Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated on January 7 because, as in many countries where the main Church is the Orthodox Church, they use the old “Julian” calendar for their festivals.
In Ukrainian Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘Веселого Різдва’ Veseloho Rizdva (Merry Christmas) or ‘Христос Рождається’ Khrystos Rozhdayetsia (Christ is Born).
The main Christmas dinner, called ‘Sviata Vecheria’ (or Santa Cena), is eaten on Christmas Eve (January 6). Traditionally people fast (they do not eat anything) all day, but they can start the day by drinking some holy water that has been blessed in the church.
You can not start eating food until the first star is seen in the sky.
So people (especially the hungry!) Take to the streets as soon as it begins to get dark in the afternoon to try to detect the first star. The star represents the journey of the Magi to find Jesus and that Jesus was born, so Christmas can begin!
The food usually has 12 plates that represent the 12 disciples of Jesus. The main course is often “kutia”, a kind of a kind of sweet porridge made from wheat. Other dishes may include mushrooms, sauerkraut, red ‘borsch’, meatballs known as ‘varenyky’ (Pierogi), white fish, ‘bigos’ (a stew of meat and cabbage), cheese cake and bread.
The room where Sviata Vecheria is eaten usually has a Didukh decoration placed on it. The Didukh is made of a sheaf of wheat and symbolizes the large wheat fields in Ukraine. It literally means “grandfather spirit” and can represent the ancestors of the people who are with them in their memories. Sometimes people use some heads of wheat in a vase instead of a whole sheaf of wheat.
After the meal, people love to sing Christmas carols or ‘Koliadky’. You can sing around the table or you can go out to sing Christmas carols in the streets. People sometimes wear brightly colored stars on the poles when they sing Christmas carols.
The Ukrainian Christmas carol ‘Shchedryk’ is where the popular ‘Carol of the Bells’ comes from.
St. Nicholas (known as Svyatyi Mykolai) visits children in Ukraine on December 19, which is also when Ukraine celebrates St. Nicholas Day.
In Ukraine, Christmas trees are often decorated with artificial cobwebs. The story of The Christmas Spider is very popular in Ukraine and finding a spider on the web on your tree means good luck.
There are also small spider web decorations, made of paper and silver wire, called “pavuchky” (meaning “little spider”) that people hang from their trees.