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  • Writer's pictureBogdana Postrygan

Ukrainian Christmas Traditions

Sviata Vecheria

Christmas Eve (Holy Eve) is marked by traditional family gatherings in the evening in Ukraine – the so-called Sviata Vecheria (‘Holy Dinner’). The festivities start with the appearance of the first star, though all preparations traditionally start from the very dawn.

The table should be served with 12 dishes, which symbolize the twelve apostles. The main dish of the evening is Kutia(boiled wheat mixed with poppy seeds and honey).



Koliadky

Ukrainian Christmas songs

Christmas songs are an integral part of the whole holiday season, too. In Ukraine, we have different types of Christmas songs – koliadky (comes from the word ‘calendar’ which starts with the birth of Christ) for Christmas and shchedrivky (comes from the Ukrainian word for generosity) for so-called Generous Evening and Malanka on 31 December.


You may think you don’t know any Ukrainian Christmas songs. This could be true if you somehow aren’t familiar with the world’s most famous Christmas melody – ‘Carol of the Bells’. Yes – it is, in fact, originally a Ukrainian carol called Shchedryk (composed by Mykola Leontovych at the beginning of the XX century, based on the ancient Ukrainian folk songs). Just listen!





Didukh

A didukh (Ukrainian: дідух), is a Ukrainian Christmas decoration; made from a sheaf of wheat, it is a symbolic sacrificetaken from the autumn harvest. "Didukh" literally means "grandfather spirit". Didukhy are traditionally made from the first or the last stalks of wheat reaped during the year. They symbolize the household's wish for an abundance of nature and a bountiful harvest for the upcoming year. Before the holidays, wheat ears or stalks are gathered with colorful threads, then the bunches are tied with ribbons.


It is believed that the spirits of the household's ancestors reside in didukh during the holidays. While it is at a place of honor inside the house, the souls of all ancestors will unite and bless the family. On Sviat Vechir (Christmas Eve), the didukh is brought into the house by the hospodar (head of the household). It is placed in the pokutia (corner with icons) of the house, along with the kutia (ritual food) and uzvar (ritual drink). On Masnytsia, didukh is burnt symbolizing the end of the winter.




Vertep

Traditionally, children also prepare and perform so-called vertepperformances. Vertep is a portable puppet theatre and drama which presents the nativity scene and other mystery plays. The essential attribute of the vertep is the Christmas star, which is considered a symbol of joy (as it bears the news of the birth of Jesus).




Zirka

Another traditional decoration and attribute that Ukrainians use during Christmas caroling is the Christmas star. As a rule, it is a sieve with eight "horns" pasted over with multi-colored oiled paper decorated with foil, ribbons, and tassels. A candle was put inside the star, making it a "magic lantern."




A straw "spider." 

This Christmas composition is made of straw and looks like a web. Ukrainian people consider the spider to be a symbol of Christmas and the building of the universe. Our ancestors also used this decoration as a symbol of agriculture and prosperity.







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