christmas with the holiday of New Year. But people did not forget their traditions. After gaining it�s independence in 1991 Ukraine started to celebrate Christmas officially as well.
There are numerous Christmas traditions here. They vary significantly at the different parts of Ukraine.
In most parts of Ukraine on the Christmas Eve people create so-called �Vertep� (means cave in ancient Greek). These are scenes from Bible of Jesus birth. They show little Jesus in manger, Mary, strangers offering their gifts and Bethlehem star in the sky. Those verteps are exhibited at public places, usually near or inside churches. At night candles are installed inside verteps for people who come to church for the night service can observe them.
The Christmas Eve is called in Ukraine �Sviaty Vechir� (Holy Evening) sometimes also called �Sviata Vecheria� (Holy Supper). People usually cook some tasty foods for this evening. There should be at least 12 different foods on the table. Those should mandatory include �Kutia� -- the ritual food which is prepared from cooked wheat and special syrup containing diluted honey, grated poppy seeds, raisins and sometimes walnuts.
Read more about Ukrainian Christmas recipes at InfoUkes or at Ukrainian Language and Culture Home Page.
For this evening people install and decorate Christmas trees in their houses. (Sometimes they are called also �Novorichna Jalynka� -- New-Year�s firtree here). Another tradition exists in some regions of Western Ukraine to decorate the table with �Didukh� -- a sheaf of oats or wheat of special shape: with four legs and numerous little bundles. It symbolizes prosperity for the next year.
St. Nicolas (Santa Claus) also called here �Did Moroz� is an ubiquitous Christmas character and is supposed to bring some gifts under the Christmas tree this night.
Also in some regions people make decorated Christmas eggs very similar to Easter eggs -- �Pysanky�.
Halloween is not celebrated in Ukraine but some similar traditions are performed here for Christmas. Children this evening come around their neighbors with torches and sparclers (called here Bengal lights) spreading grains and colored seeds. They wish people good health and abundant harvest for the next year and ask for some donations. Also they perform some Christmas songs called in different parts of Ukraine �Koliadky� or �Shchedrivky� like these:
"Radujsia zemle, radujsia. Syn Bozhyj narodyvsia." -- Joy, Earth, Joy. The Son of God was born.
"Dobryj vechir, Sviaty vechir. Dobrym liudiam na zdorovja." -- Good evening, Holy evening. To good people for good health.
Some wonderful sound samples of Koliadky are available here.
Next day in some villages in Western Ukraine people organize some folk performances which obviously were inspired by ancient pagan habits. They dress up themselves as monsters with pelts and horns and run through the village trying to scare people. After that they run to the special place on the outskirts of the village and there happens the main act: they fight with all people of the village and finally are defeated. The scarecrows are burned in the big fire. And all people are dancing around this fire. This symbolizes the fight of Good and Evil and that Good defeated Evil for the whole next year.
New York City
One of the most classic New Year’s celebrations in the U.S. takes place in New York City. The Big Apple toasts the New Year in a variety of ways, from the ball drop in Times Square to special multi-course dinners from the city’s best celebrity chefs. Traditional celebrations include a glass of champagne and the big countdown at midnight. Add a special touch to your trip by browsing BedandBreakfast.com for a great local B&B with a hearty New Year’s Day brunch.
Jewish New Year
Not all New Year’s celebrations take place on December 31. The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashanah, is in September. During this two-day holiday, families celebrate tradition through food and prayer services. A traditional celebration will almost always include slices of apple dipped in honey, a symbol of a sweet new year. This is the first of the High Holy Days.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is celebrated around the globe, from China to cities around the globe that are home to a Chinese population. Taking place in late January or early February, this celebration is one of the most important holidays of the year. You don’t have to be Chinese to enjoy the feasting, fireworks, dragon dances, and glowing lanterns of this holiday. From New York City to San Francisco to Chinatown in Sydney, Australia, this holiday is a festive one.
Eastern Orthodox Church New Year
The Orthodox Church in Russia (along with other countries like Macedonia, Serbia, and Ukraine) celebrate the New Year on January 14. This is a religious holiday, celebrated with family feasts. If you’re planning a trip to Russia to celebrate New Year’s Eve, you will stay want to be there on December 31. Although the religious holiday falls on January 14, the public holiday is January 1, and New Year’s Eve is home to fireworks, feasts, and festivities.
Balinese New Year
New Year on the island of Bali is celebrated in March, coinciding with their lunar New Year. If you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind, join in on the 12-hour dedicated silence and meditation that sweeps across the island. Many cities in the U.S. also celebrate the Balinese New Year with yoga camps and meditation clinics.
We may have one idea of what a traditional New Year’s holiday entails — but traveling can open our eyes to how other cultures celebrate in their own special way. It is possible to celebrate the New Year throughout the year if you turn to different cultures. Perhaps one of these traditional celebrations will influence how you decide to spend New Year's Eve this year.By Emily Starbuck Crone