Thu. Apr 25th, 2024

In a bold move reflecting Ukraine’s quest for independence, Ukrainian Orthodox Christians gathered for Christmas services on Sunday, marking a historic shift in celebration from January 7 to December 25.

The decision, seen as a deliberate snub to Russia, was initiated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who emphasized national unity in a Christmas message.

Zelensky stated, “All Ukrainians are together. We all celebrate Christmas together on the same date, as one big family, as one nation, as one united country.” The southern Black Sea port of Odesa witnessed churchgoers partaking in Christmas Eve services, adorned with fir trees and a nativity scene.

The date change, signed into law by Zelensky in July, aims to distance Ukraine from its Russian heritage, particularly the practice of celebrating Christmas on January 7. This move is aligned with broader efforts to erase traces of the Russian and Soviet empires, including renaming streets and removing monuments.

The rift between the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Russian Orthodox Church deepened in 2014 over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. The geopolitical divide has led to shifts in allegiance among priests and parishes, with the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine gaining momentum.

Zelensky’s Christmas message, filmed in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery, underlines the government’s efforts to assert control over religious institutions linked to Russia. Despite the changes, the historically Russia-linked Ukrainian Orthodox Church persists in celebrating Christmas on January 7.

Ukrainians expressed support for the date change, viewing it as a symbolic step toward joining the “civilized world.” While some suggested celebrating on both December 25 and January 7, others, like army medic Taras Kobza and singer Tetiana, welcomed the alignment with global Christmas traditions.

Amidst the cultural shift, Ukrainian Christmas traditions, including a festive dinner on Christmas Eve and unique customs like kutya and didukh, remain integral to the country’s celebrations. The move to December 25 signifies not just a change in date but a broader assertion of Ukraine’s identity and independence on the world stage.

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